But going as an adult this time was far different. I made an effort to understand and speak a little Portuguese, cobbling together the meanings of conversations based on digging deep into what I could remember from high school and college Spanish classes. I tried to cover as much ground as possible in Lisbon and unplug from email and social media out on the beach at Figueira da Foz. It helps when data plans cost an arm and a leg overseas.
Of course, there was a lot of eating. "You ready to gain a few pounds on this trip?" was one of the first questions my Dad turned to ask me on our flight over. What you have to understand about my Dad is that this is a man who knows no bounds when it comes to feeding people. He owns a fish market; food is his business. And like the cliched Italian grandmothers, I'm pretty sure my Dad derives a great amount of happiness from seeing other people be well-fed with fish he's sourced. I like to joke that I'm genetically predisposed from both sides of my family to prepare too much food for any occasion.
Eating was simultaneously an event and an activity of leisure in Portugal. Plans after dinner? Not so. You're gonna be there for a while. And that's actually a really good thing. I realized quickly that no one was checking their phones at the table in Portugal, a habit I could definitely benefit from abandoning back home.
Looking back on it, I remember this trip sort of as a series of snapshots. Late lunches that practically ran into dinner, which wasn't served until 9 PM anyway. The customary coffee or "galão" around 3 PM and a piping hot, bitter espresso at 11:30 at night. The perfect snack coming off of the beach was a caramel gelato from Emanha. Pasteis de Belem's creamy custard lived up to every ounce of hype. The best night included hours of Fado in a dark bar with a pitcher of sangria in Coimbra.
There were plump, juicy tomatoes sprinkled with fat grains of sea salt--one of which weighed a whopping three pounds--in a tiny restaurant on the outskirts of Figueira that my Dad had been going to for decades. Every sliver of potato I laid eyes on was hand-cut. Most steaks were topped with a fried egg that always had a glossy, vibrant orange yolk. There were deep dishes with grilled tentacles from octopuses as thick as rope with crispy, charred suction cups drizzled with olive oil. And if you ever get to try a Portuguese lobster, you'll spend a long time internally debating if Maine ones are the weaker species when it comes to flavor.
Here's to returning to beautiful Portugal sooner rather than later.