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Porto

Bourdain’s Field Notes

The area around the city of Porto in Portugal was one of the very first places I ever made a television show—back in Cook’s Tour days. I had no idea what I was doing, so I reached out to a friend, José, my employer at the restaurant Les Halles. He was born and bred in the area, had family there, and a great deal of pride in his homeland, his culture, and especially his cuisine.

It was an enlightening experience in many ways. I learned a lot about José and his family. I learned a little bit more about the strange and unnatural practice of making television, and, for the first time after nearly three decades as a cook and chef, I learned—really learned—where my food came from.

I had never seen an animal die before. I had never looked my dinner in the eyes as its life drained away. Sure, I had picked up the phone thousands of times and ordered meat—in boxes, in plastic bags, in neat, relatively bloodless sections, unrecognizable as the living, breathing creatures it had once been.

José and family threw me a traditional pig feast, which in cultures all over the world—cultures as disparate as Sicily, Borneo, Romania, and rural Louisiana—is a cherished celebration involving whole communities, a joyous occasion where people come together to cook and eat and drink. It invariably involves the killing of an animal. And I will tell you: It was a deeply unsettling experience.

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Saudade: There is no direct translation for the Portuguese word “saudade.” It’s a kind of melancholy—a yearning to get back to something or someone lost, perhaps to a happier time.

Locals told Bourdain it has to do with Portugal’s seafaring history. People would spend long periods away at sea, yearning for home.

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