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Eating Portugal

A love story of 3 dishes & 3 umbrellas.

By Clarke WainikkaPublished 4 years ago 7 min read

On September 7th, 2019, my husband and I tied the knot on a small hill in the middle of nowhere, Canada. While that day was truly magical in every aspect: love, food and cost - the true celebration came three months later on our December honeymoon in Portugal.

The land of egg tarts, simple seafood and green wine. And for my husband and I - the first steps on the stairway of our marriage.

I will focus on three dishes - three significant moments of love that occured on our two-week trip. Moments that I will remember, cherish and that truly satiate.

1. Pastéis de Nata

By Felix Kolthoff on Unsplash

A crisp, flakey crust with a caramelized top, smooth and sweet custard filling, served with a tiny cup of espresso. These egg tarts are a signature of every holiday to Portugal.

We stayed with a friend of my grandfather when we were in Lisbon. Maria worked as a translator and she had been very successful in her life - despite being in her 70's she was full of energy and eager to share her history with us. She lived through the Carnation revolution and told us of her fear when she was separated from her husband, Carlos, during that time, her terror of perhaps never seeing him again and having to raise her four children on her own. Driving to the Castle Sintra from her apartment along the edge of the sea, she told us of living through the change from true authoritiarinism to a land of free speech, a transition that still causes many struggles within the older generation of Portugal.

Before Sintra, Maria took us to a beach for a picnic. In the morning, we had picked up several baked goods from a grocery store behind her apartment. Piles upon piles of bread and stuffed pastries in a brown paper bag that we laid out on a plastic table which we had to pull out from a closed restaurant's patio as we were at a beach in December.

It was cold and windy, the waves crashing into the cliffside with impatience and wintery intensity. A man with his golden retriever walked by, waving and chatting very briefly with Maria in Portugese.

Justin ate his ham and cheese pastry - somedays, I believe, he loves ham more than he loves me. I bit into the Pastéis de Nata, crumbs flaking off onto my jacket. Such a seemingly simple pastry but actually quite complicated to make - rooted in tradition with a history tracing back hundreds of years. And I looked to Maria as she told us her stories and we told her ours, sharing our beliefs, our values and goals as crumbs of our half-eaten pastry were picked up by the wind, swirling in the air like golden snow and then resting on the sand, blending in and awaiting the tide to wash them away.

Us with Maria

2. Seafood Panada

Bota & Bira

I curse myself for not taking a picture of this dish on our trip as it was one of the most memorable and delicious of the entire honeymoon.

After Lisbon and a sentimental goodbye with Mario and Carlos, we rented a car and headed North to Porto. There are many reasons why Porto was my favourite city: the colour of the buildings, the levels of architecture, the charm of the people - foaming bubbles in a courtyard (yes, literally - we walked by a courtyard that was covered in, what looked like, soap suds).

I was grouchy on this day. The rain would not go away and despite recognizing my privilege of being able to travel, the weather was affecting my mood. Regardless, we spent the day touring some cathedrals and crypts, climbing up the Porto cathedral, drinking mid-afternoon port and later visiting Livraria Lello - a bookstore where JK Rowling discovered some inspiration for the Harry Potter series.


We were tired, our feet were sore, but we needed to eat. If you've ever been to Southern Europe, you know the turmoil of their late eating habits. Justin and I regularly eat dinner around 5 or 6pm but in Portugal, most of the restaurants do not even open until 8pm.

While laying around in our hotel, we did some research and discovered a very well-reviewed restaurant called Bota & Bira that was, literally, a block from us. Score. Upon reading the reviews and following our grumbling stomachs, we decided to show up right at opening for fear of not being able to get a table.

We were the first people there. The waiter greeted us with a smile and asked if we had a reservation which we did not but they advised if we could eat within an hour that it should be no problem. Justin and I half-laughed at this being vacuum-fast eaters.

This was one of the smallest restaurants I've ever been in - 5 or 6 tables in a stone room the size of a modest bedroom. I've always struggled with insecurities and self-consciousness especially around eating, and I felt very uncomfortable being the only eaters in the restaurant. But after a glass of red, incomparable service from the waiter and another group of tourists, I began to calm.

Looking across the table to my husband, we agreed to order a bit of everything. Two more glasses of wine pass, the waiter brings a stone bowl to our table, a prawn hanging over its edge like a spoon sticking out of too-full cereal.

Smiling down at us, the waiter cracks an egg into the stone bowl and begins mixing vigorously, the smell of seafood and fresh bread filling the restaurant - The egg cooking in the heat of the panada sauce and the prawn breaking down into the stone bowl until it had created a rich golden sauce.

After our first bites, Justin and I could only stare at each other, taking in the soft, warm egg sauce, wondering how this full-bodied flavour of prawn and butter had made its way into this stone bowl in front of us. Any insecurities, ungratefulness and vulnerabilities washing away as we drowned ourselves in the richness of the food and wine. The rain pattering outside, falling lightly onto the waiting patrons who were about to experience what we were.

Sometimes, Justin and I will just look at each other and say, "that seafood panada." Instantly, transporting ourselves to that night of drunken love in a stone bowl. Walking around afterwards, hand in hand, exploring the city that brought us seafood panada.

View from the Porto Cathedral

3. Bacalhau - Two Ways

Bacalhau - Two ways

Now let me preface this with this was not the most delicious of the dishes that we had in Portugal. In fact, it was probably on the lower end in terms of quality dishes. However, it was the experience around the dish that made it significant.

After Porto, we travelled, first, northwards to Braga where we spent 3 freezing cold days in the rain - breaking our umbrella and being forced to purchase a new one. Then, we turned ourselves around and started heading south, stopping first in the city of Coimbra.

It's strange to experience Christmas outside of your home country and Coimbra was definietly the most Christmasy of the towns we visitied. Lights shaped like pinecones hung in the alleyways. Plastic Santa sleighs sat outside of century-old cathedrals. A busker played 'O Holy Night' on his saxophone.

It was another day of rain and exploring. We got there late and most things were closed - we were starting to get used to the late suppers. We hopped into a restaraunt, not far from our hotel, that was advertised as being quite traditional but ended up being somewhat of a tourist trap.

Despite this, Justin and I ordered several dishes but spent most of our money on wine. The waiter, being more traditionalist, looked to Justin as he poured our first glass and asked, "is it okay, sir?"

Justin looked at me with concern as he drinks very little wine and I am the wine-drinker in our household. But the waiter hadn't even given me a sip to share my opinion. Justin and I share a silent moment of knowing and he nods at the waiter who gleefully pours us full glasses of the wine.

We order the Bacalhau - two ways which is a traditional Portugese dish made up on salted baked cod. Two ways meant one piece of cod slathered with tomatoes and egg and the other with cream. The acceptable wine flushing our skin and improving the taste of the dish, we gobbled up the cod, agreeing that the cream way was significantly better than the tomato. The fish flakey and falling apart with the heaviness of the cream - potatoes on the side soaking in the cream to create a buttery, satisfying side that outshone the rest of the dish.

Chocolate mousse for dessert - Justin and I whispering about the service, the other patrons, and our love for one another amongst the miserable weather. Discussing how I'd never seen Justin wine drunk and here we were, in Portugal, chocolate mousse and roasted walnuts coating our mouths, wine drunk together.

Someone stole our umbrella during our meal. Almost all businesses put canisters at the front door to place your umbrellas while you ate and someone had plucked ours out, leaving us still wine drunk and umbrellaless yet again.

We went through 3 umbrellas on our honeymoon. Two broken, one stolen. We made our way back to our hotel. The rain coming down hard, wrapped in each other's arms, speculating who took the third umbrella, laughing at our bad luck.

Our stomachs - full of cod, tomatoes, cream, mousse, wine, prawns, butter, pastries, ham, custard and egg. Our marriage only beginning - a honeymoon period - yes - but already established with secret knowing glances, comfortable vulnerabilities, stories of tradition and in the roots and love of dishes shared together.


About the Creator

Clarke Wainikka

Winnipeg-based author Clarke Wainikka is the creator of compelling dark fiction thrillers and mysteries such as The Resemblance and All Junkies Float, as well as numerous short stories.

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    Clarke WainikkaWritten by Clarke Wainikka

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