Matador Network

6 Lies the Guidebooks tell you about Portugal

1. To eat Portuguese authentic food you must go to…

By the time you get to said place, the usual traditional menus — sometimes only written in chalk on a black board — will be widely available and translated into English, Spanish and sometimes even French. Follow your nose, not the crowds. Or at least not the crowds of tourists. What guidebooks really should tell you is not where to eat, but how to find places to eat. “Walk until you find a small place where you can find at least three moustached-men, and people speaking loudly in Portuguese, make sure nearly every table is taken and that the people sitting around the tables look like they are on their lunch break. Wait patiently until the waiter hands you a menu fully written in Portuguese with prices around €5.00. Then, just sit back, relax and let the delicious good times roll.”

2. You will only find the archetypal picturesque cove beaches in Algarve.

Oh yeah? What about Portinho da Arrábida or Praia da Ursa? And in my wanderings around the Portuguese cliffs I often found beaches I could barely name. I am not saying you shouldn’t go to Algarve, but if it’s cove beaches you are after, feel free to ditch the guide, venture to the Portuguese shores and make a Portuguese cove your own.

3. It’s a Catholic country.

I understand the misconception. In my travels, locals in several countries expected me to go to church every Sunday just because guidebooks tell them that us Portuguese are Catholic. We may be on a more conservative side of the spectrum because we do value family and tradition, but the Portuguese Constitution says Portugal has no official religion. The 2011 Census say 81% of the population is Catholic, however, in a much more practical world, the majority of the population only gets close to Catholicism when we say, “Se Deus quiser.

4. Fado is the exclusive music of Lisbon.

This one is worth one truth and two lies. The truth in it can be found traditionally in the streets of Mouraria where Severa sang, in the Museu do Fado or in the Casa da Amália. But the lies lay beyond those very hilly streets that surround the Castelo de São Jorge. Fado is not the music of Lisbon nor is exclusive to the capital city. Fado is also heard in the squares of Coimbra under the cover of the night, not to mention here and there at local parties and gatherings.

5. Portuguese people really like Fado.

I do wish this was true. But you will meet many of us who find it depressing and sad, much too mellow for their liking. And many who will change the radio station at the first sign of a Fado note. It’s hard to understand Fado because it is not just music, it’s an art. It’s a mature love affair between a deep, powerful voice and the cry of the sexy Portuguese guitar. It’s a feeling that enters your ears, fills your chest, touches your heart and lingers in your belly. A feeling you cannot explain to a teenager who would much rather listen to a pop upbeat international tune, for them the musical grass is much greener in a galaxy far, far, away.

6. The Portuguese gastronomy consists of Bacalhau.

I wish I’d thought of it when my Mexican friends asked me what food they should eat on their visit to Portugal. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten cod cooked in at least 100 different ways and I love it. But we also love our Salada de Orelha (pig ears’ salad) to Dobrada (cow’s stomach), along with every type of seafood and fish available in the country. But while meat eaters and pescatarians will have a great time in the country, vegetarians will have to be a little more creative when it comes to trying typical Portuguese food. If we, the Portuguese, are what we eat, we’re not just a salty fried delicious fish. We are everything.

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