30 October 2011

Things Portuguese People Like

Sweets. Saying they "like" sweets may be an understatement. Portuguese people really, really like their baked goods. From morning until night, people gather at the counters of pastelerias, sipping coffee and eating something fresh, dense and almost invariably yellow. Pastries are delectably eggy, from tiny creme brulee custard cups to something as simple as honey sweetened egg bread. The thing is, Portuguese people happen to have some incredible baked goods at their disposal at all times. So, it's pretty easy to see why they have such a sweet tooth.
Serving Platters. Tables in Portugal are pretty uniform - white paper place mat or table covering, simple white plates, simple silver utensils, a stubby wine glass for water and a thinner one for wine. But the final items, that never ever fail to appear on your table, are serving platters. Anything ordered, comes in a separate dish, most often an oval tray, which is set beside your empty plate with some serving spoons. It may make tables more crowded and necessitate more washing, but there's something nice about transferring a portion of steaming hot food to your dish. Serving yourself makes you feel a little more at home, I think. Plus, the portions are always so humongous that it's nice not to have it all in front of you at once.
Football. Like port wine, you can thank the English for this dominant presence in Portuguese culture. The sport gained popularity in the 19th century, when students "brought it back from England." Nowadays, their star player is Cristiano Rinaldo. Ever heard of him? Here are some kids playing soccer with a plastic bag after their first ball, a plastic bottle, rolled under a dining couple's table. This was in Guimarães, where the night sky was lit up with soccer on tv.
Little Beers. A French study in 1999 ranked the Portuguese as the world's biggest drinkers. So, maybe it's an attempt to scale back? Super Bock, the Portuguese beer, is available in these "mini" bottles. Beer glasses at bars are the size of a New Jersey diner juice glass. You can order a larger one, but the assumption, if you don't specify, will be that you want the little beer or mini beer bottle. Locals say it's so that the drink is colder. Makes sense, but still gives bartenders a whole lotta extra work.
Balconies. When we first arrived in Portugal, in Guimarães, our hotel receptionist said that the main squares were "full of beautiful balconies." For some reason, we figured he actually meant terraces, for dining and such. From that night forward, throughout our two weeks, we saw more balconies than we could count. I'd say it's a dominant architectural feature. And Portuguese people don't just have balconies, they use them. Hanging out their laundry, showing national and football club pride through draped flags and banners, sitting outside for a smoke, having a potted garden or decorating with old mannequins, statues, etc - they really make balconies an extension of their home.
Fado. This type of music is widely believed to be a Portuguese invention. The word comes from "fate," and it is a mournful, soulful style of singing that speaks of tragedy and loss. Originally, sailors were the main fadistas. Soon, though, singers such as Amália Rodrigues ("The Queen of Fado") put the music on the national and international map. Rodrigues' house is a big attraction in Lisbon and the Fado Museum (seen above) makes a lovely trip. Mostly, though, you encounter fado through the radios playing everywhere and at restaurants that offer live performances.
This shade of yellow. And what a pretty shade it is. When buildings weren't white, they were almost always this color. Bright but warm, it looks beautiful at dawn, dusk and all the hours in between. It really is a sort of uniform shade and... come to think of it.... matches their egg pastries! Mystery solved.

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