IN NEPTUNE’S INK
Even the road trip to Lisbon was an experience in itself. I drove along the coast from the Algarve towards the capital. Sea as far as the eye can see – wonderful! And then I approached my destination, Lisbon.
Only the gently-flowing Tagus stood between me and the seafaring city. I slowly drove across the two-kilometre long, impressive suspension bridge into the bustling old town for my rendezvous with my business partner. The plan was to enjoy a typical Portuguese evening meal and to discuss our projects.
I parked the car and took one of the many cable cars that weave their way through the narrow, fishy-smelling streets in the old town. I got out in the middle of the old Alfama district and continued my journey on foot. In front of the houses, on the pavement, old ladies created plumes of smoke as they fried bacalhau – salted cod – on charcoal grills.
I ring at an azure-tiled house and climb the narrow staircase to my business partner’s penthouse. “Come on, let’s sit out on the terrace and enjoy the sunset.” And then my breath is taken away: countless salted cod are dancing in the wind, hung out in neat rows on my host’s washing line. “Dried salted cod is our national dish, we even use it for desserts,” he laughs. “I leave the fish to dry out in the open air for about five months, just as our seafarers used to do.” He gives me a piece to taste. “It smells a little strong,” I say. “Claro!” chortles my business partner. “Before eating the fish, we water it for a few days, which makes it a little milder. Now let’s go and eat.”
The room we enter at the restaurant is imbued with the smell of salted fish. At the table I am confronted by people with scarily blackened teeth. “It’s like Halloween,” I think to myself and order a plate of tapas with salted cod balls and a chocolate dessert. After all those fishy smells, I need something sweet. “Com tinta?” the waiter asks. I nod my assent because the pitch-black coffee is the perfect match for the chocolate.
The waiter serves up a dessert, which is total in its blackness: squid in black ink sauce! Now I know where the guests get their black teeth and what is meant by Choco com tinta. “You’ve made a good choice,” my business friend explains. “Well, my dessert choice really was a stab in the dark,” I reply, “but it tastes good”. And we have a good laugh about my questionable language skills.
The next morning I have to smile as I find a few ink stains on my white shirt. Last night’s dessert really was like bathing in Neptune’s ink.