Simpan is a café in Möllan in Malmö operated mainly by latin americans. It’s one of the cool places to hang out in this hip part of town, where most residents are immigrants. They have delicious and creative sandwiches and warm coffee. All the furniture and most of the dishes, mugs and glasses are uneven, as are most of the patrons – hipsters, feminists and generic leftists are the most common species to be found. But occasional latin americans, rockers and goths can be sighted. In this constantly packed spot, you can order in both swedish and spanish, of course. And maybe even in quechua, who knows!
In the story of going on holidays to Portugal, food is, of course, one of the main characters.
In Lagos, O Lamberto is the unofficial family cafeteria. It’s outside the city centre, so the few tourists that ever get there want to get there. The highlights there come mostly from the sea, such as the grilled squid or the octopus salad. Going for something grilled here is playing on the safe side. Don’t forget to squeeze lemon all over it.
A Oficina was a new place for me. A friend took us there for a snack session. It lays in a town in the outskirts of Lagos with a fitting name – Mexilhoeira Grande – “The Great Mussel Picking Place” (?!). Yeah… Anyway, the house specials: olives with pickled carrot, goat cheese, bucho (a sliced blood sausage), feijoada de buzinas (cowries with beans), parafusos (shrimp wrapped in pastry, deep-fried), tiras de lula panadas (deep fried breaded squid stripes) and the ubiquitous snails. These came with twisted metal picks that brought a tear to my eye! Everywhere, these traditional picks that make the job of pulling the snails out of their shells have been replaced in restaurants all over by common wooden toothpicks. It was a joy to use one of these again!
For desert, we shared a slice of delicious cookie cake (Marie cookies dipped in brewed coffee, piled together with a buttery cream) and Morgado, a delicacy from Algarve. It’s made of almond paste, eggs and squash jam (Gila) and was heavenly prepared.
Sol e Pesca is a former bait and fishing shop in the semi-prostitution slash new-hip area near Lisboa’s shore known as Cais do Sodré. Its concept is unique (as far as I know): preserves of different Portuguese brands are served in their own oil, with some herbs, bread and drinks. This keeps the place from the restaurant status, while serving a satisfying and delicious meal. Looking at the menu, you just want to have a taste of all of them!
Unlike a plane trip, a road trip where you are the driver won’t bode well for your travel journalling. Especially if the trip is made under a scorching sun.
Memories from the trip from Elvas to Lagos include few sketches and half a dozen wasp stings. The territory of Alentejo is marked by man-made objects of so many different eras. The arid plains of northern (Alto) Alentejo, peppered by its Reconquista era castles, became not so arid in more recent years, due to the construction of the Alqueva dam. Monsaraz certainly benefited from this new dammed landscape, as it became a coastal town other than a well-preserved medieval town.
The menhir of Outeiro is a sign of the Megalithic era, lost in the middle of nowhere, re-erected but a few decades ago. It now provides shade to the gigantic and euphoric Alentejo ants.
In Terena, besides the ubiquitous medieval castle, we stumbled upon a couple of Moorish-inspired tile tables, which pattern I copied.
Southern (Baixo) Alentejo is scarred with constructions of the wheat era. “The barnhouse of Portugal” as it was dubbed under the dictatorship. Its plains were dramatically and systematically altered in the first half of the 20th century to yield great quantities of wheat. The grain storage silos in Moura, Serpa and Beja are the few shadows in this immense golden landscape.
Nowadays, all around Alentejo, old men gather in coffee houses, coming up with nicknames for everybody, letting time go by. A friend told me of this strange particularity that town of Amareleja is known for: whoever happens to wander there is certain to get a nickname. And there was one man who, for work reasons, had to go by Amareleja. But as he did not want to get one of the famed nicknames, he avoided the town and went around it. Town folk dubbed him “the went-around” (“o vai-de-volta“).
I wonder what nicknames they gave us.
Most of the Canastreiro clan – my in-law family – lives and works in or around Campo Maior, a small town close to the spanish border. It is famous for being the headquarters of Delta, one of the largest coffee roasters in the Peninsula. It is not a pleasant place to be in the peak of the summer! People there avoid walking in the scorching hot sun and all the blinders are permanently rolled down. People care little about formal clothing or any clothing whatsoever. Everything begs for a little sesta (afternoon nap). Despite all that, one ritual has to take place after lunch: everybody in the house walks over to the nearest coffeeshop and drinks bica com cheirinho – the portuguese slang for an espresso with a side cup of firewater – taken separately or blended.
A good night’s sleep had us forget about the full day in tin cans on rails and up in the air. After that, the first thing on the ‘to do’ list was to have a proper Portuguese breakfast. Down at ‘Talismã’, a corner snack bar in Benfica, we ordered a couple of long due galões (sing. galão) – coffee with milk in tall glasses – with torrada – dry bread toasted with butter – and pão de deus misto (lit. mixed god’s bread)- a sweet bun topped with coconut custard with cheese and ham.
Screw lattes and muffins! This is the stuff!
Later, I munched on one more pão de deus at Areeiro, overlooking some modernist/fascist buildings. Can’t get enough o’ them! The sweet buns, that is.