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.

David Leite's signature

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

Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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. 

  5. 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!

    1. 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!

      1.  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?

        1. 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.

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