Queijo, Tejo, Azulejo

by forumholitorium

A wedding, a honeymoon, a near miss by a falling window and the demise of a household appliance hindered the Forum Holitorium from opening the past month, but things are back to normal now. A lot of good food was prepared and consumed in the meantime, and there are a series of posts waiting to be set free.

Little did we know on our wedding day when we received an agapanthus, or Liebesblume (love flower), that we would see blooming specimens every day of our honeymoon. Native to South Africa, they are easily spotted in gardens and public parks in Lisbon and Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The flowers below were spotted in Cascais.

I love points of geographical significance. In May, I spent one night in Passau and was excited to find out it was the point where three rivers (Ilz, Inn and Danube) meet up. The city is a pleasant and sleepy place, yet there is an energy coursing through it thanks to its position at a watery crossroads. In today’s world of air travel and cars, we often forget to acknowledge the importance of waterways and how they have shaped our destiny. So it will come as no surprise that I was really looking forward to reaching the end of the continent, what the Romans called the Promontorium Magnum and which is now known as Cabo da Roca, to hear the pounding surf, gaze out onto the blue expanse, and contemplatively face the winds that blew the intrepid discoverers in their caravels to points unknown.

Before I started preparing for the trip, I knew nearly nothing about Portuguese cuisine. My only associations were Port wine, which has a Proustian effect on me, and cod, the famous bacalhau. In fact, Portugal has made a very important contribution to the culinary vocabulary of several European languages via the word marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince. While the English word marmalade designates jam made of oranges or lemons (and reminds me of Paddington Bear), the term refers to jam in general in most other languages that have borrowed the word (including the Austrian German Marmelade). These quinces were still ripening.

You may remember from a previous post that cabbage arose along the European seaboard. In the beginning, the plant did not form a head but grew like kale with leaves growing off of a stem. I like to think that the Galician cabbage pictured below is a direct descendant of what the Romans grew in Lusitania. Couve galega, as it is called in Portuguese, is used to prepare the national dish caldo verde, a cabbage soup that I regret to say I did not sample. I imagine fishermen returning home on a cold winter’s night and warming their bones with a huge bowl of caldo verde into which they dunked crusty bread.

So what were the food highlights? Our daily routine included the much anticipated stop at a cafe for a bica, the Portuguese version of espresso, and a pastel de nata, a puff pastry shell filled with egg yolk custard. In Lisbon, our landlord showered us with culinary gifts: fresh cherries and peaches, homemade peach ice cream, and queijo curado. Queijo means cheese, curado means aged, and the kind of aged cheese we sampled was made of sheep’s milk using a kind of thistle as the curdling agent. TC got his fill of coentros, or cilantro, a favorite fresh herb, while I will always remember a particularly scrumptious peach chutney paired with sheep’s cheese. With the exception of the exquisite meal at the B+B we stayed at near the coast, satisfying vegetarian food was not in the cards for this vacation. But you know what? The point of a honeymoon is not to eat yourself silly.