Beach Day Pig Day

This is my final post on our trip to Portugal last month but, hopefully, it will not be long before our next Portuguese adventures.

When we’d booked our flights to Portugal back in August, we’d intentionally selected the dates so that our stay specifically coincided with the annual Festa do Leitão held in the city of Águeda which entails, among other activities, five days of eating roast suckling by day and enjoying live music entertainment by night. The region known as the Bairrada, which encompasses many of the local civil parishes, is famed for its vineyards and wine industry as well as its suckling pig.

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The morning after our arrival in Bolfiar, we woke up to overcast skies, but a day at the beach had been planned the previous night, so we decided to risk the weather, packed everything into Patrick’s car after breakfast and headed to Costa Nova. By the time we reached Aveiro, the skies had cleared and this endless blue was what greeted us upon our arrival at the beach.

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Oh, joy! The Aveiro Light, also known as Barra Light, is an active lighthouse that opened in 1893 and the tallest in Portugal. On a side note, Una is one of those people who radiates positive energy. Her spirit is infectious and I’m so happy her work schedule got cancelled at the last minute so she could join us on our trip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOH YEAHHHH. Two happy kids ready for a bathe in the Atlantic. The thought of home is far and away.

SAMSUNG CSCOh look, a bar.

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And, look who’s at the bar. That right there is Joe’s happy face. From a scale of one to ten, that’s a ten right there. Also, that standard 300ml local draught (fino) costs one euro.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeach time. Everyone brings their own parasols here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter some sun and a deliciously cool dip in the ocean, it’s finally time for pork. We headed over to a restaurant that specializes in suckling pig owned by one of Joe’s distant relatives. So exciting.

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Local pastry shaped like suckling pigs filled with the meat of roast pig. YUM. These we found at a bakery in Águeda.

SAMSUNG CSCWe decided to take out half a pig and eat it at home. We paid  50 euros for the pig which the five of us feasted on that evening and still had enough leftovers for two more meals.

SAMSUNG CSCLisette cutting up the pig with a pair of shears. I can still hear the skin go crackle crackle crackle.

SAMSUNG CSCAs was expected, the pork was tender, juicy and seasoned to utter perfection.

SAMSUNG CSCIn Portugal, it is tradition to serve roast pig with freshly sliced oranges. Here, oranges are to roast pork what kimchi is to samgyeopsal and bossam  in Korea. They both help cut the richness of the meat in a way that works so well.

SAMSUNG CSCAnd some cheese for dessert because there is always room for cheese. This is fresh local cow milk cheese that is similar to the Italian mozzarella. It’s really good with a sprinkling of salt and fresh pepper.

SAMSUNG CSCOn our last day, we walked to the river, the heart of Bolfiar, just down the road from Joe’s place where he spent many a childhood summer days swimming with his cousins and friends.

SAMSUNG CSC Having moved around so much growing up, I can’t help but envy this–a place where he can return to time and again and everything is still the same.

SAMSUNG CSCThe village church, whose bell goes off every half hour, no matter what time of day. Like Joe said, one gets used to it. By the time I did, it was already time to leave.

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But, not before a visit to the village cemetery to say hi to Joe’s grandparents.

SAMSUNG CSCJoe and Lisette.

SAMSUNG CSC Joe and Patrick.

SAMSUNG CSCThe family.

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See ya later, Portugal. We’ll be back.

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Eat Your (Canned) Fish

It’s been a month since we got back to Seoul and I’m still blogging about Portugal. Too busy, too lazy, both. I’ve already talked in detail about the plentiful and cheap fresh fish and seafood readily available in Portugal. I’ve also talked about bacalhau, dry salted cod which constitutes an important part of the Portuguese meal.

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What you’re looking at are beautifully packaged cans of local fish. So what? Canned fish = hardly appetizing, right? Also, why eat canned fish in Portugal, of all places, when you can find fresh catch everywhere? Weird. Or, so I thought.

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Turns out canned fish has gone gourmet in Portugal in recent years. In Lisbon and Porto, the two largest cities in the country, gourmet canned fish shops have popped up all over the city. I’m talking about restaurants where you can sit down and order canned fish as a meal as well as walk-in groceries where you can buy all manner of canned fish and seafood from a wide range of brands.

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Like Loja da Conservas, a newly-opened delicatessen we happened to walk into in Lison. I was amazed to find that every major manufacturer in the country were represented here, each one profiled on a series of information panels displayed between the shelves.

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Written in both English and Portuguese, the text offers a summary of the companies responsible for canning the fish, when they were founded, their location and their brands. As a purveyor of premium seafood, this store also sells eel, trout, anchovy, squid and octopus, mostly preserved in olive oil. Some are seasoned with lemon, tomato sauce, curry, cloves and various pickled vegetables.

Ramirez, the first commercial cannery in Portugal (and the oldest in Europe), opened in 1853 in  Setúbal, which eventually became the center for sardine canneries. By the mid 1980s, there were around 150 canning factories in Portugal, producing around 34,000 tons a year, making the country one of thge largest exporters of canned fish in the world. However, there was a huge decline in the canning industry in the the 90s and the number of factories plunged from 152 to just 20. That changed following the recent economic recession in Portugal, as canned fish were cheap and, hence, more people started eating it again.

SAMSUNG CSCCanned fish is now in fashion in Portugal and producers offer boutique brands of the highest quality fish, adopting traditional methods and packaging, recreating the colorful and enticing kitch retro labels that were once popular back in the iconic period of canned fish.

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This particular shop is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in the area. Check out their adorable totes and other giftable items, if canned fish just doesn’t appeal to you.

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Sol e Pesca is a canned food themed hole-in-the-wall bar that was featured on the Lisbon episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” which also happened to be just around the corner from Loja da Conservas from where we’d just shopped. I’d marked this place down a few days earlier while browsing through different websites and it seemed, at the time, like something fun we could check out. We were intrigued but more skeptical and mostly hungry from exploring the city that morning. So, we got a table outside and asked for the menu.

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The interior. You get the idea. We ordered five to start with: smoked mackerel, smoked trout, octopus, stuffed squid in chili oil and sardines in a spicy tomato sauce.

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Smoked mackerel and a basket of bread.

SAMSUNG CSCSo, how they serve the fish is they remove the contents of the can, dress the fish with good olive oil or chili oil and garnish it with fresh herbs like cilantro and green onions and serve it with a wedge of lemon.

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House-made chili oil with dried piri piri. So good.

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Smoked trout. And, stuffed baby squid in chili oil.

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The verdict? We really enjoyed the meal. So much so that we walked away with a bunch of canned fish as souvenirs to bring back home.

The fish were surprisingly fresh and flavorful. A side of salad, a basket of good bread, some canned fish and cool beers turned out to be a memorable lunch and it definitely helped change our perception of canned food.

Would we go back? Definitely.

The Unremarkably Remarkable Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Call it whatever you like–hot cheese sandwich, cheese melt, grilled cheese, cheese toastie, jaffle–but the hot cheese sandwich is consumed in many parts of the world. Who doesn’t like gooey melted cheese–solo or a mix of different varieties–oozing out between two slabs of crisp hot golden-brown bread for breakfast, lunch or dinner or even as a late-night snack? You can make it as humble or as fancy as you can be bothered to. I often make grilled cheese sandwiches for weekend breakfasts. Joe adores them.

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Tosta mista is a signature Portuguese ham and cheese melt that is a staple in local cafés across the country.

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We’ve been up less than half an hour at this point. Joe looks a tad more sprightly here as Una and I had been up till three in the morning sharing a bottle of vinho verde and then running two doors up to a bar for some white port before hitting the sack.

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Tosta mista is your typical comfort food, not particularly remarkable–we’re talking about a slice of everyday ham and a slice of everyday cheese sandwiched between two slices of generously buttered everyday white bread that have been pressed in the hot grill–but you still desire it every time you see it on the menu and hence order it and are excited to have it.

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Always the matching coffee cups and sugar sachets.

SAMSUNG CSCUs, pretty much in what we slept in the night before, tucking in, in this tiny café a few doors down from our air bnb apartment located in the Alfama district of Lisbon. The tostas are hot and buttery, the coffees strong and we slowly wake up as we chew and drink and listen to the local ladies chatter away at the next table.

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9.8 euros = 12 U.S. dollars = 13,000 Korean won for four coffees and three grilled sandwiches.

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Although unremarkable, it’s these comfort foods that I usually miss when I return home from vacation. With the goods we smuggled back from Portugal, we were able to capture a version of some of the meals we’d had while there.

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Like this tosta mista with cheese and smoked chouriço (probably Portugal’s most popular sausage) I made us for breakfast on our first weekend back. I sprayed the breads with olive oil instead of butter.

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Crisp toast, melted cheese, salty smoky sausage that I fried over a little heat to render the fat which makes the cured meat taste even better.

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The taste of food on the palate is subjective and, in many cases, linked with specific memories. So, already, this is not just a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s Tuesday-morning-backstreets-of-Alfama-one-early-September-morning-of-2014  on a plate.