Another travel report from my friend Maria
about another visit to Portugal and the Azores …
When Is Too Much Of A Good Thing, Bad?
It began the way any obsession does – with a single occurrence.
We — my daughter, Melisa, along with her husband, Andy, arrived in Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azorean islands at 7am, blurry-eyed from our overnight flight from Toronto. We had exactly 12 hours to explore this island. (It turned into 14 due to a flight delay, but since we were stuck at the airport, the extra two hours don’t count.) Our rental car awaited us, and towing carry-on luggage only, we were out of there in quick order. No time to waste.
|It was a really small car|
I had, more-or-less, planned our route. We would drive the north coast of the island to the town of Furnas for breakfast. Then motor to the opposite side of the island to Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) for a late lunch. In between, we’d stop at this lookout and that lookout to gawk at the landscape and when the need arose, have the obligatory bica (espresso) wherever we found ourselves.
By 3pm we’d made our way to Sete Cidades, with its twin-lakes – one emerald-green and the other sapphire-blue – a phenomenon and one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders. (Legend has it that these lakes were formed from the tears of a poor blue-eyed shepherd boy, and a green-eyed princess who fell in love but were not allowed to marry. They cried and cried over their dilemma and, well, you can you can figure out the rest.)
From the miradoure (lookout point) high above the town, we posed for pictures with the lakes behind us. Then we crossed the street to explore the abandoned hotel, with its graffiti-laced walls and tree-lined balconies, after which we all agreed: we were starving. Time for lunch.
|Probably once a very nice hotel|
Tightly hugging the curb, Andy gingerly drove our little vehicle down the escarpment and over the bridge with green lake-water running underneath it, leading us to the town of Sete Cidades. He parked. We greeted the cow lazing on the field to our right, and made our way to the first restaurant we spotted. With its large patio, green-plastic tables and white chairs, it was perfect. A quick review of the menu posted behind a small glass window confirmed it.
|Right by the roadside next to the car!|
Andy has been been part of our family for a number of years and has become familiar with many of our traditional family foods. Early on (as a ‘family fit test’) we introduced him to stewed octopus, salted cod, morcela (blood sausage), sapatel (blood pudding), to name a few things. Andy ate it all (and passed the test). He was ready for more adventures in food.
“Lapas. I’ve heard you guys talk about these. I have to try them,” he said after reviewing the menu.
|photo via en.wikipedia.org|
To the Azorean people, lapas, are a gastronomical feast, a delicacy appreciated only by those who are comfortable popping into their mouths organisms with wriggling bodies and antennas whizzing about. People have lost their lives scraping lapas off rocks buried in the pounding Atlantic surf.
Lucky for us, we didn’t have to risk our lives, neither did we have to face a live lapa. The menu offered up ‘grilled lapas’. Excellent, I thought. We ordered.
They arrived at our table hissing on a hot grill. Like a steak or fajitas, but a far stretch from anything served in a Toronto area restaurant. The scent of garlic hit my nose with a wallop, which, to be very clear, is not a complaint.
Careful not to brand our fingers on the sizzling grill, we gingerly retrieved one shell at a time popping it into our mouth. And so began the moans usually reserved for experiences outside the kitchen table. Things like,ummm, wow, and, oh my god that’s sooo good, were stated.
“We should make this a thing,” I proclaimed. “Everywhere we eat, if they have lapas on the menu, we should order them.”
And so we did.
For the next six days.
We. Ate. Lapas.
Be day two, we began judging — on presentation, texture, amount of garlic, were they served with lemon wedges or not? Was the taste enhanced if the lemon was squeezed over them?
By day 3 we knew what ‘over-grilled’ was (rubber-chewy is never good).
On it went…
Then day 6, our final day in the Azores, arrived. New day. New restaurant. Andy had stepped away to the WC but not before reviewing the menu.
“Melisa,” I said, in the way one reveals a secret they aren’t proud of. “I’m not sure I can eat another lapa.”
She gave me a glare that screamed: You started this!
Our server arrived. We placed our order.
“Did you order the lapas?” asked Andy taking his seat across from me.
“Sure did,” I answered. I had started this.
|She gave up!|
Our trip eventually led us to Lisbon.
“Huh! No lapas,” said Andy on our first night out in a Lisbon restaurant.
“No. They’re not consumed here.” I said. And secretly praised the Food Gods. Andy settled for clams swimming in garlic, olive oil and cilantro.
“Try them,” he said.
I took one, commented on its flavour, (it was delicious) but remained silent afterwards.
Let’s not start this again, I thought!