When travelling and staying in places for a longer period of time, there are always some people who try to immerse themselves fully in the environment they’re in. They buy new clothes and adapt their habits to blend into the place. They try and fit in and experience what it’s like to live like a local.
I can imagine ‘going local’ might be interesting, and that such an experience can provide you with a pretty good insight of how it is to live the life of others.
For me, it has never worked. Instead, I was always more aware of my Dutch roots when I stayed in places outside the Netherlands.
Luckily enough, you don’t have to go local to experience the things a new place has to offer. Without going as deep as that, you can still get a taste by joining people in the activities of their daily life.
And that’s what we did this Christmas: we joined our friends for traditional family dinners: a true feast, especially for my taste buds.
For two days we were treated to a great variety of traditional Portuguese dishes, all perfectly prepared: smoked ham, prawns, fish and vegetable croquettes, boiled bacalhau (dried and salted cod), bacalhau esperitual (in the oven with cream and grated carrot), a dish with piglet and potatoes, and one with sheep and all kinds of vegetables. Both these meat dishes were cooked in a wood-fired oven, and all accompanied with local wines. And of course there were the inevitable desserts and sweets, treats you can eat all day.
It was a long time ago that I tried so many new sweet dishes in such a short time: baba de camelo (which translates as camel spit but is a heavenly mix of caramelised Carnation milk and whisked egg white), rice pudding, Molotov cake, various types of empanadas filled with sweet potato and fruits, fennel based cookies, brincaderas (which is ‘joke’ in Portuguese, but they are serious chocolate-based calorie bombs), chocolate salame and pieces of French pastry with icing sugar sprinkled over them. Most of it was home made. And all quite different from what I am used to eating, and all very tasty.
And it was while eating and tasting that I understood how all these new experiences can give you an appetite for more and different flavours. Tasting something new is exciting, and when it tastes good, you’re tempted to try something similar but then just a little different. And if you end up disappointed after all, there’s always plenty of alternatives to quickly take away the taste.
And when you have tried them all, you can think about another round – afraid that there will never be another opportunity to try it all again, afraid that you will have to go back to what you had before, what you were used to, those tastes you have known for so many years.
And by choosing not to go local, you give yourself the opportunity to move on. Because, however much I like all these new tastes, and how much I like to see our friends here in Cascais, these new tastes also seem to increase my appetite for even more. For new tastes and new experiences in the new year.