As one of those weary travelers, shell-shocked from 26 hours trying to sleep in airports, planes, and buses, I had two things on my mind: a long shower, and sardines.
When I found out the location of our Spring 2019 Global Business Experience trip, I was over the moon. As a required course in our MBA program at Bentley University McCallum School of Business, students travel around the world to an exotic location to visit local companies and hear about the realities of doing business in that country. (I'm mostly interested in the food, so I half-listened to that stuff, then stayed after to ask their recommendations on where to find European flat oysters or really good octopus). Much better than cold, dreary Scotland like some cohorts visited, my class would be going to Portugal!
I knew that when our class got to Lisbon, my priority would be eating as much fresh and canned sardines as possible, and seeking out other local fish and shellfish delicacies. Portugal is famous for its seafood. In particular, Portugal is famous for its sardines. There are entire shops dedicated to canned sardines, I kid you not. Not sure if you know this, random strangers, but my background is in oysters and sustainable food/agriculture. Here's some info on the Evergreen Shellfish Club I ran back in undergrad, teaching hundreds of students and community members how to raise and eat oysters. I'm not a marine scientist, I'm an eater and a share-r, so I was looking forward to sharing Portugal's fine seafood with my classmates.
I also knew I wanted to taste the ‘Belon flat’ oyster native to European coasts, and the Holy Grail of oysters. I was unsuccessful in this area, but I hear there are tons in Maine! To narrow my priorities regarding other specialties of Portuguese cuisine, I contacted Rowan Jacobsen, oyster and terrior expert (and mentor of the aforementioned Shellfish Club), for advice. He responded “Portugal! Yeah. Seafood, of course. Tinned, fresh, cured, raw. Percebes, if you can find them.”
After recovering from the fact that a world-famous food expert was sending me individualized recommendations, I thought, "Perecebes? What are those?" When Googled, they were revealed to be another Holy Grail shellfish item on my list of Eat Before Dying: GOOSE-NECK BARNACLES! If I could find them, I knew I would have bragging rights all summer long with the other #shellfishnerds at Island Creek Oysters (I start working there in May!!)
Goose-neck barnacles are like no other barnacles. They're mostly harvested from wild stock and are very rare. I cannot stress enough how cool these babies are, nor how much and how long I've wanted to eat them. On our very last night in Portugal, after searching high and low across Lisbon, I found them at Ramiro seafood restaurant:
What exactly are they?
Remember barnacles? The hard white things stuck to rocks at the beach, the bottom of boats, pillars on docks, etc. Goose-neck barnacles are a type of barnacle with basically a really long neck. They're kind of like if a geoduck mated with a barnacle.
A geoduck is one of the world's largest clams, known for having a neck up to 3ft long and being the mascot for my undergrad college.
Some Things I Ate While Searching for Percebes:
The first moment I could escape, I left the group and ate lunch by myself at Can the Can Lisboa with this incredible book: "Orchid and the Wasp" by Caoilinn Hughes. The food was simple, but well executed, and was a total dream to eat outside in the sun overlooking the water.
- lightly grilled eggplant, zucchini, tomato, and mushrooms
- salty anchovies with lime slices
- fresh mint tea (just fresh mint leaves in hot water -- SUCH a brilliant idea)
One beautiful evening, my friend Milo took a few of us to a restaurant he had just attended for lunch -- because the octopus was so damn good. Full tentacles of tender (NOT chewy!) octopus, served with soft yellow potatoes.
Also at the octopus restaurant (I'm so so sorry, I forgot the name and can't find it on Google Maps...), we feasted on these large green-ish mussels (a little overcooked) and more anchovies.
Back to Sardines.
Which is why I nearly cried when a class-directed scavenger hunt brought us to one of those shops selling only canned fish. It's incredible. Sardines and other fish from dozens of different small producers, canned in varying liquids (oil vs water vs tomato sauce) with varying spices (piri piri chili vs none vs oregano). Coming from the U.S., where small oily fish are generally ignored or made fun of, I had never seen such worshipping of such a humble fish.
Probably why I brought home 30 cans of mostly sardines (many cans were consumed prior to this photo).