Gastrodiplomacy in Madeira

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Food is the best way to explore and learn about other cultures. Take risks and try something new with food. Love and make memories with food as well. When I travel, the smells, textures, and tastes of all the different foods that I experience stay with me.

This is a flat bread made without yeast, which is SOO delicious served with garlic butter, and goes well with sopa de tomate e cebola.

Food when put in the context of a particular country or culture becomes so much more. It is an entire tradition of a place and a people that is so much different from who you are.

“Carne de Vinho e Alhos” is a typical Madeiran dish and consists of small pieces of pork meat marinated in wine for at least a day before it is cooked with garlic. The dish is normally served at Christmas time, namely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December.

Food is a means of expression. It is social,funny, and fun. You will always find some new flavor to experience, a new cuisine to sample, a new friend to cook for, and a new restaurant to toast to the high heavens.

Lagareiro Salad (Octopus salad)

Food is poetry. It is playful, assertive, sweet, and irreverent. It can make the worst day in the world all better. We use food as fuel, but it is so much better to see it as more than that.

Coquetel de camarão (Shrimp cocktail)

Food is fun. It is fluid and keeps changing. It can spark an idea, a conversation, and a completely creative way to experience life.

Everyone enjoys food and relates to it on so many levels. Social justice, creativity, and matters of the intellect can all be related to food. There are those who even say that it is the stuff of life.

Sopa de Tomate e Cebola: traditional soup of Madeira, made of tomatoes and onions topped with a poached egg. Great to pair with Boca de Caco bread.

Most of all, I find food most unique because it can connect diverse people from all four corners of the planet. It lives in a place between past, present, and the future. Food is a way to escape from the humdrum of life and make it extraordinary–even for just one meal.

Bife com um ovo a Cavaco: Portuguese steak with sunny side up on top of the steak. It is cooked in a wine-based sauce and served with fried potatoes, rice or salad.

One of the most important Madeiran delicacies this Christmas season is their famous “Bolo de Mel” (Honey cake). It is made of sugar cane – cane honey, the rum and molasses. This is the oldest pastry in the island, due to the fact that it dates back to the times when Madeira was an important sugar cane producer in all of Europe. Another variation is called “Bolo de Mel Cana” or in English cane honey cake. Honey in Madeira is made from sugar cane.

Another variation is called “Bolo de Mel Cana” or in English cane honey cake. Honey in Madeira is made from sugar cane.

Most common denominator in the food, cookies, jam, drinks, etc. in Madeira is sugarcane. Amazing and very impressive how they make creative use of sugarcane. The last time I munched on fresh sugarcane was when I was in elementary in Masbate. In Madeira, whenever you buy fresh juice you can ask for a small piece of sugarcane to munch on.

© Moira G. Gallaga

Statues Around Funchal, Madeira

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The sculpture is meant to commemorate the many workers who lost their lives building the early tunnels and in the construction of the many “levadas” in Madeira.

Sculpture just outside of Santa Catarina Park in Funchal, Madeira.
“Sisi” the longest reigning Empress of Austria (44 years) championed individual identity and independence and was a free spirit who traveled the world and wrote poetry. She spent a lot of time in Madeira trying to escape the stress of life at court. She made a very good choice.
Mermaid statue along the marina in Funchal, Madeira with her arms spread to how show immense the sea is.
The statue “Paz E Liberdade” celebrating peace was conceived in 1988 by Manuela Aranha.
Statue of Peace and Liberty

I agree, Madeira is the place God kissed the world after creating it.

Moira G Gallaga©

Ode to Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moor)

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The Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) is situated on a top hill overlooking the village, it is part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Head to the edge of the hill and walk along on the pathway inside the wall for views of the surrounding area and marvel at the construction itself.

Over a thousand years of sun, moon, rain
have kissed the rocks, moistened and misted the
turrets of The Castle of the Moor.
Atop the hill are
Vistas.
Breathtaking; we are
Here, in Sintra, Portugal.

You walk along
and feel
it; romance from the time when
Moorish monarchs summered
here (Was it a summer place for Moorish royalty or just a military stronghold?)
With the Reconquista the Castle traded Islam for Christian rule.
Then there was a period
when the Jews of Sintra recited ancient prayers within
the space.
Another type of worship, all within one
Place.

And then, my friend,
There came
1755.
A great shake in Lisbon which
was felt as far as Sintra, a quake
of the earth and the old stones trembled. They shook
to the very foundation — yet
they held.
It is a fortress;
it is meant to hold.
Wonder.

And then there was –
Silence.
Neglect. Disrepair. The gentle
wear
the tear
of the elements.
A champion arrived in 1840. Ferdinand II of Portugal brought
the attention
and craft
to shore up this magnificent carapace.
He wrought
workmen to shore up, to gather –
Oh the dusty bones!
And caused a tree,
yes
a tree, to bloom, in the courtyard to honor the
Time,
the passing of time, which had seen
Kings and conquerors,
lovers and warriors, worship and walk in meditative
Silence.
And us –
Illuminated
by a modern light and an ancient sun.

Oh what land!
Changed hands
And hearts,
which pounded At
the view
from the crest — the great heights of
the Sintra Mountains.
From the pinnacle,
you can…
See
across the way
on a day clear, to Mafra, Ericeira and
Further out, the sea

Here
For us, to be here now.
For us to be –
Here.
Now.
In friendship
holding
our own familial bond as we look upon
the twining,
snaking walls –this is
a monument, a
fortress, castle, sanctuary.

We are the
ones who walk now upon the paths
cleared by
helping hands
clasped in –
Wonder!

Castelo dos Mouros,
The Castle of the Moors
It is
a site
for sight into the distance
and back into time.
Reflecting upon, and honoring, those who brought this
Place into being.
And we are here and that is part of
the story of our hearts and spirits.
Souring from the views, from the heights
which are not for the faint
of heart
but were built as
Fortress
Palace
Castle
Home
Temple
Burial
Site.

We are here now,
walking in this sunshine
which paints
Us
Golden.
We are not conquerors
we come in
Peace.
We come in excitement and love and curiosity and gratitude
to walk these sinewy paths and to play;
to pray
that the memory of
the extraordinary beauty of
The Castle of the Moor in Sintra, Portugal,
stay with us –
and that we be strong
and beautiful
and noble.
Cared for in the memory
of such
Beauty

A history
That we add to with each step
we take
upon the path.


© Moira G. Gallaga

In 1147, after the conquest of Lisbon by King Afonso Henriques, the Moorish garrison of the castle surrendered to the Christians without resistance as part of the liberation of Portugal from the Moors.

Walking up to the top of the castle is not for the faint of heart. The steps are very narrow and there’s no handrails.
Light as a bird & loving the freedom from up here! It was fun going from one turret to another. If somebody was coming from the opposite direction, one of you will have to flatten yourself against the wall to give way to the other.
Its position at the very top of the hill makes it a perfect defensive position. The slope will make life very difficult for any attacker centuries ago.
The hills that surround are thick, lush, and green. In the sun or the fog their views are serene.
The trail up to the Moorish Castle is part of the same beautiful forest that surrounds the Pena Palace. The air is sweet and cool and a surprising number of species make up the forest. The remains of the castle are scattered along the trail and sort of blend into the landscape.
We did a zip line that took an hour the first time we visited the Castle of the Moors. It was fun “zipping” from one platform to another along the forest canopy around 35-40 meters above the ground.

© Moira G. Gallaga

Magical Palace on a Hill: Palacio de Pena in Sintra

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King Afonso thrashed his mom, and then went seeking Moors.
And when he came to Sintra town, the signs upon the doors
Were in the heathen’s Arab tongue. The King said, “This looks right.
“I think I’ve found the perfect place to show some Christian might.
“And when I’m done, I swear to God,
I’ll plant some piece of holy sod
Upon yon hilltop, bleak and dead,
Where Mary dropped in once, it’s said.”

It happened as Afonso said; the Arabs lost their pants
And all around the city square, the pious people danced.
Upon the hill where Mary stopped, a lovely shrine was tossed
To thank the Lord and show those heathen rascals who was boss.
And from that dedicating prayer,
The Monks of St. Jerome were there
With no one else for quite a while
(It took a while to come in style.)

Ferdinand came into town, and simply loved the place.
He took an obscure little shrine and gave it a new face.
Damage from the Lisbon Quake was fixed, the shrine expanded
Into a getaway from all the stress the crown demanded.
A place of charm and beauty rare
So fanciful, the fairies there
Walk softly as they gaze around
At all the wonders they have found.

Today, the people go there still, taking lots of pictures
The Palace of the kings restored, with all the trim and fixtures
UNESCO said it must be saved, and put it on the list
Visitors are all amazed that it could still exist.
It’s one of Europe’s brightest lights
Come take the tour and see the sights,
See the gardens, fern and bower
Cool and quiet with scent of flower.

The pink and golden towers are reaching toward the sky,
The arches and the balustrades are simply for to die
And when you think you’ve reached the end, just take another door
You’ll find something else to see, and then there’s something more.
The views will take your breath away,
The sky grows bigger every day,
Some things change, but never fear,
This magic place is always here.

09 October 2013, Moira G Gallaga©

© Moira G. Gallaga

Portuguese Lunch

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Twelve:

Time for lunch.
The sun is high and the tables are full
With seafaring men who share
The spoils of their spell:
Dried, stewed bacalhau,
And sardines, salted and brined;
It is with little wonder
How Portugal is Europe’s
Pescitarian pride.

Bitter winter hails
The coming of cozido:
A cacophony con carne,
Comprised of chouriço
Being cabbage bedmates
With pork, beef, and rice,
Along with olive oil
And just a dash of red wine.

Succulent squid from John Bull pub in Cascais, Portugal

A mother prepares Francesca sandwiches,
To the delight of her young son and niece:
The cured ham is immaculate!
And blends in well with the linguiça and beef,
While the bread bookends are slowly soaked
By mother’s secret sauce
(Which their taste buds seem to sense
Is based in tomato, beer, and chicken stock).

Portuguese steak. It is extremely juicy and seasoned to perfection. Cut in a certain way, where you get minimal bone and more meat.

Using broa cornbread,
An old man slowly starts to scoop
A melted layer of goat cheese
Which anoints the crown of his soup:
Calo verde, coloured green
With potatoes, oil, and collard greens.
And while I dine,
I indulge in one of this country’s
Most beloved exports:
I begin to sip a fine young wine—
Naturally, a port.

Dow’s Vintage ports – clue was the smell of the cork and sniff of the top of the bottle.
The wine, which potentially could age successfully for decades, smelled luscious.
This port has layers and complexity.

A quarter to two:

Time to leave soon,
And yet there is always room for more.
I fill my stomach with
Nun’s bellies and angel’s chests,
In a land of milk and bacon from heaven.
Among these sweets,
A common thread of eggs does run,
As well as pinches of vanilla
And sweet cinnamon.

This sauced steak from Cervejaria Trindade came with rather large bowls of fried potatoes, which I am sure we’re just as pretty low-calorie as the buttery, garlicky, beer soaked sauce we dipped it into, hahaha.

The banquet lasts but three hours,
And yet it says so much about this place;
If you really want to explore Portugal,
Look no further than your plate.

© Moira G. Gallaga

Reflections on Lisbon circa 2007 and 2008

© Moira G. Gallaga

Saudade: a Portuguese word. “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” – Manuel de Melo

Truth be told, Lisbon was never a city I had given any thought. In fact, in 2007 when my mentor/boss asked me to do an ocular inspection of Portugal for the President’s visit and he said “what’s your usual points of interest to recommend,” I could only come up with – Luis Figo, Fatima and Fado. Give me a list of other European cities and there were usually at least four things or more that came to mind.

France: The Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musee d’Orsay, Bayeux Centre, Zidane, the Eiffel Tower, croissants, cheese and language.

Spain: Football, Raul, Iker Casillas, Prado Museum, Mezquita de Cordoba, ❤ Alhambra, cured meats, cheese, Bullfighting, Flamenco, Bernabeu Stadium, Paella Negra …

Russia: Lilacs in bloom, Kremlin Palace, Red Square, vodka, ;) communism, ;) Russian roulette, ;) Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, KGB, Lubyanka square, tricked USA and stole A and H bomb, ;)

London: Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, Buckingham and crappy football. ;) Oh wait, isn’t Prince Harry included in what UK is known for? ♥♥

Venice: Canals, Sestiere, Fenice theatre, Vivaldi, Marco Polo, Grand Caffès in Piazza San Marco, Palazzo Dario, St. Mark’s basilica, gelato, murano.

When I think about it, my inability to come up with something interesting regarding Lisbon is downright odd. For centuries, Portugal was a powerhouse discovering/conquering remote parts of the world from Brazil, Angola, Macau to East Timor (even today, seven of Portugal’s former colonies have Portuguese as their official language), bringing back exotic goods and luxuries that would later become European staples – chocolate and coffee come to mind. I did need to improve my outlook. :)

Enter the ocular trip – like a quick dip into the sea, the kind of thing that sort of gets you acquainted but really just leaves you wanting more.

Although it’s the capital of Portugal, it only has around half a million inhabitants. This makes it the kind of city that feels like a city, but still small enough to house plenty of animated neighbourhoods that are manageable to explore.

We stayed at the Ritz Four Seasons hotel. From my room I can hear the music from outside and the birds chirping. Lisbon seems like a typical major city, but with all the insanity sucked out of it.

Thank you Ritz for all the lovely pampering.

My first taste of Lisbon made me sigh ‘Ah, the San Francisco of Europe.’ Mountains rise up on both sides of the mouth of the harbor and then there is the bridge. You could become disoriented as you try to remember if you are in Portugal or San Francisco. Actually, this bridge was constructed by the same American company that built the Golden Gate Bridge.

During the entirety of our ocular, we were immersed in spectacular views while visiting possible places of engagement. If the bridge is still not enough in terms of sites that take your breath away, when you see the Christ the Redeemer replica, you will almost feel the very breath of life. This staggering statue of Christ towers into the sky as gratitude for sparing Portugal from the ravages of WW2.

Our last stop before proceeding to Fatima was Tagide restaurant. This establishment boasts one of the most amazing views of the old quarter of the city and the Tagus river. Make sure to ask for a table on the second floor. This will afford you a stunning view of the city. Start your evening with a 20-year-old port wine, and after your meal, try some cake balls with ice cream. Linger over a perfect evening with a cup of exquisite coffee and count your blessings. I’m already counting the days until we return to Portugal for the actual visit. Compliments to Chef Luis Santos and his team.

Whenever I travel, I always make it a point to savor the local cuisine. It’s a pretty good and delicious way of immersing and experiencing the local culture.

Lisbon has an organic feel. It certainly isn’t rural, but it’s one of those amazing places that manages to seamlessly combine nature with urbanity. Maybe it’s the lack of overly tall buildings in the centre of town, or the fact that it has a more Mediterranean climate than other cities, but this is a place where there are trees and foliage everywhere. Restaurants have gardens with trees growing in the middle, and if you leave your window open, you’ll be woken up by chirping birds.

Forget public transportation cards and days inside museums… just for this visit. ;) With only 36 hours before proceeding to Fatima, Lisbon was beckoning me to explore it on foot in my usual 3-inch boots, for as long as my body can put up with it.

We kicked things off as soon as we landed in Fatima with a luncheon meeting followed by the ocular of the usual offices, and at the evening, the hotel’s Fado bar. Living in Greenhills, Los Angeles, and WDC you think you would know what hipsters look like. But then again, the European hipster crowd is a sight to behold.

Twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings scattered all over the small function room. Drinking beer out of bottles and smoking the obligatory cigarette. The combination of Fado music, women in casual but chic outfits were proof that we were in a city that likes to be hip. It was the beginning of the summer season. There was a noticeable buzz in the air.

That’s what I found in Lisbon: a city that feels very much alive and vibrant. A city that despite its old roots is moving. A city that mixes together old and new – classic yet cutting edge at the same time.

We wrapped up the ocular visit with a trip to Fatima– certainly worth another post given its importance.

When it was time to head to the airport there was a quick dash to the clean and efficient metro (coffee at the corner kiosk of course) and soon enough we were on a plane out of Lisbon. That’s how a less than 96 hours trip goes; they offer mere doses of cities that get you immediately planning your next trip back. As we pulled away from the city I couldn’t help but think about how it’s the places that you don’t know anything about that are often the best to discover.

The actual visit of that ocular happened a few weeks later. I made several friends which I’m still in touch with up to now. The closest ones as usual were those I met at the football stadium after watching a live football game.

Our honorary Consul in Lisbon was so gracious to bring me to the town where Luis Figo was born and his house.

Lisbon is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city that implanted the roots of her past into the reconstruction of her future.

Here’s to the beauty of the unknown, and the continuing desire to learn more.

On 25 May 2013, I was back again in Lisbon. This time with my family and not just for a quick one week trip, further discoveries awaits….

28 June 2013

Diplo-Tales: Dupont Circle Roundabout – Merry- Go-Round from Hell

©Moira G Gallaga

(Note: A blast from the past during our diplomatic posting at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC. I wrote this in 2011)

After three years driving the same roads every week you would know your way around, correct? Well, I don’t.

Like I need any more “idiot me” moments, right? However, in my defence, I’m referring to a particularly nasty piece of road known as Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. Anyone who has ever driven in it would probably understand where my confusion and distress comes from.

The Bermuda Triangle of Roundabouts

Whoever decided that a roundabout with ten—read that, ten!—exits was a good idea should be back in school, relearning how to design roads. There are also two segregated lanes in the roundabout, just in case you decide you don’t feel like getting off the Merry-Go-Round for a while and instead want to kick back, relax, and listen to the music.

If that weren’t confusing or challenging enough already, the centre of the roundabout has a nice little park with trees and a fountain. It is also full of people and has got a number of crosswalks. So while navigating the maze that is Dupont Circle you must be on the lookout for pedestrians as well as your intended exit of that roundabout. I get this sense that in their eyes are looks of mirth, as if they know I’ve travelled this road every week and still have to call my husband for directions because even my GPS is befuddled by Dupont Circle. At least I’m not the only one.

I work at the Philippine Embassy, WDC. As if I’m not already late enough, I have trouble navigating the roads outside the Embassy. There’s this one time I saw Resty, a colleague of mine, and then I realized “Oh, God! This is already near the Ambassador’s residence.” A second and closer look at the surroundings confirmed my belated realization. This was the other side  of the diplomatic enclave called Embassy Row. Our Embassy was in the opposite direction across Dupont Circle. I was supposed to exit Dupont Circle towards the South but ended up going North, the merry-go-round from Hell had got me disoriented again. Needless to say, I don’t tell my colleagues about my fights with Dupont Circle. I’d never hear the end of it. The forthcoming jokes would have been relentless.

My husband offers a chuckle every time I call him. Those chuckles were sounding a bit forced after a while, but there’s nothing I can do. When my mechanical GPS fails me I must turn to my human GPS. He’s gotten used to it, and he would say the same thing every time. I think he had the directions written down, a little sticky note in his wallet. He’s used to communicating with people and being patient as he tries to reach a consensus on difficult issues. In this case, garnering his wife safe passage to work.

While I’m driving in circles trying to figure out the right exit again or how to get back to the proper lane within the roundabout, peering at the roads that all look the same with their asphalt and sides of buildings and trees and cars, my fingers hit the speed-dial. My husband had learned to anticipate my calls in that he always picks up on the first ring and automatically asks which building I’m near at to serve as a reference.  I describe it and he tells me the next time I pass it to go a certain number of exits in order to get out of the right one. I haven’t the faintest idea how he knows which exit I should be taking by my less-than-impressive building descriptions. I have a hard enough time recognizing the building for my next loop around the Merry-Go-Round.


I don’t know how Washington D.C. locals do it. Dupont Circle isn’t the only roundabout in Washington D.C. It is the worst though. I guess once you’ve conquered the worst of roundabouts the others are like mere pebbles on a pathway.

16 September 2011