Celebrating Festas Junina and Eating Sardines
Two mini posts in one.
Publisher’s note: In the subscriber feedback survey that I sent out in May, I asked what kinds of topics were of the most interest to readers. One of the top responses selected was wanting to read posts about the personal experiences Paul and I have had on our Portugal journey.
Sometimes our experiences don’t merit an entire blog post, so I don’t always write about them. So, I thought that I would try this format out to see what you think.
Here are two mini posts about recent personal experiences we have had living in Portugal. Let me know if you’d like to see more of this type of format in the future.
Mini Post 1: Celebrating Festas Junina.
It was a late-June Saturday afternoon, and Paul and I decided to take a short drive to the center of Cascais to enjoy a glass of wine at our friend Simon’s wine shop, Castas da Vida at the Mercado da Vila. Simon was offering a wine tasting from Escaravelho Wines which are produced in the Tejo region of Portugal (I highly recommend!).
Normally on mid-to-late Saturday afternoons there is live music playing on the esplanada. This is the space outside of the main marketplace building. There are many tables, chairs, and huge umbrellas. Along the perimeter of the esplanada are small shops selling a variety of food and beverages including Simon’s wine shop.
At the time of the day we normally arrive, the esplanada is relatively quiet and uncrowded with only a few people enjoying the music. But this time, the place was jammed with people, and we didn’t know why. I suppose if we had checked out the weekend Mercado events, or my own post about holidays in Portugal, we would have known that a Portuguese festival was happening.
Then the dancing began. Paul and I bought a couple of glasses of wine and scrambled to find an available table so that we could listen to Portuguese band Nova Era play traditional music and watch people dance.
People got on their feet and started moving to the beat of the music. And before Paul could down one sip of his wine, a Portuguese lady came up to Paul, grabbed his hand, and led him to where the other people were dancing. To be clear: Paul does not like to dance.
I couldn’t help myself! I had to video this pivotal moment in our Portugal journey. So, here’s the video of Paul dancing with the lady to Portuguese music (click the button or on the picture to see the video):
It was an unexpected fun Saturday. I love it when we stumble upon something interesting and spontaneous and end up having a great time! The Portuguese are happy to share with outsiders their enjoyment of the simple traditions that are woven into the rich fabric of this country. Paul and I are grateful that we can experience it.
Mini Post 2: Eating sardines.
June is the start of sardine season in Portugal and a cause for celebration. Throughout the country, the Portuguese celebrate Lisbon’s patron saint, Saint Anthony. Legend says that Saint Anthony was having trouble converting people to Catholicism, so he turned to the sea and began preaching to the sardines and all the fish paused to listen to him. Saint Anthony took that as a sign from God. Apparently, that’s how this celebration began and continues to this day in many parts of the country with music, dancing, singing, drinking, and of course, eating sardines.
I’m not going to go into how many ways you can eat sardines because this post would get too long, but I do know that tourists often take cans of them home as souvenirs. There’s even a sardine factory in Portugal that you can tour (note to Paul: road trip!).
Confession: I have never eaten sardines. Not even the canned ones. Even though I love seafood, sardines have never been on the top of the list of foods I want to try. But when in Portugal, do as the Portuguese do.
Paul and I have two anniversaries. One is in June, the month when we got married. The other is on July 4th, our first date. So, on a recent Tuesday evening (July 4th to be exact), Paul surprised me with a dinner reservation at Terroso Restaurant and Wine Bar - one of our favorite Portuguese restaurants in Cascais. This restaurant isn’t on the tourist route – it’s tucked away on a little narrow street.
I’m picky about where I eat fresh fish. Having grown up in New England where fish is plentiful, I can tell when fish is fresh or not. I was certain this little restaurant would have sardines on the menu since it’s the season for them. Everything is fresh at Terroso, so I knew my first sardine experience would be a good one.
The sardines (five) were served to me whole. That means heads and tails intact. I expected this, even though I’m not a fish heads and tails fan (and I had to cover the fish eyes with some bread). They were grilled to perfection in the traditional way with olive oil and garlic. Boiled potatoes were on the side. A slice of thick bread was served to soak up the oil (and hide the fish eyes), and a simple salad of greens, peppers, tomato, and onion in olive oil and vinegar, were served as a side dish.
I must say, the sardines were delicious! Charred on the outside, moist, and flaky on the inside. I could only eat three of them, so Paul helped me out with the rest. Over the last few months, I have learned the art of de-boning a fish so that the entire spine and little bones pull out all at once. Although I never thought I’d need to ever learn this skill, I’m glad I did!
Note: I was recently a guest on Janelle Holden’s From Montana to Portugal podcast. I hope you’ll check out Janelle’s blog and tune in.
Muito obrigada (many thanks) to Marita R. and Liselle B. for supporting Our Portugal Journey through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity and interest help to keep this publication free to subscribers.
Until next time…