being that i don’t speak a lick of portugese, the discovery of food rituals in lisbon was a learning experience. after a convoluted trek from the airport, our stomachs were ready for adventure, but alas it was our wallets that learned a valuable lesson. portugese restaurants customarily present you with an assortment of appetizers after you place your order, without any sort of confirmation. depending on the venue, the plates range from a basic bread, cheese, and olive selection to what you see below, which included crab avocado salad, beef carpaccio, and octopus crudo. my initial thought was “oh, how hospitable!”, but as the check arrived, a charge ranging anywhere from €5-€15 ($7-$20) unexpectedly appeared on the bill. after incurring this surprise expense, we decided to press our luck by denying the appetizer service the following night (no whammies, no whammies). big mistake– the looks we received from the server were approximate to those of insulting one’s mother or perhaps kicking a baby. by the time we arrived at olivier our final night, we decided to avoid the guess-work and order the €38 prix-fixe, consisting of nine starters, entree, and sorbet in vodka. the embedded five course starters would have set us back €12, and with entrees ranging from €18-€25, it was the frugal thing to do. lesson learned: when in a foreign country, go big or go home.
prior to visiting portugal, the only cultural references i could make were those of portugese water dogs and linguiça. however, maritime exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries earned this western-most european country the honour of first and longest-lived global empire in the world. portugal’s international powerhouse status may have tempered since its glory days, but a happenstance of flight routing brought me to lisbon for a short vacay. my first misconception upon arrival into the city was that you can get by in portugal by speaking some basic spanish. so not true. be that as it may, we eventually found our sea legs, ate our fair share of bacalhau, and in no time, were in pursuit of my first international taste of fernet. research resulting from wide-eyed jetlag led me down lisbon’s narrow cobblestone streets to bar snob in the bairro alto district. after ringing a buzzer for entrance (american speakeasys ain’t got nothin’ on the euros), we were led into a dimly lit parlour of velvet-upholstered antique furnishings that felt more like an estate library than a bar. the concept of mixing fernet with coke must not have caught on in europe yet, because only after much questioning did i received a mini-bottle of coke and and glass of ice to accompany my apertif. at that point, the bar owner of 43 years disappeared into the woodwork of this un-pretentious establishment, providing quiet solace from a busy tourism whirlwind and my first real sense of home in one of the oldest cities in the world.