1. Seeing plates with funny sayings.
The blue-and-white decorative plates saying “tenha cuidado com o dono, que o cão está preso” (be careful with the owner because the dog is on a leash), make us smile as we walk by the porch. Or, walking in a house and reading, “quem nesta casa em casa entrar na língua tenha cautela, pode entrar pela porta e sair pela janela” (those who enter this house be careful with their tongue, they might enter through the door and leave through the window.) Not to mention the plate on the coffee shop around the corner, “se bebes para esquecer, paga antes de beber” (if you drink to forget, pay before you drink).
2. Amália’s “Uma Casa Portuguesa.”
Just as Amália Rodrigues described it, the image of a white house, of a Saint depicted in azulejos, “pão e vinho sobre a mesa” (bread and wine over the table), the smell of basil, and roses in a garden bring us back to the cliché of a Portuguese home. So, when we play her song, even those who did not like fado might find themselves singing along with a smile, while secretly shedding a few we-will-never-talk-about-it tears.
3. What we know as “A língua de Camões.”
After we leave the country and return, we feel aware of the beauty that is walking on a street and recognizing the sounds around us, linking them to words and accents we grew up with. As Fernando Pessoa once said, “A minha pátria é a língua Portuguesa,” (my homeland is the Portuguese language). Although there are over 170 million people in the world who speak Portuguese, from native Brazilians, to the PALOP — African Countries with Portuguese as Official Language — passing by Timor Leste and Macau, we still cannot help but to smile when we overhear a European Portuguese accent trying to figure out the subway system in New York, Paris or São Paulo.
4. Hearing “o meu José e a minha Maria.”
The use of the possessive before our first name does not mean, to a Portuguese parent, especially to a Portuguese mother, we belong to them. They say it fondly, with all their heart, because we are their children and have their hair, their nose, their smile. On another hand, the preceding “my” is much better than the subsequent use of our second/middle name. After all, who has not quivered to “Filomena Maria vem cá já imediatamente!” (Filomena Maria come here immediately!)
5. Making a sardinhada.
Could summer be a real summer without a sardinhada? When dad is at the grill barbecuing sardines and carapaus, and we are helping mum, taking the black skin off a roasted green pepper and ripping it apart with our hands to add it to the tomato salad? Unfortunately, those of us who venture to different countries have had many “non-summers,” but we know nothing tops up sun and sand better than the scent of grilled fish filling the air around us.
6. Drooling over Mum’s soups.
When we were young we probably dreaded “sopa Juliana,” but now as adults “lá fora” (abroad), who has not longed for mother’s beautiful “sopa de espinafres,” (spinach soup), tasty vitamin-filled “sopa de nabiça com grão” (turnip greens and chickpeas soup) and raise-the-dead-from-the-grave “sopa da pedra” (stone soup)? Then after a day of drooling over images of traditional soups on Google, we secretly plot bringing mum over and opening a Portuguese soup parlour.
7. Eating pão Alentejano.
As good Portuguese, we like bread on the table. But we are fussy. We do not understand packed bread with an expiration date. We dream of pão de milho (corn bread) melting in our mouths at lunch, hot pão de mafra dripping with Milhafre butter in the afternoon and pão alentejano with our soup for dinner. After all, “em casa que não há pão todos ralham e ninguém tem razão” (in a house without bread everyone fights, and no one is right).
8. The gastronomic wonder of Caracois done right.
The world knows the French escargot, but for us, nothing beats an overflowing plate with delicious snails boiled with oregano and piri-piri spiced up with the skill of a Portuguese hand. Unless you take the plate to an esplanade, near a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, on a hot day.
9. Spontaneous debates at the Café.
We miss beber café com a malta (drinking coffee with your friends) after dinner. It was a perfect time to discuss the neighbour’s love affair, to act as politicians, to be football managers, to debate theories to save the world or merely to discuss our plans for the weekend. At times it felt like we were at the Assembleia da República, if only the prime minister was there drinking coffee with us.
10. Bread with Doce de Tomate.
Some shake their head in disbelief when we talk about the wonders of eating a slice of homemade bread with tomato jam accompanied by a cup of café pensal. The more they shake it, the more you feel prompted to call your mother and ask for grandmother’s old family recipe. Then, after a few long hours, we casually put it on the table and serve it, knowing their minds are about to be blown.
11. As festas & romarias da aldeia.
Even though some of us might be from the city, through blood and tradition we have been to one of those typical festivities. We danced to the happy, cheesy rhythm of música Pimba — Portuguese popular music — which we would never play during the day. We’ve headed to the quermesse (bazaar) to buy a few raffle tickets, and if luck was on our side took a few souvenirs home or laughed at the unsuitability of what we got. When we felt hungry, we looked around to see if the Pão com chouriço (bread with chourizo) stand was around that year. Then we wiggled and sang “se elas querem um abraço ou um beijinho nós pimba” (if they want a hug or a little kiss, we give it to them) with a fried fartura in our hand.
12. Olha a bola de Berlim.
There are many cakes we miss like pão de lo, pastel de nata and pampilho, but there is a cake shaped like a ball filled with a cream made with egg that makes our day a lot better, the Bola de Berlim. Especially because it is brought to us when we are laying down at the beach feeling the heat of summer on our skin and we hear the beach vendor’s cry “é para o menino e pá menina!” (it’s for the boy and for the girl).
13. Nestum, Cerelac or Pensal loyalty.
Every Portuguese, regardless of age, has a favourite type of baby cereal. And there is no shame in saying it out loud — or teasing each other discussing which is best.
14. A form of Bacalhau.
Maybe if we are lucky when we leave, we land in a country with good enchidos, good cheese and good bread to go with it, even though it is not o nosso (ours). But life without bacalhau in one of our favourite forms such as Bacalhau à brás, bacalhau à gomes de sá, bacalhau com natas or a tiny pastel de bacalhau, for us, that’s a sacrifice we have not figured out why we must endure.
15. The Portuguese Sea.
You will not be able to find it on a map, even though it does refer to the water that bathes our cliffs and shores. It is not ours because we own it, but because for hundreds of years, caravelas and fishing boats set sail to feed their families and their dreams. But without it there would be no “Portugality”. As Fernando de Pessoa said in the poem Mar Português, “Deus ao mar o perigo e o abismo deu, Mas nele é que espelhou o céu” (God, to the sea gave danger and abyss. But it was on it that he mirrored heaven).