Portugal is changing, and it’s changing quickly! The last time I was there in 2011, it was much more run down than it is today. Tourism is booming, there’s construction everywhere and prices are skyrocketing. I don’t remember seeing expat-centric spots in Lisbon like the TimeOut Market, Heim Cafe or Comoba back then. Most food was very cheap, traditional and it was mostly seafood and potatoes. Now, it’s everything under the sun, and a lot of crappy overpriced tourist traps like you’d see in Paris or Rome, but also a lot of fancy joints that surprised me and are very glass-and-steel in tile-and-brick Lisboa. The neighbourhoods have completely changed (or maybe it’s just me that’s grown up!) and Bairro Alto, which used to seem so hip, now just seemed dodgy. I instead gravitated entirely to Principe Real – with their incredibly cool spots such as the Embaixada, Pavilhão Chinês and A Cevicheria – and Sao Bento, with it’s beautiful parks and cafes, blooming jacarandas and orange and lemon trees everywhere you look and smells of happiness. I also spent a ton of time at LXFactory, which is like Amsterdam-Noord, Christiania and Parkdale all rolled up into a nice little art bomb.
With travel, of course, comes the food fiesta. It made me laugh to see kogel mogel, a childhood treat that I got when there was no candy around (ahem. communism.) and I was permitted to swirl sugar and yolk together, being reincarnated as a luxury boutique delicacy. Sampling the foods of the different regions made me think about the hierarchy that we place on certain cuisines. Italian and French food equals fancy and upscale, and the majority of high-priced restaurants in downtown Toronto serve foods typically from there. Vietnamese and Mexican food is casual and cheaper, and Portuguese, Polish, Ethiopian, Greek, etcetera is super casual. There are of course exceptions here and there, but this is typically the drill here. So my brain exploded when I found myself sampling Presunto ham, Azeitao cheese and wine from Alentejo and realizing that Prosciutto, Roquefort and Chianti didn’t really hold a candle to these delights. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the pride of a region in its products and the need to distinguish them from others, but I had that “Chinese dumplings are Polish pierogies are Japanese gyoza are Ukrainian varenyky” moment and for that second, the world seemed a little smaller. I also felt like I had unearthed a great secret, a Cava of Champagne proportions, and I felt enlightened. Sue me.
The wine regions of Portugal are devastatingly gorgeous. I have this fantasy that I’ll get a field job with UNESCO visiting their locales to make sure they still… I dunno… use the proper brass in their doorknobs or something, and get a chance to see every place in the world deemed a heritage site. The Douro Valley nearly brought me to tears with it’s gentle beauty, and the Algarve Atlantic coast stunned me with its raw, untamed and completely different topography than the rest of the country. I see why those clever surfers gravitate there. Those beaches will absolutely make you melt.