Eau de Vie


Portugal – September 2009

We arrived in Porto late one September night. My best friend, Bron, and I had been travelling together for some time now and Porto was one of our last stops on what had been a two week whirlwind tour of Spain and Portugal.

Porto was a very different city anywhere else we had visited in Portugal. It had a more artsy feel to it and we spent our days there sitting beside the port, eating tapas and taking in the scenery. We wandered the streets finding random temporary art installations, running into marching bands randomly playing in the main street and admiring the houses all stacked on top of one another like a giant game of tetris. But one of my favourite things about Porto was it’s people.

On our first night we didn’t reach our hostel until after 10pm. We were anxious to find somewhere to fill our bellies. The hostel we were staying at was out of town a bit so there weren’t many choices nearby. We rushed off to a restaurant just around the corner that the guy at reception had suggested might still serve us if we were quick.

But we had absolutely no reason to rush – the restaurant was still buzzing with people. We were seated immediately by our Portuguese waiter who couldn’t speak a word of English. Instead of asking what we wanted, he spoke to us in rapid Portuguese and vanished into the kitchen. He had apparently decided for us.

And thus our night began. We started with a glass of port (as customary in Porto) and entree was soup, followed quickly by a main of fish, rice, salad and chips. Of course, accompanied with a bottle of red wine. Dessert was then served, with another glass of port, and then we finished with an espresso each and a shot of very strong unknown-to-us clear-coloured alcohol (we later found out it was called “eau de vie“, literally meaning the “water of life”).

By this stage, we were very merry, sitting and chatting over the rest of our bottle of red. The restaurant had been emptying of customers slowly, the doors had been closed a while before and our waiter asked if he could smoke inside. We decided that be better head back to our hostel once we were through the last little bit of our wine.

But then it seemed that all of sudden the restaurant was full of people again. We discovered later that the friends and family of the owner had come to party. We got talking to his daughter (she spoke great English) and she told us we were welcome to stay for as long as we liked. We still had some wine to finish, so why not?

And then my memory of the rest of the night is a haze of unusual but wonderful events. The music got louder, the champagne began to flow and the party had started. Our waiter was cooking Portuguese sausages in a fire fuelled by the same alcohol he had served us earlier and the owner continued to fill our champagne glasses as we chatted with a few people.

That night we ate Portuguese black sausage (mmm…congealed pig’s blood), we made friends with a group of young Porto locals who took us out on the town the next night, and then we almost forgot to pay. In the end it only cost us 20 euros each and we were shocked. For 20 euros we had chowed down on a three-course meal and some Portuguese black sausage, we’d drank our way through two glasses of port, a bottle of red wine, coffee, the mysterious eau de vie, unknown amounts of champagne, and, to top it all off, had gained one incredible experience that we both won’t ever forget.