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  • PAPERSKY #13 PORTUGALPHOTOGRAPHY: KOUSEI ISHIGURO

Sweet, Slow-food Portugal is a Place like Home

, 2005/04/25

I boarded a Lufthansa plane at Narita and was greeted by a Japanese flight attendant who said “arigato” as I showed her my ticket stub. Approximately 20 hours later, after changing planes, I exited the airplane in Portugal and a Portugese stewardess muttered “obrigado”. “Arigato, obrigado” – both words have exactly the same meaning, and while I’m not a linguist, my guess is that Japan got this word from Portugal about 500 years ago.

This issue of PAPERSKY journeys to Porto, the old capital of Portugal. It is from this town that the first Europeans to walk on Japanese soil came from, and it was from the first Portugal ships that Japan was introduced to the likes of conpeto, pan, jyuban, kastera, kapas and much more.

I always judge a country first by it’s food, a test that Portugal passed marvelously. In fact in 2001 Portugal was selected as the number-one slow food country. They have great black pork (which you won’t be eating in Japan, because Japan won’t let Portugal import meat), exquisite sardines, super steaks, splendid olive oil and yes, extraordinary wine!

The Douro Valley, where we take you on a train trip, has been producing wine since before there was history and is certainly one of the original birthplaces of wine. In 1757, the area became the first demarcated wine region area in the world, and the original granite pillars that marked its boundaries can still be seen today. In 1996 the area became a World Heritage Site. Besides making red and white table wines and sparkling wines, Portugal’s most famous wine is entirely unique. Port wine is a very special wine that is sweet and rich in flavor, and perfect before and after meals. Port wine is very easy to drink and very potent, with alcohol content usually between 19-22%.

We found ourselves drinking white Port with tonic water before meals while eating miniature korokes (same name, same food as in Japan). Then we caught ourselves during meals eating motsu-nikomi (a dish unique to Porto) and drinking Late-bottled Vintage Port (LBV) while munching down on freshly caught sardines, char-broiled and seasoned with just salt. The Portuguese, like the Japanese, are very keen on letting the freshness and flavor of foods speak for themselves. And unlike other European countries where bread is always a regular staple, the Portuguese usually always have rice on the table (obrigado Japan). According to our guide they eat more rice per person than any other European country, and much of it is home grown. The meal goes on. In Portugal the meals are long, lasting three to four hours, and with dessert, chocolate covered strawberries and a slice of kastera (same flavor as Japan) comes with a big glass of ruby port. And after you’re done eating, the thing to do is sit on a big red sofa and smoke a cigar while sipping down some Tawny Port (please be sure to read the “how-to” section of the feature for a full explanation of all of the various varieties of Port wines).

In conclusion, I would like to mention that besides the many gastronomical, cultural, and even aesthetic similarities between Portugal and Japan there also seems in the air and personality of the Portuguese people to be something deeper, something from the heart and soul that connects the countries; a genuine respect and interest in and for others. For me my trip to Portugal was the first time I left Japan for a Western country and didn’t feel as if I had landed on a different planet. It was for me a place like home, a place like Japan. Konkai no tokushyu itte rashi.

PAPERSKY #13: PORTUGAL Wine

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