Tag Archives: Portugal

Fish with Chickpeas

Meia-desfeita de bacalhau com grão is salt cod with chickpeas and hard boiled eggs. It is so good. A friend in Newfoundland made it but I didn’t write down how he did it. Years later in the library, looking through Edite Vieira’s The Taste of Portugal, I found the recipe. And photocopied it.

fish-and-chickpeas-photo-d-stewartMeia-desfeita means “half-undone”. In Lisbon, where the dish originated, people would ask for just half an order in restaurants if they were short of money. It has bulk yet is light (the beauty of chickpeas!). It can be served hot or cold. So it is a perfect winter or summer dish, for lunch or an evening meal. And it’s very pretty.

After making it with salt cod, I wondered what it would taste like with other kinds of fish. I got my chance to experiment with smoked trout fillets that a friend gave us.

With a couple ounces of leftover trout, I cut the recipe quantities to one third. That made enough for a meal for two of us. And oh, it was good! So below is the recipe from The Taste of Portugal with my modifications in italics.

meia-desfeita-ingredients-photo-d-stewartBoiled Cod and Chickpeas (Meia-Desfeita com Grão)

  • 12 oz (350 g) best salted cod, from the middle thick slices
    (1 small fillet smoked trout, flaked)
  • 12 oz (350 g) dried chickpeas (4 oz)
  • 2-3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (2 – lots of egg is good!)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/3)
  • 1 clove garlic, finally chopped (1 small)
  • 3 stalks parsley, chopped (1-2 fresh, 1 tsp dried)
  • 1/4 pint (150 ml) olive oil (50 ml, 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tbsp wine vinegar (1 tsp)
  • salt and pepper

Soak the cod for 24 hours or longer (assuming the slices are thick) in cold water, changing it several times. (I flaked the trout off the skin and heated it in the microwave about 30 seconds after everything else was ready.)

smoked-trout-photo-d-stewartSoak the chickpeas separately, overnight. Start cooking the chickpeas first (as they take 1½-2 hours if not done in the pressure cooking, which could reduce the cooking time to 25-30 minutes) in enough boiling water and salt. (You can use canned chickpeas instead, double the amount of dried. Heat and drain)

Scale and boil the cod in enough water to cover it, until tender (20 minutes). Do not add salt but check at the end whether it needs any, taking into account that you have soaked it long enough.

Prepare the garnish, mixing the onion, garlic and parsley, all very finely chopped.

In a separate bowl, mix the oil and vinegar.

fish-with-chickpeas-photo-d-stewartFor serving, place the cod at the bottom of a deep serving dish and cover it with the cooked and drained chickpeas. (I use a platter.) Pour the oil mixture all over this, sprinkle the onion-garlic-parsley garnish on top and decorate with the sliced boiled eggs.

Serves 4-6 (or 2)meia-desfeita-photo-d-stewartI think other fish and seafood would work well too. Shrimp and scallops perhaps. Something with body and richness. Probably not a delicate fish like fresh cod. You want the fish and chickpea taste and texture in balance. Here’s a slightly different way of making it.

Below is a link to The Taste of Portugal, an excellent cookbook that explains the food and its cultural origins. There’s also Jenn Thornhill-Verma’s 2019 book about  the collapse of Newfoundland’s cod fishery. My Portugal Day talks more about the long connection between Newfoundland and Portugal due to cod fish.

Portugal Day

Portugal-Day-Corte-Real-statue-wikipediaOn this day in 1965 Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood proclaimed June 17th Portugal Day in the province. It was at the Confederation Building when the Portuguese Fisheries Organization presented a statue of the 15th century explorer Gaspar Corte-Real to Newfoundland. At the ceremony, Joey spoke about the bond between two peoples, two nations.

Premier Smallwood

“Newfoundlanders have a deep affection and a great deal of respect for the people and country of Portugal. We intend every year to have Portugal Day. It will always be a simple ceremony.

And we hope that it will be attended always by Portuguese people and they will join with Newfoundlanders here at this monument, this statue that was given to Newfoundland by Portugal. For a few minutes once every year we will remind ourselves of the long and honourable friendship that has existed between our two maritime countries, our two fishing countries.

And remind ourselves too that whatever other industries there may come to Portugal and to Newfoundland, the fisheries continue, they go on, they continue to be important to both of us.”

Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s Harbour (Archival Moments)

National interests – multiplied

But by 1965 Newfoundland was part of Canada, something Joey had fought hard for. So it was no longer Newfoundland and Portugal talking; it was Canada and Portugal. When Portugal joined the EU in 1986, it was Canada and the whole of Europe. Diverse industries and interests, with Portugal and the Grand Bank fishery just one small part.

In 1986 Canada banned Portuguese vessels from entering Canadian ports after a dispute over illegal fishing. No more coming into St. John’s to refuel and resupply. Or play soccer on the waterfront, shop on Water Street, go to bars and restaurants. Play music. Visit friends and family.

Newfoundlanders and Portuguese

Tony Charana, a retired trawler captain from Buarcos: “For Portuguese to arrive in St. John’s is like arriving home.”

For him, that’s especially true. His wife was born and raised in St. John’s.

Irene Fleming Charana: “When I was small and went shopping with my mother downtown – the fishing clothes on and the long boots and everything like that, I was afraid of them. But I remember my mother saying she felt sorry for them because they were so far away from home. Little did she know that I’d end up marrying one!

Tony: “Now – I have my family. But I go to St. John’s like a tourist.”

Their friend Valdemar Aviero, another retired captain, felt it was a betrayal of history as well as friendship:

“At least thirty years before Columbus and John Cabot, João Corte-Real was there and named the land Land of Codfish. Terra do Bacalhau. 1463.”

Terra do Bacalhau

Vasco Garcia, a University of the Azores professor and former member of the EU Parliament:

“That instinct of being an ocean-goer five centuries ago with the feeling of possessing the sea: this is so hard for someone who has imprinted this, when they look to the fishing grounds of Newfoundland. For cod is called in Portugal the faithful friend, fiel amigo. It’s in the gastronomy. One cannot have Christmas in Portugal without bacalhau cozido – boiled cod – and bacalhau com batata – cod with potatoes. So cutting the Portuguese from these kind of roots is very painful. Not even from an economic point of view, but also from the heart – chromosomic, historical. It’s almost as if you are cutting the roots of the tree.

fishing boats on buarcos beach portugal 1995 photo d stewart
Fishing boats on the beach at Buarcos, Portugal 1995

A young inshore fisherman in Buarcos, José, wishing he could fish on the Grand Banks:

“It’s my life. Because it’s in my blood. My family is working on the ocean all the time, you know.”

Portuguese Waltzes

There’s long been an ex-pat Portuguese community in Newfoundland. But it’s also like there is – or was – a big Newfoundland outport in Portugal. They are the people Joey Smallwood was talking about, I think. The Portuguese, and Newfoundlanders, who looked forward every year to the arrival in St. John’s of the fishing fleet. Newfoundlanders like Art Stoyles:

white fleet hospital ship Gil Eannes in Portugal wikicommons
Gil Eannes, now a museum in Viano do Castelo, Portugal, where she was built in 1955

“I used to go down with me accordion waiting for them to come in. So they docked and they’d be off. They had their music, mandolins and whatever. One day, this buddy come up over the hill, ya know, with a great big accordion. I heard the music and said, where in the hell is that comin’ from! That’s beautiful. This guy had a big accordion – five rows of buttons. He was on the Gil Eannes, this guy. He was a captain, right. And boy, he had some outfit there. It had more bass on it than the poles on Water Street! Anyway, we played. He played a few tunes and I taped them off. After, I learned that Portuguese song.”

Portugal Day

The huge cod stock that gave the name Land of Codfish to the island of Newfoundland has been overfished to near extinction. Still, salt cod remains “the roots of the tree” for both Portuguese and Newfoundlanders. And the relationship between the two peoples goes on too. So here is Art’s “Portuguese Waltzes” on this, Newfoundland’s 54th Portugal Day. Let’s celebrate this “long and honourable friendship”.

CBC Land and Sea has footage from 1967 of a White Fleet sailing ship’s journey here. CBC also has video and audio from 1955 when Portuguese fishermen carried Our Lady of Fatima statues through St. John’s, their gift to the Basilica. At Archival Moments you can read more about the Portuguese in Newfoundland as well as at Newfoundland: The land of the Portuguese king.

Portuguese Waltzes book Richard SimasRichard Simas wrote a book about how The Portuguese Waltzes became part of Newfoundland’s music. It’s illustrated by Caroline Clarke. (2019, tap image for Amazon). Also see his article in the Summer  2019 Newfoundland Quarterly.

The quotes in this post come from CBC archives for Premier Smallwood, and from interviews I recorded in 1995 for a radio documentary.

Ponta Delgada

I’m not a city person, but one city stays in my mind. Ponta Delgada, capital of Saõ Ponta Delgada city centreMiguel in the Azores: a tiny perfect city.

Having flown in to another island, I didn’t see Ponta Delgada until it was time for my flight home. I fell in love with a beautiful old southern European city – in miniature. It was April, the weather was perfect. I had been doing research and thought I might find some “talking heads” to give analytic background. So I asked around. Yes, there was a university in the city and a Portuguese national radio studio. Yes, there were people on staff of both who knew about my subject, the Portuguese cod fishery, and would be happy to meet with me.

I was staying in the city centre. A nice and inexpensive hotel, just what I’d asked my University of the Azores Ponta Delgadaairport taxi driver to take me to. The university was on the outskirts of town, but it didn’t look that far on my map. I walked out of the downtown and through residential areas to a beautifully laid out campus. A very pleasant walk of less than an hour. There, and later at the radio studio downtown, I met with two informed and informative men who told me about Portugal and the Azores vis a vis the EU, Canada and Newfoundland.

Between working forays, I explored the city and nearby countryside. Having realized it Public beach near Ponta Delgada wikicommonswas possible to walk to the university in interview dress, I put on running shoes and roamed further afield. One spectacular day was spent at the beach near the city. I was the only person swimming, still too cold for Azoreans, but to me magnificent.

Cantino dos Anjos on the harbour

glass from Cantinho dos Anjos, Ponta DelgadaThat evening I walked the short distance from my hotel to the harbourfront. Near the yacht marina I went in the Cantino dos Anjos, a bar flying signal flags outside and in. Busy and comfortable, with several languages discernible in the overheard chatter. The bartender came over and asked my name and where I was from. I handed him a business card. Shortly after, he returned with a glass in his hand. We make these for new visitors, he said handing me a tumbler with the bar’s name and mine etched on it. Yes, that’s it in the photo. I’ve taken good care of it all these years.

Four young French sailors, one of whom spoke some Sailboats at Ponta Delgada marinaEnglish, began talking to me. Nice guys. They invited me to their sailboat the next day. We sailed just outside the harbour at sunset, then docked and the cook whipped up a fabulous seafood meal. They were leaving the next day, as was I, so they walked me back to my hotel. In smatterings of English, French and Portuguese we said what a lovely time we’d had. No, I don’t recommend girls or women going off alone with unknown sailors. But this time it worked out safely and just fine. And it gave me a memory of ocean water on a warm Atlantic evening and lights twinkling on the silhouette of an ideal Lilliputian skyline.

City Hall at night, Ponta DelgadaSophisticated clothing and design shops, well-stocked bookstores, good discount stores selling everything. Museums and galleries, lovely cafés and restaurants with outdoor patios. Very few vacant storefronts. A bustling downtown with beautiful old architecture well maintained, no skyscrapers, easy to navigate, Ponta Delgada is welcoming to tourists but not slathering for their custom. I hope it hasn’t changed, it felt like an easy place to call home.

Portugal and Eco: The Knights Templar Castle, Tomar

Archways at Knights Templar Castle, Tomar PortugalVacationing in the Azores, my reading was Humberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It was my introduction to the Knights Templar and I fell in love. I was going on to Portugal, and Tomar with its Templar Castle was on my itinerary, come hell or high water. I met a friend in Oporto, and after a few days in that amazingly beautiful city, we headed south, with a stop in Tomar planned.

Driving fast because we’d got away late and wanted to get to Tomar before nightfall. Driving through the city of Coimbra, with its ancient university – no time to stop, gotta get to Tomar. On the highway through the city, looking at the map and out the window, I could see rooftops – “there it is, that’s the university over there”. My partner, driving, took a glance over. And that was our tour of Coimbra.

Roman Ruins

Just out of Coimbra, we saw a sign for Roman ruins ahead. We’d made Conimbriga Roman ruins, Portugalgood time, so decided to stop for a look. There was no one there, and we just walked in. It was astounding. Beautiful, peaceful, eerie almost. We spent quite a long time there because it demanded time and attention. Not attention to explanatory signage, although it was useful. Just looking at the mosaics and their beauty and the engineering and its beauty.

Feeling glad for having seen this true pearl of history, we continued to Tomar. I was a bit anxious; I feared it would be dark when we got there. We had to find a place to stay, had to find the Castle, I had to psych myself up for this pilgrimage to the holy land of the Knights Templar. Still, I didn’t regret our stop to see the Roman ruins.

View of Tomar, with castle on skylineDrove like hell to Tomar, got there almost at dusk. I’d been looking at the maps, so knew where the Castle was (plus it’s a castle, how can you miss it?). “Quick, let’s go there first, just to see it.” We drove through the town and headed up the winding lane that leads up the hill to the Castle. All the way through town, you see the Castle looming above you. The hillside is wooded. Darkness was falling. We park and jump out. Quiet, nobody around, just the trees and the massive dark wooden doors. I’m crying, I’d started on the way up the hill.

Tomar at Easter

There’s a sign beside the doors. It gives the hours for the Castle and its very few closed days.  Easter Sunday is one of them. This was Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The castle had closed an hour before we got there. We had to leave Sunday evening; we had only blocked out the one night and day for Tomar. There was no choice; this was a working holiday and the holiday part was ending, with work starting Monday.

Easter Sunday Procession, TomarWe found a hotel and I read pamphlets about the Castle. Sunday morning, I went to Easter Mass and the procession through the streets. It was beautiful, the old church in the town square, the service, the old women in their black shawls, the little kids spit-polished in their best clothes.

Afterwards, I walked around the square and went to a park along the river that went through the centre of town. I sat on the grass and looked up at the Castle, stone battlements against the tree green and black and sky blue. I watched people strolling in the park with scampering kids, all dressed in their best clothes. All, like me, just out of Mass. Picnic hampers were unpacked, grannies called kids to come and eat. I wandered across the square again, quiet now, and went back to the hotel. We went to a restaurant, had a fabulous meal of seafood and drove around the castle grounds again and then out of Tomar.

One miss, two hits

View from Knights Templar Castle in TomarSo one big miss on the bucket list in this trip, and two unexpected hits: the Roman ruins and Easter in Tomar. And I never hear of Coimbra or its university without remembering yelling “there it is, look over there” and waving my arm toward a tower and rooftops way in the distance from a highway while the driver negotiates through high-speed city traffic reading road signs in a language he doesn’t speak.

I gathered these photos from several sources. The photo of the procession in Tomar I took that Easter Sunday. The panoramic photo of Tomar and the photo of the Conimbriga ruins I found online. American women took the photos from inside the Templar Castle, of the archways and the view from the top. I met them in the Algarve and we talked about where we’d been and what we’d seen. When I told them about my trip to Tomar, they said “You poor thing! We’ll send you our pictures when we get home.”  And bless their hearts, they did. In their letter, they noted that they “hope these are Tomar, so many cities, so many castles…” But I am happy to look at them, and imagine myself in the Castle keep.