Adventures in Eating in Portugal
Imagine you have just arrived in Portugal after flying all the way from the United States.
When you arrive, I start walking you all over a new city to keep you from falling asleep, promising that if you just make it to dinner, you’re going to be well on your way to getting over jet lag. You can go right to sleep after dinner.
The town of Porto is gorgeous. As you walk, you see elaborate churches and buildings covered in brightly colored tiles. There is so much to look at that you can scarcely take it all in. We head down to the Duomo River, where there is a little breeze as you wander along.
You finally make it to dinner. The table has beautiful view out over the river, but a part of you just wants to put your head on the table and go to sleep.
You’re not even sure you want to eat, and you’re certainly not in the mood to try something you’ve never seen before.
Maybe you are the kind of eater that is willing to try one or two new things a day, and you already tried six at lunch. Now you’re at the point where you just need to put food in your mouth so you can get yourself to bed so you can sleep and then wake up and feel ready to face the world again. We start the real walk tomorrow.
You open the menu. Everything looks unfamiliar. Porto is near the sea so there is a lot of seafood, which you are not sure you can face.
But then, wait, you spot one dish that says “grilled chicken,” and you think: Yes, I will have that. I can face a plate of chicken.
Everyone else decides what they want. A lot of adventurous seafood is ordered. Octopus, squid, a salted cod dish that is traditional when eating in Portugal.
And now it’s your turn, oh yes, please I will have the chicken thank you.
But then the waiter, who has politely written down everyone else’s order, stops. He doesn’t write chicken or frango, which you’ve just learned is the Portuguese word for chicken. No, instead he begins to try to talk you into something else. Maybe you would like their specialty, the Portuguese bacalhau? No? What about the pork? or the beef?
No that’s ok, you say. I’ll just have the chicken.
And then he pauses again. He is still not writing down your order. He is looking at you like you’ve insulted his mother, which perhaps you have by not agreeing to eat the cod. Maybe it’s her recipe?
And then he speaks with a startling amount of indignation,
Lady, are you telling me that you are going to come to my country and order chicken?
At this point I jump in for you and say, she actually really likes chicken.
Then he looks at me and continues, Please, look out the window. You are in eating in Portugal. I will tell you what are the most beautiful dishes of my country. When I come to your country, you can tell me what to eat.
At this point every is laughing but you. You are something between bemused and dumbfounded, but one thing is becoming painfully clear. You will not be having chicken tonight.