Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tales from Lisbon # 1 - Back in the Saddle

Welcome to part one of three in my short series of holiday tales.
After my fishbone nightmare, I couldn't even look at a fish the same way for about a month - I felt betrayed. I'd always considered myself a foodie; experimental and daring in my quest for the ultimate food hit. So to be put off by a mere fishbone stuck in the throat was more than I could take. If only I could have said I'd had a near death experience after eating Fogu, the notorious Japanese Blowfish. Instead, I forlornly had to explain to friends and colleagues that it had resulted from eating boring old fish and chips in a mediocre pub. So I wasn't going to let it beat me.
As soon as we arrived in Lisbon, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and began the first of many searches to find a good restaurant. We had decided to try a recommended local neighbourhood restaurant and I was really looking forward to my first foray with fish again. The menu was in Portuguese so we struggled to work out what everything was and eventually beaten by hunger, decided to take our chances and order the famous baccalaut. My plate arrived with a piece of salt cod swimming in a sauce adorned with rings of onions and slices of egg. I smiled politely at the waitress. I wasn't going to be put off. After all, looks aren't everything are they? I cut off a piece and put it in my mouth. "What's it like?" Mike asked me. "A bit salty" I replied. A bit salty!! I felt as though I'd just swallowed a bucket of seawater. I didn't want to put a dampner on our first day so I played it down. Afterwards we both admitted it was pretty grim.
So my first experience with fish in Portugal wasn't the best, although it did get better. Over the next seven days we tried prawns, lobster, cockles, mussels, sardines. Boar, rabbit, prawns, pork, spit roasted chicken and chips, chips, chips, chips and chips. On some evenings we had rice on the plate with chips. That made a nice change.
The Sardines were delicious but a bit of an ordeal.
We ordered them overlooking the sea in the lovely coastal town of Estorill. They arrived whole and we had to chop the heads off and remove the bones and guts of twelve of them. At this point I was feeling very nervous......It took lots of chewing and lots of beer to wash it down but we got there in the end.



Our favourite area of Lisbon was the Barrio Alto. Packed full of restaurants and cool bars, it's far the best area to go out in the evening. We went there in the daytime and only had a few scrawny cats for company. But in the evening it was completely unrecognisable. It looked as though the residents had their doors wide open, until we looked inside and saw yet another funky little bar. We sipped Caipirinhas and wandered through the packed streets listening to soulful Portuguese Fado music drift through the windows.

Caipirinha, the traditional Brazilian drink prepared with cachaça our favourite cocktail. We never paid more than €5 and we even found a bar that did it for €2, so we drank as much as we could knowing how much it costs back home. If you can get hold of a bottle of cachaça, it's worth making at home.

1 lime quartered
1 tablespoon of sugar
A liberal slug of cachaça
1 Cup of ice cubes

Place the lime and sugar in the bottom of a glass.
Using a rolling pin , crush and mash the limes until all the juice has been extracted.
If you have an ice-crushing machine, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, put the ice cubes in a plastic bag and bash with a hammer until crushed. Pour the cachaça over the ice. Stir well.


Spangly Princess said...

yay! glad to see you back blogging again, and that you had a good time in Lisbon. Also that you didn't let your horrible experience put you off the fish.

Caipirinhas are one of my favourite cocktails, so portugal has just leapt up my 'places to visit' list...

Red said...

I haven't even read your post yet (I'll do that next), I just wanted to say how giddy I was when I came to your blog and saw that Diagnosis: Fishbone had been supplanted by a new post! Yay!

I'll read your entry now...

Red said...

Eh, me again! Sounds like Lisbon is a pretty cool place... we've often toyed with the idea, but never got round to it. Some friends went a few years ago and they were surprised at the visible poverty. They weren't expecting anything like that in a western European country. Did you witness any of that?

And did you buy any lovely ceramics? They have the best-looking tiles there (in fact, they have a tile museum in Lisbon, if I'm not mistaken).

* (asterisk) said...

Umm... who are you again? Aaahhh, just kidding! Welcome back. Thank the maker! Glad you're back on the fish, ACT. It's deelish, and you can't let one bad-mannered fish who decided to keep ahold of his bones get the better of you. Looking forward to the next posts. One day, me and the missus will get to Portugal; we've been talking about it for years...

a.c.t said...

Spangly, you must go, it's Caipirinha heaven.

Red & * thank you both, you're so kind. Definitely go to Portugal soon, it's a beatuiful place and really cheap. I'll post more photos soon. Red, we saw quite a few beggars and amputees and sometimes begging amputees. Quite a few nutters as well wondering around the streets. Quite a lot of the buildings look like they are about to collapse but that adds to the character. Didn't buy any ceramics but they are nice - the bags were already laden with bottles.

martinobhoy said...

Welcome back a.c.t

What's always put me off some fish is the amount of work you need to put in to get the edible bits. Maybe I'm just lazy.

Lisbon is definitely on my list of places to go. It has a mythical quality for all Celtic fans my age and younger as it was there in 1967 that we won our one European Cup.

Anonymous said...

glad you seem to be over it, and blogging again.
hurrah again.

Martha Elaine Belden said...

YAY.... you're back!!! i've been anxiously awaiting this day for more than a month now!

what a fun trip this sounds like! (although, i don't know that i'd be as positive about eating seawater tasting fish the first night) and i can't wait to try that drink... it sounds fantastic! (i'm sort of obsessed with limes... all my friends make fun of me... i put lime juice on everything!)

anyway, i can't wait to read more! (and yeah... i think it's nice of the salad company to allow living things that match the salad to live in the bags... how very PETA of them :)

Lotus Reads said...

Wow, what a nice, informative post. I have to admit the only Portuguese food I have ever tasted (here in good ol' Canada) has been chicken with a piri-piri sauce, but I love sea food and maybe the next time we go to a Portuguese restaurant I will be tempted to order some fish.

Mmmmm, and the Brazilian drink sure sounds delicious - I'm thirsty now.

I should have said this at the start of my comment, but really great to have you back and posting!

Camie Vog said...

It is SO good to hear from you again!!! I am looking forward to your wonderful words. Is it true that you may become a contributor for Beggars Banquet?? I love that site. After working professionaly in the food industry for 12 years, I all but stopped cooking at home. BB has gotten me to dust off those brand new, shiney, All-Clad pans again. Hope you decide to take the plunge and join the culinary journey over there.

Susan in Italy said...

Great to have you back and, of course over your fish-phobia, short-lived as it was. Portugal's got to be one of the best places for fish, fish fish. Now what about boar? You stuck that and rabbit in among all the seafood. Did you like it?

a.c.t said...

Thanks everyone :-)
Camie, I will be posting on Beggar's Banquet, but I need to think of something really original as the standard over there is pretty high.
Susan, I love boar. I made a pasta sauce with it recently but I couldn't get it the same as I had it in Tuscany. It was delicious when I had it out there. The rabbit was also amazing - it came in a sauce with clams. I should try and cook it more often.

Aidan said...

Fado is such a beautiful tradition...and enjoyment.
Was in Estoril for Euro 2004, but tried to stick around central Lisbon as long as possible. A great veggie-base below a tacky-looking supermarket. But the Alfau district ever-intriguing. Trays nonetheless...
Oh, and cheers. Please don't feel obliged, though. ;)
Where's Blogging Mike?

a.c.t said...

You were lucky to have found a vegetarian place akr- Lisbon is meat-eater heaven.
Not at all, love a bit of live music. Promise we'll sit at the back and keep the heckling to a minumum. Mike's exploring other writing avenues - have a look at the 'Arsenal-Land' link on the right (if you can bear it) and you'll see what he's been up to of late.