If you’re interested in contemporary art, be sure to visit the Cascais museum devoted to the Portuguese painter Paula Rego. Her work is housed in a striking building designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura, a Portuguese architect who received the Pritzker prize in 2011. Rego uses ordinary faces, objects, and landscapes from Portugal to paint unusual scenes that challenge visual and social conventions.
Marcel Proust could vividly recall the taste and smell of his aunt’s madeleines. Those memories inspired his masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past.
Joana Garcia remembered the taste and smell of the cheese she ate as a child with her grandmother in Alentejo. Those memories inspired her to recreate that long-lost flavor. She quit her job as a lawyer, moved to Alentejo and bought 500 sheep. After trying endless combinations of milk, salt and cardoon, she found the taste of her youth. Garcia’s masterpiece is called Queijo Monte da Vinha. It is a delicious, soft, buttery cheese with the precious taste of a distant past.
You can try Queijo Monte da Vinha at the wonderful Tasca da Esquina restaurant in Lisbon. You can buy it at Mercearia Creativa, a gourmet grocery store where you’ll find many other great Portuguese products (Av. Guerra Junqueiro, 4A, Lisbon, tel. 218-485-198). Click here for the Monte da Vinha website.
Paparico, in Oporto, looks like the kind of restaurant that uses recipes passed from a shepherd’s mouth to a shepherd’s ear. Any lingering doubts about the rustic nature of this eatery are assuaged as you enter and see the granite walls and heavy decor.
But, when the food arrives, it becomes clear that the chef has traveled the world to learn the art of cooking. We take a bite and our taste buds scintillate with the certainty that no shepherd ever cooked food that tastes this good.
Paparico does not try to redefine traditional Portuguese cuisine. It seeks to refines it in discrete, clever, wonderfully delicious ways.
O Paparico, Rua de Costa Cabral, 2343 Oporto, tel. 225400548. Click here for Paparico’s website.
Rossio, one of Lisbon’s main plazas, is an aristocratic lady who has seen it all: prosperity, peace, poverty, and bloodshed. She also remembers crazy times, when bullfights were staged in the middle of the plaza. And that day in 1515! King Manuel had arranged a duel in Terreiro do Paço between an elephant and a rhinoceros. When the elephant saw the other beast, it broke its cage and fled to Rossio!
She remembers the story of the statue of D. Pedro IV, King of Portugal and Emperor of Brazil. His daughter, D. Maria II, inaugurated a monument that remained unfinished for 14 years. Finally, in 1867, a high column was built and a regal statue placed on top. A statue of emperor Maximilian was in Lisbon in transit to Mexico, when news arrived that Maximilian had been shot. Rumor has it that the statue was bought at a discount and used in Rossio. It was a fine way to save money, since all emperors look alike atop a high column.
But all that is the past. What matters is that every day Rossio is full of young people, and that their dreams can fill the future.
Martinho da Arcada, a café in Terreiro do Paço, is a time capsule. It shows us what Lisbon cafés looked like in the first part of the 20th century. It is an austere place and, yet, it was here that the poet Fernando Pessoa wrote some of the best poetry in the Portuguese language.
Do the muses still gather at Martinho da Arcada, waiting to whisper their rhymes to those willing to listen? There’s only one way to find out. Take a pen and a pad of paper, sit down at one of the tables, order some coffee, and watch what happens.