Ichiban Japanese Restaurant, Porto

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (1)

My friend who shares my love for sushi recommended Ichiban Restaurante Japonês in Porto months ago. After more than a year without going to a single Japanese restaurant, cravings hit critical mass after seeing photos of sushi scroll by in Instagram, pics posted by my friends living on the sushi-centric West Coast (California and BC in particular). I couldn’t watch any longer — it was time to break my Japanese food drought!

This is not a restaurant review by any means, because I was too distracted by the food to take better pictures and too busy eating it to critique it properly. Although I can say there was a consensus amongst the four of us that we enjoyed every bite of our food.  We will be back, Ichiban!

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (2)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (3)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (4)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (5)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (6)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (7)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (8)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (9)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (10)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (11)

November 22, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

Lenços dos Namorados, Sweetheart Handkerchiefs in Portugal

Lenços dos Namorados, Sweetheart Handkerchiefs

I took this photo last month at lunch in Porto because the tablecloth reminded me to tell you about this charming Portuguese tradition relegated to history but preserved in fabric.

The tablecloth is a reproduction of the love messages embroidered into handkerchiefs which were popular in the north of Portugal up until a generation ago when people stopped using handkerchiefs and declaring their love publicly this way. These days public declarations of love or engagement are far less personalized, usually expressed in the form of hardware jewellery, which probably lasts longer but who makes jewellery to show you’re smitten? Have a look at the cursive handwriting, the hearts, the birds… they’re hand-embroidered Valentines. You’ll see these tablecloths and handkerchief reproductions sold as souvenirs, spelling mistakes and all, authentic to the era when girls of marrying age were very young (by modern-day standards), naïve, and less educated.

Sandra of Pocket Cultures has examples of these love messages here: A Portuguese Lovers’ Tradition

From Visit Portugal and North:

Sweetheart Handkerchiefs or Fiancé Handkerchief are handkerchiefs made of linen or cotton and embroidered with several love patterns and amorous phrases. These pieces are typical clothing accessories from Minho and were used by young single women who would embroider sweet messages to their boyfriends who were sent off to sea or war to the former colonies.

Young women would embroider the handkerchiefs in code using symbols like a rose; meaning woman; a heart for love; a lily meaning virginity; a red carnation expressed flirtation and provocation and doves were the symbol of a couple in love.

Also known as “Lenços de Pedidos”, “Lenços dos Namorados” are closely related with the 17th and 18th centuries Nobility handkerchiefs. Later, they were adapted by the general female population becoming more widely used. Common folks would write like they spoke which would produce charming spelling mistakes.

This year I’ve been to quite a few local festivals and seen ranchos perform traditional dances where handkerchiefs played a part. Catarina of Positively Portugal mentions it here:

Lovers’ handkerchiefs – Lenços dos namorados

The girls would also wear handkerchiefs tucked into their waistbands, which at dances and festivals were often stolen by the young men who would play at being matched to the girls at the event.

I tried to find a video on YouTube that showed the handkerchiefs in the dances, but I haven’t come across one yet. So this is a placeholder until I find it — a video of traditional folk dancers from Minho (the kids are so adorable!):

A Month Of Ice

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (1)

Tomorrow will mark four weeks since Ice the pooch joined Casa Aguiar, and he has adjusted very well to domestic life. He’s a much more confident puppy now that he knows he has a home — including food, shelter, a doggy bed, lots of lovin’ — and has transitioned from fearful survival mode to being playful and even mischievous. Ice is still a bit skittish around trucks and large dogs, but overall he’s relaxed and his tail is wagging much more than it did at the beginning (when it seemed to be permanently down). He’s made doggy friends and loves to race around the back fields at full tilt, which is hilarious to watch — at times like an unpredictable white streak that will stop to dig furiously, at times like a jackrabbit that pounces on holes. Ice is on a continual hunt for the Perfect Stick, and occasionally steals my socks to chew them like beef jerky throughout the day.

I’m also happy to report that Ice’s wounds have healed over and the fur has grown back:

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar

On Tuesday I took him one stop on the metro to Maia centre to see how he’d do… officially, dogs aren’t allowed on the metro unless they’re in a basket, but I wanted to see how he’d react to the metro if I were to try and sneak him to Porto. Ice was petrified when the train came to a stop, and I had to practically drag him inside. When he’s scared he sits on my feet and during that one-stop ride he was so nervous I was concerned he might pee. Thankfully he didn’t, but he was scared to walk out of the metro and he was even more scared when it moved past him. After that little episode I debated whether to take Ice on the metro home after lunch, but then it started to rain and I decided to try again. This time I picked him up and carried him the whole time so he would find the train less threatening, and he seemed much more comfortable on my lap. Ice is such a cuddly dog he doesn’t mind being carried anywhere, which means I could probably carry him to Porto on the metro until he gets too big for my lap. It sure would make it a lot easier if I could bring him with me since I travel by public transit all the time.

One thing the other dog owners remark on is how well-behaved Ice is — he’s pretty obedient for a puppy, and generally doesn’t wander out of sight. If he sees me running, he’ll catch up and run beside me, so that’s my tactic if he wanders too far away. Ice doesn’t growl or bark except only when he sees “threat” from a distance, but when that perceived threat is close it’s as if he forgets how to bark. I’m still figuring out how he considers a threat, though. When we were in Penela picking chestnuts he viewed cars along a road 500m away as aggressors and he would run the length of the field, barking, until they disappeared. Over and over. Last weekend we were in Porto and there were people around, but he decided to bark a couple of times at two ladies crossing the street. Who knows why! Is he protecting us from their handbags? Only Ice knows.

For now, we are all getting better acquainted in our dog-human relations and he is learning from the neighbourhood dogs. We are also getting a lot more exercise! If you haven’t got Ice overload yet, you can find more pictures of him in my Instagram.

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (2)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (3)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (4)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (5)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (6)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (7)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (8)

November 20, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

My Kingdom For a Balloon Sword

Guimarães, Portugal

doing battle in Guimarães

I don’t like starting out posts this way, but I’m going to say it anyway: I’ve been bogged down this week. I should follow this little guy’s lead and pick up a balloon sword and duel with someone. Something tells me a balloon sword fight would be most gratifying, or slaying a balloon dragon.

This photo was taken last month in Guimarães when the heatwave was in full swing. (I also just realized it’s the same day Ice was rescued in Guimarães — not by me, but by my friend.) It’s been raining quite a lot lately and I think everyone in Portugal is rather tired of it, but it looks like tomorrow will be back up in the 20C-range again around here. I daresay it’s still better than the current climate for Toronto, which is -3C and snowing.

OK, weather report over. Hopefully back to regularly-scheduled photography tomorrow.

October 19, 2014
Album: Guimarães + Braga

Street Art In Porto

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I didn’t bring my camera with me last weekend, which was a shame because my mother-in-law made a chestnut cake (an excellent Portuguese Kitchen opportunity missed!) and I saw street art all over Porto that really could’ve used a better camera than my phone. Ah well, I needed a break from Photoshop, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic, and Capture NX2, anyway.

Porto’s street art is expanding and I see new works all the time. The local street artists are livening up the city and I, for one, love it!

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November 16, 2014
Instagram: http://instagram.com/gailatlarge

Braseirão do Minho, Part 1

Braseirão do Minho (4)

bacalhau com broa e castanhas (breaded codfish with chestnuts)

Website: http://www.braseiraominho.com
E.N. 13 – Vila Meã, 4920-140 Vila Nova de Cerveira
Tel: 251 700 240

If there is something I’m learning faster in Portugal than Portuguese, it’s the Portuguese language of food. I can’t think of anything more strongly linked to Portuguese culture than the gastronomy, because it ties the people to the land in such a personal way. In Portugal there are food legends, regional styles of cooking, secret ingredients, entire festivals celebrating a specific food, and specialties all around the country. The Portuguese have such a strong emotional attachment to their cuisine that when they ask me “What is Canadian food?” and I cannot give a clearcut answer, I can feel the pity… It’s not to say Canadians don’t like food, but we just don’t have much to call our own — we’ve co-opted everyone else’s instead, including Portuguese.

Where Portuguese food really shines is in the locally-sourced dishes, and you’ve got to travel for those. When I was invited by Hotel Minho to visit the Alto Minho region north of Porto, the invitation included reservations at their adjoining restaurant Braseirão do Minho for Saturday and Sunday. It’s conveniently located directly beside the hotel, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the hotel’s amenities and have dinner within just a few minutes.

At Braseirão do Minho we started off with moelas (gizzards) and ordered some vinho verde. Suddenly, two more dishes appeared from the kitchen for us, compliments of the chef, José Vinagre. (There’s a short interview with him here, if you speak Portuguese.) It was my first time to try arroz de pato (duck rice) and we polished off the dish of entrecosto (ribs) in no time. We were well into the moelas and had to forego the bread to leave room for our mains, already feeling a bit full. But it was all just too good to leave anything behind. As you can see, it’s castanhas season and those featured prominently on our plates.

In the meantime, the restaurant was already full of Galicians who crossed a bridge (and a time zone) to dine at Braseirão do Minho, and it was their sheer exuberance on the dance floor that set the tone for the evening. Between the live music and the dancing, we were happily content to sit back, digest our food, people-watch and take photos of the food while we marvelled at how obviously popular the restaurant must be for the whole area.

Lighting was a challenge on Saturday, but I managed to photograph nearly all of our dishes except for dessert, which we had no room for (surprise surprise). This is Part 1 of our dining experience at Braseirão do Minho:

Braseirão do Minho (2)

arroz de pato (duck rice)

Braseirão do Minho (3)

entrecosto (ribs)

Braseirão do Minho (1)

moelas (gizzards)

Braseirão do Minho (5)

(we forgot the name of this dish!)

Braseirão do Minho (6)

port rounded out our meal (like we needed more rounding! ha!)

November 8, 2014
Album: Alto Minho Press Trip 2014

Aguardente, Portugal’s Homegrown Firewater


aguardente at Adega do Sossego restaurant

A week ago when we were in Alto Minho, Francisco of Bliss Tours took us to lunch at a restaurant in Melgaço called Adega do Sossego (a post in itself), which was followed up by their aguardente, a spirit distilled from local fruit (usually grapes) and consumed as a digestive. Following on from the northern region’s popularity of vinho verde, it should come as no surprise that it’s also becoming known for its aguardente, too. Most varieties of the Portuguese aguardente are not commercialized products, though, which means if it’s offered to you, say yes and consider yourself lucky!

Aguardente reminds me a lot of Italian grappa, which I first tasted in Switzerland in 2002. Whenever I mention grappa to anyone I get blank looks (c’mon, it’s not that rare, is it??) but the comparison is also mentioned by Emma’s House In Portugal so I feel somewhat vindicated. It’s also similar to a version we had in Cabo Verde — also homemade — in June called grogue.

For the aguardente-uninitiated, I point you to a Catavino article from last December:

Aguardente Bagaçeira: Portugal’s Seriously Strong Wine Spirit

Spoiler alert: it burns.

Or, I should say, it usually burns in the same way whiskey tends to burn. Somehow, Adega do Sossego’s aguardente didn’t have that burning feeling and our waiter acknowledged this difference — apparently, lots of other people feel the same way. There are other ways to consume aguardente, but Adega do Sossego serves it in chilled shot glasses from this brushed steel cistern with a tiny ladder and a tap. I wanted to bring it home with me!

From Wikipedia:

Portuguese aguardente has several varieties. Aguardente vínica is distilled from wine, either of good quality or undrinkable wines. It is mostly used to fortify wines such as port, or aged to make aguardente velha (old burning water), a kind of brandy. Aguardente bagaceira is made from pomace as a way to prevent waste after the wine season. It is usually bootlegged, as most drinkers only appreciate it in its traditional 50% to 80% ABV. A common way to drink it is as a liqueur coffee made with espresso coffee; this is called Café com Cheirinho (coffee with scent).

In the Azores, this espresso-aguardente combination is commonly referred to as café com música (coffee with music). Aguardente Medronho is a variety distilled from the fruit of the arbutus unedo tree.

I looked up aguardente after trying (and spitting out) the medronho berry when we were in the village of Janarde a few weeks ago. I was expecting it to taste like a raspberry, but it was much drier than I’d expected! I’ll give it a second chance, though, maybe it tastes better as aguardente. Andrea at Catavino says in the above article that aguardente can also be used to flambé choriço de assado to give it a special flavour, and that’s how I’d like to try it next. I love flambé!


aguardente on tap; I love the tiny ladder!

November 9, 2014
Album: Alto Minho Press Trip 2014