Whenever you’re taking on a new project, research is essential. I’m a big researcher, which is funny, because I avoided it like the plague in my university years. Some people are very academic and learn most of what they know from piles of books, but I’m more of an experiential learner. I do like reading up on things, but I really absorb things when I get to doing. Learn on the job. Learn by doing. Learn from mistakes and successes. Experience is my best teacher.
Since I plan on opening up a Portuguese inspired restaurant, the best way for me to research is to get on a plane and head to Portugal.
Susete and I already went once, in the spring….. visiting Lisbon and surrounding area on the continent, and then hopping over to her homeland in the Açores islands. That trip opened a whole new world for me… now it’s time to dig deeper.
This time around, I’m traveling around as much of Portugal as I can, only being limited by time and money. I originally planned this to be about a month and a half trip, visiting every little hidden corner of Portugal, but I’ve (wisely) cut it down to 3 weeks, and have sadly, had to also cut out a few areas. The good part of this is that I’ve streamlined it…. the trip is more focused now.
Here’s the plan:
I’m landing in Lisbon, and then hopping on a train to go about 2 hours north to spend some time in Coimbra, the first capital of Portugal from when it was still young… c. 1143. Aside from being the centre of academic knowledge for almost a thousand years, Coimbra is is the largest city in the Beiras region of the country (the central region just north of Lisbon), which is known for Leitão, roast suckling pig.
From there, I’m going to head back down to Lisbon (Lisboa), and dig into the city’s food scene again. Last trip, I was surprised and blown away by Lisbon’s ability to hold on to traditional flavours while also being on the cutting edge of the culinary world.
The first week of this trip, I’ll be on my own, and then my fellow cook, Phil (aka Prince Phillip), who I selfishly like to think of as my little protégé, is going to be joining me.
Once Phil arrives, we’re going to head into the heart & soul of Portugal. The main agricultural region of Alentejo, which makes up most of the south, and is about 1/3 of the country. Alentejo is famous for being home to the cork oak trees (yes, where we get cork from), as well as the ever so infamous black pigs that feed in the acorns from the oaks. These black pigs are called ‘porco preto’ on the Portuguese side of the Iberian border, and Iberian pigs (better known as ‘jamon Iberico’) on the Spanish side.
This is my gold mine.
After driving around Alentejo, Phil and I are going to head back to Lisbon, and I’m going to show him the culinary wonders that city has to offer. The amazing central market, the forward thinking restaurants of the young chefs, and the soul-embracing old school traditional little tascas hidden throughout the alleyways.
Phil will finish up his trip in Lisbon and head back home to sweat it out on the line, while I remain and meet my wife, Susete, as she joins me for the third leg of the race.
Once Susete gets here, we’ll jump on a train and b-line it up to the northern capital of Porto, and explore the areas where Portugal found its roots. We’ll wander the streets of Porto and visit the infamous Port cellars across the river. We’ll weave our way through the famed Douro valley, one of the oldest and first officially demarcated wine regions in the world. We’ll visit some of the towns of the northern Minho region, where Portugal was born, and is also the home to my favourite wine, vinho verde.
After making our way through the north, we’ll finish up our Portuguese adventure by heading back to the central region for a short stay at a palace… well, simply because we can. This is Portugal, and you can stay in palaces in Portugal.
A couple hours in, and about 5 more hours to go on this flight. So far, so good. Let’s keep this going.
Next time I see you (or rather, next time you read on this site), I’ll be writing from Coimbra. See you at university.