Postcard from Portugal: Lessons for San Antonio?

Whenever you travel, you always come across things you’d love to see at home. These are listed randomly, not ranked. Click on the photos to see larger images or the highlighted links if you would like to see additional related photos.

  1. tables under giant rubber trees at Esplanada Cafe
    sandwiches served under giant rubber trees at Esplanada Cafe

    Huge multi-grain sandwiches oozing with melted cheese served under towering rubber trees in a park. This was the easiest of things to adapt from Portugal. Panini(tost)-maker purchased. How did I live without one? It grills veggie burgers, Greek cheese, eggplant, zucchini, naan bread, pineapple, French toast. Anything and everything.

  2. DSCN0748Robert H. H. Hugman designed the River Walk  in San Antonio with varying designs of sidewalks underfoot, but Portugal takes such artistry a giant step farther, and the results are striking. Every step you take should be memorable. Maybe we need a non-slick surface, though. But, it all goes back to something we haven’t quite embraced in Texas. Park the car. A city should be walked to be appreciated.
  3. DSCN0692Statues should be statuesque, or not at all. Poor Henry B. by the Convention Center, wherever he ends up relocated, is rendered too petite. He seems less than life-size. Statues should be awe-inspiring (The exception: Keep oyster-shelly Gompers small and hidden under overgrown trees.).
  4. DSCN1349DSCN1350Festival beer booths do not have to be hideous. Lisbon utilizes these little self-contained booths with several different designs for their special events. Some have homey images, such as a cat in a window or a friendly dog at the door.
  5. DSCN1163Tiles. We have the tradition here. Wonderful tiles from Ethel Harris’ San Jose Pottery. Or those colorful tiles Marion Koogler McNay installed on the risers of her patio stairs. Susan Toomey Frost donated a San Jose tile mural for the Museum Reach of the river to add to the original ones along the downtown river bend, and there are the incredible ones at Alamo Stadium. But we need more. They are such an enduring form of art.
  6. DSCN1200Promotional banners and advertising for festivals do not all have to be identical. Maintaining integrity of logos is one thing, but succumbing to boring repetition renders the message meaningless. Love the way Lisbon engages several artists each year to interpret their marketing materials for its month-long festival in honor of Saint Anthony.
  7. Sardines are a good thing. When they are fresh. Grilled street-side. Just before we left for Portugal, Central Market had a few laid out for the media preview of their Ciao Italia. Then we left, and dove into the land where they were in abundance. We’d like them here, please.
  8. DSCN1214DSCN1216Love our San Antonio Book Festival. But how in the world does Lisbon keep Feira Livro up and running for two weeks? Self-contained booths that can be locked up securely each night help. The sheer number of booths and books made me feel downright illiterate, particularly since the books were in Portuguese.
  9. DSCN0582Inner-city parks are filled with activities on a rotating basis. Farmers’ markets. Regional gourmet food festivals with vendors and tastings. Mini-book fairs. A once-a-month antique fair that would be great some place like Travis Park.
  10. DSCN1316The San Antonio Missions are crying out for intimate, customized tuk-tuk tours crisscrossing the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. The tuk tuks of Lisbon had different designs on the outside. My favorite one, not pictured, was covered with a skin of images of some of Portugal’s distinctive blue tiles.
  11. DSCN1229We now have food trucks, but what about little portable craft beer carts, perfect for sampling new beers on tap in park-like settings. This cart was parked outside the botanical garden. We also encountered wine trucks for sampling Portuguese wine, complete with bar stools for sipping at the wine truck counter. Oh how I would love it if Texas wines were as inexpensive as Portuguese.
  12. DSCN1160Portugal seems to have more than its fair share of parts of saints enshrined in reliquaries. I always thought American Catholics were too squeamish to even want to know how far one saint could be spread, but I was wrong. We just don’t have many saints and parts to fight over. Archbishop Fulton Sheen has not even been beatified yet, and New York and Peoria are fighting over his body and whether he should be exhumed for obtaining some first-class relics to disseminate. I wonder if Portugal would share some modest little second-class relic of Saint Anthony with this city bearing his name….
  13. DSCN1248And about Saint Anthony. He is ever-present everywhere in Portugal. This city named after him needs to pay more attention to him, particularly on his feast day in June. He is a really useful saint.
  14. And, finally, although this blogger might prove the exception….DSCN1257

Note Added: The featured photo strangely popped up on my facebook page immediately after I posted this. Thanks to Mark Twain for providing it.

 

Postcard from Lisboa, Portugal: Yes, we did eat out a bit.

Traveling for six weeks, we did not always make it to the restaurants with the hottest chefs. We were reserving some of them for the end of our trip, and, by then, we weren’t up for such major meals. Plus, we had some favorite spots beckoning return visits.

Am arbitrarily dividing the food into two categories. The second post will deal with restaurants serving “foreign,” as in not Portuguese, fare.

The Mister’s favorite fish dish of the trip, meaning we went to the place twice so he could enjoy it again, was what I believe is called bream fish at Belem 2 to 8. The flaky fillet topped layers of greens, potatoes and a richly seasoned tomato sauce. For the first time after seeing it on many menus, I broke down and tried the traditional fried green beans. These are whole, long beans in a tempura batter. The Portuguese claim to have originated tempura cooking for seafood and vegetables – tempura referring to the “time” of no-meat fasting during Lent – with missionaries spreading its usage to Japan in the 1600s.

There were a multitude of restaurants within a few blocks of our apartment. Carmo Restaurante was on a lively plaza filled with jacaranda trees and street musicians. Enjoyed freshly steamed clams and octopus rice there. We were prowling for vegetables when we found Café Royale, with a “parcel” of thinly sliced eggplant wrapped around vegetables, tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella and a goat cheese salad. Another great haven for lighter vegetable dishes was Vertigo Café, a place one immediately felt comfortably at home. There, we enjoyed eggplant and zucchini toasts, a chicken and couscous salad plate and a “jacked-up” potato, with vegetables and tzatziki sauce.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The seductive patio on a hilltop drew us for several meals at Lost in Esplanada. Everything we sampled was good, from a healthy beet soup to the decadent arugula and gorgonzola cheese toast. We also enjoyed roasted vegetables, rosemary grilled shrimp and tender octopus there.

At a nearby park, grab a table, if you can, at the Café Esplanada. Humongous rubber trees provide the shade for this spot filled with locals sipping beer. On Saturdays, there’s a farmers’ market, and the people-watching is great. Don’t delve far into the menu; order what everyone else is having – large toasts, panini-like sandwiches filled with oozing cheese. So good, and so inexpensive. And they convinced me to order a panini-maker as soon as we got home.

Smoke swirls around booths set up in the streets on the Feast Day of Saint Anthony, and many nights surrounding the date, vending fresh sardines and grilled meats slapped into sandwiches. Some vendors just go whole hog, speared from head to tail.