Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Whither Pizza?


Back to Portugal. I slept longer than I intended to during my nap. When I woke up, it was beginning to get dark. I figured that the safest course of action at this point was to see if the hotel had a restaurant and to just eat there. What could possibly go wrong?

The restaurant turned out to be a trattoria styled pizzeria - a lot of stippled stucco in terra cotta tones and homey cream colored linen drapes on small windows. The restaurant was in the basement of the hotel. I was dismayed at first. I wanted to try some native delicacy like clams with sausage and potatoes. But, as much as I looked forward to the experience of trying Portuguese cuisine, this place seemed a little less intimidating in terms of jumping into my surroundings now that I was without my Portuguese speaking companion. After all, pizza is pizza. How hard could it be to order pizza in a foreign country?

Well, the correct answer to that, if you only speak English, like me, "The Ugly American", is "very".

The host, a tall, stocky guy with hair bleached blond from exposure to sun and surf and a ruddy complexion, greeted me. I remember thinking that his tank top was almost the color of his skin. I smiled and asked for a table for one. I had not thought to bring my phrase book with me, for whatever reason. Awkwardness was now about to ensue. It turns out that my host was fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, German and French. No English. However, he was personable and with a smile, he sorted out that I wanted a table and seated me. I was assigned, I was to find out, the only English speaking waiter in the establishment.

The menu was incomprehensible. Maybe it was the panic from the initial feeling of embarrassment when I couldn’t communicate with the host. But my brain just shut down when I looked at the menu. It was all in Portuguese and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Deep down, the smug, "ugly American" I think was expecting that sussing out the language would be like going out for Mexican. Even if you can’t figure out all the words on the menu at the taqueria, you can pretty much figure which ones are "cheese" or "beef". Portuguese isn’t Spanish. Nothing looked familiar. Nothing looked like it had a Latin root that I could extrapolate into something I could feel confident ordering for dinner. When my waiter came back with bread and olives, rather than do the smart thing and ask his advice about what to order, I just pointed at the menu and prayed.

My pizza arrived covered in little Vienna cocktail sausages.

And, damn it, I ate every last bit of it and drank my wine. Then I went back to my room, turned on Sky News and went to bed. I had explored enough for the day.

2 comments:

Blog ho said...

note to the wise...most of europe speaks pig latin. and also brazil. well, the europes in brazil.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

I knew a Portuguese guy once. Nice freggin' guy!

How could they mess up a pizza?