All the restaurants in Lisbon seem to be in competition to see who can have the most gratuitous display of dead fish in their window. Makes sense. There are a ton of tourists here, and when a person sees a bunch of dead fish piled up on ice they think, “WOW-WEE. Look how fresh and dead those dead fish are.” Whatever the price is, it’ll get rationalized in your head somehow because the dead fish-to-table concept has taken over your brain. It’s no different than any marketing strategy Kellogg’s uses, or when a pack of gummy bears says, “Made with fresh fruit!” I understand that the seafood is Lisbon is indeed very fresh, but not you or I truly knows what goes on in the back of a restaurant kitchen. Lisbon isn’t a place to just stumble upon a great restaurant; there’s too many traps. You want to go in with a plan. I came with a ton of restaurant recommendations, and most of them are out of my budget. My plan is affordable. It is the plan of a conman who somehow talked his way onto a cruise. I am interested in canned fish, which luckily is suddenly very chic.
Conserveira de lisboa has been selling tinned fish since 1930. I stopped into more than a few conserveiras and this one is obviously the least commercial. It feels like a shop from the 1930’s, and yeah that might be a hipster thing to adore, but there is something nice about being able to see the emotional and historical attachment of a business. Everything at conserveira de lisboa is reasonably priced, whereas a lot of other stores opened up in the last 10 years and charge 15-20 € for grilled sardines. This is the only store that didn’t have an army of people wearing polos ready to tell you all about their most expensive products. The two people working here were both women, who upon my entrance did not once stop their conversation for me. Nobody accommodated me. Just, “Here, figure it out stupid.” I love that. The most freeing thing in the world is nobody giving a shit that you’re on vacation.
Tinned fish gets a bad rap in America, and it even felt that way in Portugal for a long period of time, but it’s making a comeback. I’m not entirely sure why that is - I think part of it is people appreciating the novelty in it. The old cartoon logos, the historical aspect of it all - it’s like buying a souvenir. Also, canned fish is delicious because most of the eating process is inhaling olive oil. Forget the anchovies you buy at Ralph’s. Here you’re consuming good olive oil and quality seafood. It’s a delicacy. Everybody in Lisbon has a shiny chin from eating canned sardines.
I also went to Chu Chu on the recommendation of a mutual friend who lives here in Lisbon. They had an excellent display of dead fish in their window (a good sign that they serve fresh, dead fish). I got octopus salad and fried anchovy. The octopus salad was good (very fresh, very dead), but didn’t blow my mind flavor wise. The fried anchovy was excellent, though. I keep thinking about how the presentation was unlike anything you find in America. In America, this would be served modernly with a minimalist touch. The anchovy would shine bright. It would look sexy; not hidden completely by a pile of shredded onion and carrot. Here the anchovy seemed to be fried in oil, then hit with a mixture of vinegar/tomato puree. Fatty, crunchy, and acidic. Also, I often forget how excellent shredded carrots are in things. They add a nice natural sweetness to any dish. Plus when you douse them in vinegar like that, you forget that the thing you’re eating is even a carrot. It’s delightful. Bottom line: The fried anchovy at Chu Chu didn’t feel like an elevated seafood dish at a pricey restaurant; it’s more homey and practical. Glad I got to experience that.
A man on the street tried to sell me weed. I got the classic, “My friend, my friend” right up top. He showed the weed slyly, and I laughed, which was all he needed to follow me another 2 blocks down the street. Then he says, “Lisbon, it’s too many people. You smoke this? It’ll be OK.” This dude looked at me ONCE and could sense anxiety. Good lord the drug dealers in Lisbon are intuitive. For a second I thought he was going to start listing things that happened to me when I was 9.
I also bought a pack of cigarettes as soon as I got here. Something about being in Lisbon made me think, “Ahhh, I should relax with a nice, unfiltered Camel.” I smoked two and realized I would not be traversing up many hills if I kept doing this. A Portuguese man asked me for a cigarette, so I gave him the whole pack. He reacted like I was the richest man in the world. This is not a smoking town. I get the feeling that this is a place to drink. Tomorrow I’m going to buy a few bottles of wine, get drunk, and stumble up and down the tiled streets of Lisbon saying “no thanks” for as long as I can to people trying to sell me cocaine.
I am very grateful that Viking is sending me on this trip, although I still have no clue why they agreed to this. I’m too old to be an influencer, and my reach isn’t necessarily huge when I get something published. Speaking of Viking, I have had minimal contact with the representatives so far. Upon exiting the Lisbon airport, I saw several elderly men and women wearing their Viking stickers, and the looks on their faces seemed to indicate, “Hello, we are here and we are trusting our entire lives in your hands. Please find us.” I did not wear the sticker, but that’s only because I did not know we were supposed to be wearing stickers. I also didn’t read too much of the itinerary or the procedures. I hope this doesn’t get me killed. A Viking representative found us and herded us into a large SUV. Everyone around me was over 70. I get the feeling that I will not be hanging out much with my…crewmates? Castmates? The people that are also on this fucking trip. I don’t know, maybe we’ll all get drunk on the boat and bond. I would love to get to know these people and then ask them for 20 dollars.
The whole experience is a little surreal, mainly because I didn’t pay to be here. I get why other people do this, though. It’s really easy. If you know nothing about another country but want to go, why not just give somebody your money and have them do all the booking for you? Otherwise you’re having to look up hotels and book rides and the all that nonsense that keeps us all from taking trips like this. I don’t know, I’m speaking as if I know what people with money would do. I am beginning to understand the appeal of going on a cruise, although I have yet to step aboard the actual ship yet. The hotel I’m staying at, The Tivoli, costs about 800 € a night. Crazy. Going to be really hard not to rob this place.