What I Miss About Portugal

Portuguese Saleswoman

I’m often asked at signings or lectures what I miss most about my near-yearlong stay in Portugal while I researched my cookbook. Honestly, the answer changes. It’s not that I’m being capricious or anything (although I can be—a lot). My response is tied to the calendar.

Ask me in October, and it’s São Jorge, one of the nine Azores Islands. It was there that my friend, Portuguese food scholar Janet Boileau, and I scoured the island in search of the finest sample of its namesake cheese: queijo São Jorge.

Ask me in March, and it’ll be the still-green undulating plains of the Alentejo, the great swath of land that cuts through the midsection of the country. In spring a riot of flowers speckle the landscape, almost in defiance of the sun that will pelt all of it into a tawny brown. The One and I spent three glorious weeks there, crawling on our bellies and eating, it seems, every living creature in sight.

But ask me at this time of year, and I always miss this woman. I have no idea what her name is. (I was too self-conscious about my Portuguese to speak to her.) She owned a sliver of a store in the Alfama district, just down the street from my apartment. Outside, she methodically lined the cobblestone sidewalk, which she swept daily, with a few crates of just-delivered greens (the best of which was couves, or kale), baskets of dented cookware, which I doubt anyone ever bought, and blemished fruit. Hung above was perhaps the loudest bird in captivity on the Iberian Peninsula.

What I miss most, though, was that every day when school let out, a gaggle of kids bottlenecked at her door. She’d wait until every last one was watching, and then she’d reach into the pocket of her smock for candy. As the kids ripped into the wrappers, she’d cackle, beaming behind her crooked, half-toothless grin. If I were walking by, she’d catch my eye and nod mischievously, knowingly. (Finally, one day she relented and  tossed a candy my way: pineapple.)

Saudades. In Portuguese it means to miss something profoundly, to have a deep and unabidding longing. Today, eu tenho saudades de Portugal. I miss Portugal.

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Tell us: Is there a place out there that you miss so much it makes you ache?

Comments
Comments
  1. Sofia Reino says:

    Saudades, saudades indeed. Beautiful article on the same day a Great Portuguese sailor, Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, India and forever changed our palates. What I miss the most about Portugal (aside from my family, that is) is the actual lifestyle. As my Irish-American husband says, back home we work hard and play even harder. We work to live. Food is king and we will travel hours for a certain meal. We do not worry about lunch break taking 2 hours, we will add the other work hour later one.

  2. Briony Ryles says:

    I’m off to Lisbon in three weeks. No matter how long I stay away, Portugal is always home. Saudades is the only word for it.

    • David Leite says:

      Briony, enjoy yourself. There’s a relatively new resto called Alma. I’ve not been but I heard it’s quite good. 

  3. Annie Albro says:

    love this site, great recipes and stories!

  4. Cecilia Guerreiro says:

    I am also a displaced Portuguese (my parents both coming from Albufeira). I have been to Portugal twice and it’s like going home each time. And each time I never want to leave :) It’s time to go for longer next time! What I miss about Portugal is the ocean — everything from the beach to the fishing docks — and the simple, fresh, local food. Love it!

    And I love the Olive Oil Orange Cake recipe, David! I made it to take to my parent’s house when we went there for Easter (we live in Canada) and my mom loved it…reminded her that she used to make it all the time. I’m just going to send the link to one of my sons who is living in Scotland. (I sent him a perfect pan for it last year!)

    Big love!

    • David Leite says:

      Cecilia, I agree. Portugal’s ocean is gorgeous. And in the Azores, it’s even more gorgeous, if you can believe it. So glad you liked the cake. I always love it when a native finds the dishes in the book to be just like they made at home. Yes!

      • Cookielady says:

         Thanks for the reply, David! I LOVE the cake! (Like is too wishy washy!) I have another in my freezer ready to give away :)  I will have to make it a goal to get to the Azores. I have never been. Is there affordable accommodation there?

        • David Leite says:

          Cookielady, there are affordable hotels in the Azores, but they’re becoming harder to find, especially on São Miguel. I just looked online and found some as low as $80 a night. I used hotels.com.

  5. I know that feeling of missing something so much you can physically feel your heart swell and ache at the thought of it. That’s how I feel about Chicago – a slow walk down to Fullerton with my beach chair strapped to my back, a drippingly cold pint at Southport Lanes, my favorite bar. Sniff.

    • David Leite says:

      Good. Food. Stories.–Ah, Chi-town. I’ve been there only twice, and based solely on those five days there, I was inches away from moving….then I met The One. And,well, you know how that goes. A different kind of ache, and that kept me in NYC. 

  6. I’m not much of a world traveler but I’ve been to some great cities in the US; New York, Boston and Chicago among them. But I miss North Carolina. I miss my home surrounded by trees; I miss the beach. I miss shrimp cooked right off the boat and a sunrise on the ocean. Just thinking about it makes me weepy. I haven’t lived there for many years but it’s in my blood and I miss it every day.

  7. David Leite says:

    Jbrita, I think there is something to the wholesomeness of Portuguese food that makes you hungry and eat better. As far as fewer calories, don’t know if I’d go there!

  8. Laurie Iseman says:

    I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting your beloved Portugal, but I’m sure I would adore it. I left a piece of my heart in Provence in 2007.

    • David Leite says:

      Laurie, The One and I are going to Provence in September. Perhaps we’ll leave a bit of our hearts there, too. Any suggestions of where to go?

  9. Shelley Bakes says:

    I spent a semester in Malta and it was one of the best of my life. :)  When I cannot sleep, I mentally retrace my steps from the flat where I lived with fellow students to the University.  Someday I shall go back there … :)

    • David Leite says:

      Shelley, that is so lovely to retrace your steps in Malta. I have never been but I think I’m putting it on my Bucket List.

  10. Cecilia Gurerreiro says:

    Yyzlis, I missed your post earlier. Thank you for the reply. It brought tears to my eyes and gave me tingly cheeks (my equivalent of goosebumps, but I got those too :)

    I can practically imagine bumping into your uncle at the fisherman’s market on the beach. Who knows! Maybe we even ate some of his catch! :)

    I agree about the fabulous food. Everything is very simple, but beautifully fresh and beautifully prepared. It is sustaining and I long for such simplicity and nourishment. Even the bread is better…the cheeses, everything!

    I could live there!

  11. About 20 years ago, I spent a few weeks in the Alentejo. I remember the day the women of the village set out three long tables under the clear sky, heaped with casseroles and fresh fruit and desserts from their kitchens. They wore shirts and skirts in a riot of pattern and color, their hands were rough when they brushed against my shoulder, and their smiles, well, that’s what I’ll never forget. I’ve heard there have been too many changes to fathom in the Alentejo. I’m glad to hear you can still find those generous women, the ones who without fuss connect to others through casseroles, pineapple candies, and, most importantly, smiles.

    • David Leite says:

      What a lovely comment, Elizabeth. So few words, but so evocative. Yes, the Alentejo has changed a lot, but there still are those woman, hanging in there, hoping for a better day. It’s one of my favorite places in the whole country, especialy in early April, when the landscape wears a riot of color to rival the roupa, or clothes of the women.

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