Lisbon, A City Of Tiles.

 

Tiled wall in Lisbon.

On our way from Lisbon airport to the hotel, my thoughts drifted back to the days I lived in Kuala Lumpur. It was the time that I used to get anxious about taxi rides, especially when I go from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to the city. The reason that contributed to my anxiety may be, having had to ride with tired and sleepy looking drivers, who stay quiet all through the journey. Back then I would look out of the window and keep my eyes on the road. I had the tendency, to press an imaginary brake pedal, if and when I feel the car is going fast and its out of control. But there were less apprehensive, few and rare occasions, which I rode with careful and chatty taxi drivers. They would assume that it’s my first time to the city, and I pretend likewise. On those occasions, the driver usually tries to fill me in with as much information about KL and Malaysia in general. Their conversations gave me a perspective of what the different ethnic Malaysians think of their country and heritage. Some taxi drivers were keen to share their grievances about the government’s discriminative policies and practices towards some ethnic groups within their multicultural society.

On the day of our arrival to Lisbon, it was a different experience, though. It was a short journey from the airport to the city. The taxi driver in Lisbon was friendlier, conversing all the time. The taxi driver tried to fill us in with information about Lisbon’s neighbourhoods as we head to the city. Some areas of the city looked rundown, while others looked vibrant and bright. One of the distinctive difference in Lisbon is its buildings with coloured and patterned tiled walls. Some of those buildings looked unique and beautiful. And other buildings looked unfinished, hideous and haunted.  According to our driver, the unfinished and neglected look is a facade, a deliberate act by its owners to avoid building tax. Apparently if a building’s construction is incomplete, the owners of such buildings need not pay a particular tax. I’m not sure whether the taxi driver’s version of the story was true or false. The audio guide narration on Hop-onHop-off bus said that the tiled walls were an artistic expression that started back in the 18th century and still continuing in Lisbon. Another reason for the tiled walls is to help control the temperature inside the building.

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Lisbon Street Art.

One of the unique thing that reminds me of Lisbon is, its street art. Many buildings in the business district have decorated walls with mural art and graffiti. We were told that the Lisboners self-expression increased, after the democratic revolution in 1974. Before the democratic revolution, coloured tiles were widely used on buildings and roads. Many coloured tiles walls can still be found around Lisbon even now. These are few photos taken during our trip.

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The Lisbon Experience

I haven’t been to many European countries. The few cities I was able to visit, had fascinating architecture, squares with monuments and fountains. The roads made of cobblestones is beautiful. One may say, all European cities has those similarities. But, then, one would notice the contrasting differences too. The colours, materials, and designs is used, what influenced the designers and architects and the story behind a particular city.

On the day we arrived in Lisbon, after check-in at our hotel, we almost immediately set out to walk. We walked around in different directions within the radius of our hotel, basically to get a feel of the city and to discover it. During those walks, we started to notice the unique characteristics of its roads. The colours and patterns used on the cobblestone streets and sidewalk. Almost, in every path we set our foot, had the appearance of a work of art. I wonder whether if it is, pieces of ‘marble,’ that were used to create patterns and designs on the road. Whatever it is, it’s slightly slippery on rainy days but nevertheless, just beautiful.

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A few drug pushers, a man or a woman, here and there living on the street, and the stench of urine, on certain parts of the city, gave us the impression, that the city is somewhat neglected. It kept me wondering if Lisboner’s are having a difficult time such as an economic meltdown or is it simply because Lisbon is poorer than its neighbours.

 

The Search for Authentic Portuguese Food.

My first experience of “Portuguese Food” was in a Nando’s restaurant in Malaysia and later in London. The flavors of Nando’s marinade chicken and their sauces were heavenly; it won my heart since the first time I dined at a Nando’s. The newly discovered “Portuguese food” was on top of the list of my favourite foods. It is the only “Portuguese food” I’ve ever tasted, until, we made a trip to Lisbon, Portugal. When we planned a holiday to Portugal in 2013, the first thing that came to my mind was “I’ll be eating authentic Portuguese food.” The possibility of eating Portuguese food in Portugal was an exciting idea and something I looked forward on that trip.

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We arrived in Portugal as our last destination on our itinerary. Before  Lisbon, we were in Berlin, Germany and Barcelona in Spain for a few days. Therefore, we’ve had European food all along, on the way to Lisbon. I remember being very excited about our first dining experience in Lisbon. We arrived in our hotel around lunch time. After check-in to our hotel, we had a light lunch by sharing a salad between us and each of us had a “traditional Portuguese lentil soup.” It didn’t taste extraordinary;  I felt the texture and flavors were not outstanding. After lunch we didn’t waste any time but went out to explore the city of Lisbon.

When it was time for dinner, we were still on the go but tired. We looked into several restaurant menus displayed at the entrance of the many restaurants. To our disappointment, all the menus had salads, steaks, pasta and plenty of seafood and fish dishes. The food I had imagined and hoped to taste doesn’t seem to exist. I was hoping to find marinated chicken in that particular flavors I had tasted earlier. I was looking forward in having succulent chicken that is marinated in spicy, herby flavors. It’s tanginess making the chicken outstandingly unique that is served with rice or fries. Due to a preconceived idea about Portuguese food, that’s what I was trying to find, I had imagined as Portuguese food. Then I began to wonder, what is considered Portuguese food? What is their speciality? The few restaurant managers and waiters, who were able to converse in English told me they’re famous for seafood and various types of fish, especially cod. The meat dishes mainly come from different parts of pork. My experience and observation in Portugal made me realise their food is similar to many European dishes, mildly flavoured with various types of herbs. In most resturant tables, the African Bird’s Eye Chili soaked in olive oil, and Peri-Peri sauce was available for those who wish to enhance their taste buds with some extra flavours. I was surprised to find that chicken dishes are rare on restaurant menus. Some restaurants in Lisbon didn’t even have a single chicken dish that’s featured on their menu.

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Many cafes specialized in savory and sweet pastries who served coffee and tea are popular among the tourists and Lisboner’s. Those cafes had played a substantial role in Lisbon’s history. According to one commentary we heard, Portuguese artists and writers and their intellectual community used to meet in such cafes and made critical decisions centuries ago. We had our breakfast and sometimes a late afternoon tea in some of those cafes. They served short-eats similar to Maldivian delicacies. One such item we found in a cafe was same as the  ‘gulha,’ we have in the Maldives. ‘Gulha’ is a round ball of flour stuffed with a mix of tuna fish, onion, coconut, chilli and lime. The Portuguese version of ‘gulha’ is stuffed with meat, instead of fish. There was another similar looking item as our ‘biscutlets’ a pastry like a savoury item made with a boiled egg, tuna and potato mix. It was made exactly the same way replacing tuna with meat. We Maldivians make another savory item called “rolls.” To make rolls, one would have to make thin pancakes from the batter of wheat flour. Then the pancake is filled with spicy tuna and folded into a roll, The roll is then dipped into a mixture of egg and rubbed with breadcrumbs before frying. We found a similar version of the same item in Lisbon, the only difference being it stuffed with seafood. The main difference with Portuguese short eats was the meat and seafood they use for stuffing their short eats. Due to the similarities, I was curious to find about the origins of those delicacies but due to the language barrier it proved to be impossible.  Our history suggests that the Maldives was under Portuguese rule for years, I couldn’t help but wonder about the similarities we have in savoury snack food we share with the Portuguese. Did we learn to make it from Portuguese or vice versa?