Sometimes people we meet seem to have just been teleported from another magic universe. They seem to be fragile, but they are unbelievably strong inside and radiate love and lightness.
It’s all about Nele – a belgian lady I met in the beginning of my portuguese adventure, in a belgian restaurant next to my place near Assembly of the Republic.
Maybe, it was because of her that I decided to start this blog. I was surprised to see this belgian lady speaking portuguese: “I have lived so many years in Portugal, that I feel myself more portuguese than belgian”.
Nele is passionate about food and Portugal, and here is her story:
“I came to Portugal when I was 14 years old. Obviously, it was not my decision, but my mother’s. When I was 13, my mother and stepfather decided that one day they would move from Belgium to Portugal. I was always a super-bad student and had no idea, where Portugal was situated. I thought that it was Asia or something like that.
We moved to the North of Portugal and lived in a lot of little towns. As my parents separated, I decided to go back to Belgium to live with my dad. 3 times I went back to Belgium: when I was 16, 18 and 23 years old. The maximum time I managed to stay there was 2 years.
I believe that there is no country which you can leave Portugal for, unless it is a country that has more sun and light than Portugal does. For me, it is the most important thing. I need the luminosity and the sun. It brings me happiness. It gives me calmness.
There is something that Portuguese people have, which I consider very unique. They have curiosity about the strange and undiscovered things. It is a nation welcoming with open arms.
When I went back to Belgium, it was very difficult for me with the Belgians of Belgium. Unlike the Belgians from outside of the country which are much more friendly. Maybe that’s the reason they leave it.
It was very difficult to integrate: as I am an individual not belonging to any groups and not having a background in their environment, in Belgium I was excluded from the society.
Portuguese don’t do it. They are so affable. I think, they are fantastic.
Now I am 39, which means that I am here for almost 20 years. There are a lot of foreign people living here. And there are some foreigners that like talking bad about the portuguese and say things like: “portuguese don’t work hard” or “for a work done by a dutch you need three portuguese people”.
I so much like living here and love my nation [portuguese], that I get annoyed with that and think: “If you don’t like something, go away. If you complain, go away.”
Every person has his positive and negative sides, and we should try to absorb the best of every thing. I feel both portuguese and belgian, though I don’t have portuguese blood in me. It’s me who introduced the non-belgian roots in my family. I got married with a portuguese, so my children are luso-belgians. Now our family is not purely belgian anymore.
It took me a lot of time to start appreciating the portuguese food. I didn’t like anything. At my home in Belgium I had a privilege of eating the best food that exists, so my palate was very much used to very good and fresh food.
The first thing that I liked in the portuguese cuisine was Chanfana – the old goat’s meat with red wine traditionally cooked in a ground oven. And it was the only portuguese dish I liked for a very, very long time.
But now, after 20 years, I have learnt to appreciate the portuguese cuisine, though I would prefer the fresh fish to the tradicional bacalhau (codfish). Portuguese cuisine is a poor one with rather rich raw materials, but in very little quantities. But there are fantastic things!
There are typical portuguese dishes that I try at my friends’ places and they are fabulous. And then you try it somewhere else and feel that it is different. I feel sometimes that the food in restaurants and tascas (typical portuguese taberns) don’t have soul. If I was able to capture that knowledge, I would be happy to work in a typical portuguese cuisine”.
And she definitely will. Maybe, someone of you has already tried food made by Nele in one of the most popular food spots of Lisboa. So, if you have a meal and feel that it has an unusual soul (because food made with love does have soul) – a luso-belgian one, know, it’s made by Nele.