May 15, 2013

Skankynavia: A Portuguese Quickie

by Anders

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I seriously did not know anything about Portugal and its inhabitants until I set my boot on its shores in May 2013. Well, apart from the story about Columbus and his New World discovery, but it appears there’s debate whether he was actually Spanish instead, so in reality I knew nothing.

After three days in the country I now know a little more. I was dropping by the country to visit some local factories where I am having various designs of mine produced — visiting the country was a nice, inspiring experience apart from certain culinary shortcomings.

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My favourite tree is the palm tree. This variant is less over the top than the LA species, but still super adorable.

For any reader who does not travel much to the E.U., Portugal is a costal country next to Spain in the lower left part of Europe, nearly sitting on the top of Africa. Currently, Portugal is struggling with huge unemployment numbers and a very bad economy and growth rate.

And I must admit there’s quite a contrast between Denmark and Portugal — it feels like travelling back in time, maybe 30-40 years before any actual modern design movements took over. It seems the whole country is behind with everything, even style and fashion. Interior stores are filled with old world, heavy, dark wood furniture, candlesticks with lots of gold and embellishments, unhealthy food with lots of sugar, caffeine and fat. Also people wear drab, conformist clothes that overall is not very modern or trendy.

And I did not spot one gay person in this Catholic country. Maybe they’ve all fled?

I was the only gay in the village

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How beautiful is this decay? LUV AHT!

But as depressing as some aspects of the country are, the flipside is that so much beauty and quaintness grows from the trees and ruins. You don’t find this level of charm in many other places — by 2013 most of what once was has vanished. Traces of the old world have been demolished, and replaced with cheap apartment buildings and soulless, standard box architecture. It’s a luxury to experience the romantic soul of decay which you find in the Portuguese countryside and coastal villages (especially for an American, I would imagine, as their country is still so young).

I also know now that the country loves their tiles.

There are houses decorated with tiles everywhere and at first I wondered, “Why did they turn their kitchens inside out?” But then I got with the program and started to understand the beauty of the many crazy-colored, vibrating, unique houses all over the cities and countrysides. In the old days, tiles were specifically designed for each owner’s house – putting their personalities, creativity and riches on public display.

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Village building.

I bet there have been quite some nasty competitions about who decorated the prettiest house in the village back then. Lots of bitching, I assume.

The station building in the small coastal city of Aveiro, about three hours on train from Lisboa, the capital of Portugal:

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Even the hotel’s breakfast lounge had tiles!

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I also discovered that there is a reason the Portuguese kitchen isn’t very well known. It’s quite a culinary bore, I’m afraid to admit.

First of all, there is basically sugar in everything. Meat, coffee, cakes, bread — it’s a 24/7 sugar rush! So you sit down at a café and watch bag after bag of pure white sugar being poured into the world’s smallest servings of coffee at the neighbouring tables.

In Copenhagen people drink caffe lattes or Americanos with a little milk. But these miniature coffees are not espressos — they’re just very foamy, very sweet small cups of coffee. And in many cafes there’s just a machine like the one in airports and really depressing public offices where you insert a coin in return for a cup of pure sadness. Kinda the same here. With more sugar. I should have taken a picture of those small fuckers, but I didn’t.

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Sweet, sticky, foamy coffee in an unusally large serving — must be because it’s a hotel serving tourists.

I did not catch a glimpse of dark bread, wholegrain or rye bread. People seemed to inhale a constant dose of white bread, sugary cakes and machine coffee.

Breakfast: The Aveiro Palace Hotel offered a well assorted breakfast buffet, proudly featuring almost all kinds of sugary food: white breads, white toast, jams, honey, marmelades, sweet cheese, sweet coffee, juice, sweet Dannon yogurt, sweet orange/raisin bread, fruit salad and more.

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I am invited by the friendly waitresses to try a Portuguese breakfast speciality: fresh cheese with orange jelly-like marmelade. Eaten together!

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It tasted ok, the fresh cheese is neutral/weakly sweet, while the jelly is pure sugar. Not something I want to integrate in my morning ritual from now on, but fun to try.

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I found the jely-like marmelade in the local supermarket. Zero points for sexy packaging:

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All over the cities and villages, there are small cafeterias with lots of cakes and pastries on display — it seems that the country proudly boasts several traditional recipes of the same flavor: sweet eggs.

I bought two different traditional pastries in the bakery close to my hotel: a long, super flaky little finger of pastry with some orange-yellow cream inside. I think it’s called Pastéis de Vouzela.

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It was already falling apart when I opened the paper bag. Absolutely no taste apart from sugar.

I also spotted it at the airport:

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For dessert I opened the other paper box to reveal a circular, orange brown medallion like pastry in a silver foil cup.

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Large versions of it were on display in the bakery window called Páo de Ló de Óvar (and the small ones I bought on the right):

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Orange on the inside — tasted of sugar, slight hint of eggzzzzz…..zzzzz…

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Pizza: Visiting the local “It’s Nice” pizza restaurant  in the city of Aveiro where I stayed.

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I ordered a vegetarian pizza and it was very good — crispy on top and lots of veggies and cheese.

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Not enough flavor and spice though, it had a slightly anonymous in flavour.

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Aveiro is “Portugal’s answer to Italy’s Venice,” it says on the city’s website. Lots of large, hand painted gondolas stretch along the canal, offering hourly tours around the city — almost like Copenhagen’s Canal Roundtrips. It’s quite beautiful even though it feels like a floating tourist trap. I didn’t have time for it this time but probably will when I visit again.

Local café near the coast — I’m taken by the sweet assistant from one of the factories I’m visiting.

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She orders a miniature coffee with two bags of sugar and another Portuguese speciality which I don’t remember the name of.

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It’s a kind of breadish cake with no flavor except a slight hint of eggs. Not bad if you dip it in chili or any other sauce or condiment, but I don’t think you’re supposed to do anything but eat it plain. It became a ball of dough in my mouth, I couldn’t finish it.

Later we had lunch at a local seafood restaurant with a view across the coast. It’s early in the season, not many peeps were hanging out in the cool wind and harsh waves of the Atlantic ocean.

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I ordered Monkfish in garlic which comes with greens and potatoes. The fish tastes a little of char and fried, but not too much. The rest is a disaster.

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But everyone is super friendly.

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Ocean view!

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Ice cream dessert: cream from a tube, caramel sauce from a can and ice cream from a box, bleh.

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Local carpenter’s frontyard:

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I visit the local supermarket which I always find to be fun, to spy on how the local, affordable groceries are presented and consumed.

All milk and eggs are kept on a shelf, not even refrigerated!

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Breakfast Cereals: there were like 10 different kinds just from one brand. Sugar here, sugar there!

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Dried fish.

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Seriously, I don’t have words for how badly this smelled within a 10 meter range. Must be a real hit with the shoppers since they are displayed this way.

One evening I needed something a little healthier than sweet bread and heavy meat, so I went to the only sushi place in town.

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It only takes one look at the sloppy, sad nigiri to realise the restaurant is not owned by Japanese people. I missed my local Japanese sushi dude.

Lunch next day at a small, local cafe. Grilled sandwich with tuna, cheese and pineapple (!). Quite good, but again slightly flavourless.

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Cortado at another café.

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I always bring reading material with me when eating alone in public, or I get bored to death. Or worse: strangers start talking to me. (Mostly old ladies, unfortunately).

Last night in Aveiro, the peaceful river and my hotel.

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And then back to Copenhagen.

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Plane food: sadness on a tray:

Portugal is quite an affordable outing, and I am told that driving along the country’s coast line is incredibly beautiful — visiting old villages and enjoying the warm breezes at small secret beaches. But you might bring a picnic basket, or seven, if you want to make sure to enjoy your meals. Am I a food snob? Not at all. I just like good, fresh food and so far I haven’t been able to find it in Portugal.

Since I’m probably coming here again at some point to check up on production, I will now prepare my visit to know where to go for a good Portuguese time!

5 Comments

  • Posted May 15, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Ooh, shame about the food. I don’t really know much about Portuguese food either except for pastel de nata (custard tart – very eggy) which I love. And salt cod which is what you smelt in the supermarket. I haven’t been there yet but I hope to visit Lisbon one day.

  • Marta
    Posted May 15, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Oh, I’m sorry for you, Anders. I’ve been to Portugal twice, always with friends that already new where to go and what to eat and had a good experience. Food in Lisbon was ok and you could choose between many restaurants. Portuguese wines are delicious, also the cheese. I loved seafood and fish in Algarve (southern Portugal) I wish you can give it a chance! By the way, love the tiles pictures!

  • yoko
    Posted May 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    I love that tile with bridge scense. I wish I could get tile made in that style but show scenes of Tokyo on it. And then plaster it all over my house in South Berkeley. The house would be having an identity crisis.

  • Kayoko
    Posted May 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    @Yoko it would fit right in with the Towel rack though.

  • worm
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Castella (kasutera in Japan) – also very sweet and egg-y.

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