My wife always tells me that I’m terrible at keeping secrets. What she really means when she says that is that when I buy something for someone for Christmas or their birthday, I don’t like to wait until that day arrives to give them said present.
Like an 8 year old with a 10 spot, presents or surprises tend to “burn a hole in my pocket.” But last Saturday was different.
About a month ago, I bought an online Groupon sort of voucher from Sapo (an internet provider here in Portugal, that, in case you didn’t know means toad of all things) for a special night of Tapas and Fado. Before you have enough time to say, “Bless you.” I’ll go on and tell what Tapas and Fado are.
Tapas is just a bunch of appetizers or small dishes served together to make a meal. Think about all the stuff that you eat while watching football on Saturday with a bunch of friends, or the variety of snacks at a kid’s birthday party. Make it Portuguese or Spanish and you’ve got Tapas. No, Fado is the dessert. Rather, it is a distinctive Portuguese music genre that conservative estimates say, dates back about two hundred years. It probably is much older than that.
I paid 11,90€ ($15,80) for two people to enjoy a special evening in Porto at La Tasca, and I kept it a secret.
One of the cool things about being a foreign missionary is being able to learn about and experience a new culture, and every now and then we try to immerse ourselves even deeper into the Portuguese culture. Then we go home to the confines of our little America.
Our horizons could always be broader.
So, I asked Nina to put on a nice dress. I put on of the two shirts in my closet that require cuff links, and a suit. On the way home, my dear wife wondered aloud if that was the first time she had ever gone on a date with a man in a suit. I reminded her of a few other occasions that I had worn a suit, but she was still impressed.
And, most importantly, she had no idea. An upscale sushi place? Dinner theater? Those were her actual guesses. It took me a month to get a reservation, but I was able to arrange our date for the Saturday night after Valentine’s Day. Perfect timing.
Today, let me tell you about the food, the tapas. Then tomorrow I’ll tell you more about the music, the fado. I bet you didn’t expect a restaurant and concert review when you first started reading, did you?
Tapas at the Tavern
We arrived for our 8pm reservation and discovered that we were amongst only a handful of other patrons. Portuguese families typically eat later in the evening, and when Fado is involved, it becomes even later. I asked what time the fadista would arrive, and our waiter said about 9:45. Wanting to make sure that we wouldn’t be rushed out, before the performance, I asked if there was any rush on their part. The response? No, we’re normally here until 4am.
That’s right, Tapas and Fado are a marathon, not a 40 yard dash.
After ordering a few cokes, he began to bring out the food on small plates in groups of four or five. Listed in Portuguese with a loose translation/explanation, the menu consisted of:
- Calamares (Calamari)
- Gambas (large shrimp)
- Pimentos Padron (grilled and salted green peppers)
- Cogumelos Salteados (sautéed mushrooms)
- Chouriço Assado (grilled sausage)
- Morcela Assada (grilled blood sausage, yes blood sausage)
- Chamuças (samosas, small triangular meet-filled pastries)
- Bolinhos de Bacalhau (small balls of cod-fish)
- Mexilhão Vinagrete (Mussel vinaigrette)
- Presunto com melão (ham with melon)
- Ameijoas à La Tasca (clams)
- Pataniscas (small cod-fish cakes)
- Azeitonas com Alho (olives with garlic)
- Queijo com Alecrim (cheese with rosemary)
- Bacalhau (cod-fish with onions – both appeared to be raw…more on that later)
- Tortilha Batata (a small potato cake)
- Moelas à La Tasca (gizzards house style)
- Tripas à Modo de Porto (basically Portuguese “chitlins” with beans and sausage)
- Alheira (home-made sausage)
- Salada de Grão de Bico com Bacalhau (chickpea salad with cod-fish)
A quick glance tells you that it was heavy on cod-fish and sausage, traditional Portuguese staples. Overall, the experience was better than the food itself. Everything seemed to be prepared well, but I just didn’t care for the raw cod-fish and onions. As a matter of fact, I had a difficult time getting the taste out of my mouth. Either Nina or I tried everything, with the exception of the Morcela. For both health and biblical reasons, I just can’t bring myself to eat blood sausage.
Paul asked the New Testament church to abstain from eating blood, and for that I am very thankful. That way I don’t feel bad never buying any congealed blood hunks when they are on sale at the butcher. I have a religious excuse.
The gizzards, mussels, calamari, and shrimp were the best. I was surprised at how good the gizzards were and could only think about how many little birds died for that part of the meal. They must have put 30 gizzards on a small plate in sauce and I probably ate 25 of them. My date just smelled them, touched her tongue to one and then finally agreed to dip her bread in the sauce, which she continued to do throughout the rest of the night.
We steered around the chitlins, eating the beans and sausage. I just couldn’t get there.
Everything else we were accustomed to, and generally enjoy eating if it is available.
The service was good, and our waiter seemed genuinely concerned about our particular enjoyment of the food, asking us three or four times.
So, over the course of 2 hours we ate, laughed, talked and waited on the fadista with great anticipation. If I had to grade the food, I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars or forks or whatever it is that reviewers give these days.
Not wanting to sound too cheap, with a coupon or a little extra pocket change on a special occasion we would go back.
Stop back by tomorrow to hear and learn about our very first Fado experience.