The Bacalhau story

By Sunday afternoon I was passing out on my feet, so I headed back to my hotel and took a nap. 

When I woke up, I felt much better, but not really feeling like moving. "I'll just get a sandwich from room service," I thought, "that's fine for my first day." "No," I told myself, "get your butt out there. You know you'll feel better if you start walking."

After a few more minutes of arguing with myself I got dressed and headed out the door, looking for somewhere interesting to have dinner. As it turned out, Sunday evening is not the best time to look for interesting food in Luxembourg, at least in the neighborhood I was in. I'm sure if I knew the city better I would have found something, but new-to-the-city-and-also-jetlagged me was lost. Subway and McDonalds? Chinese buffet? All open. Somewhere I wanted to eat? Ehhhh, no.


Eventually I gave up. I was heading back to my hotel to, yes, get a sandwich from room service, when I ran across the Brasserie du Laboratoire (on Rue du Laboratoire). In the window was a sign: "Spécialités Portugaises". That sounded promising, so I went in.

The inside was a typical bar-and-tables place, with one TV showing football, and another showing some kind of video lottery game. There were guys standing around drinking beer, chatting in French and Portuguese, and the owner was standing behind the bar, laughing. I stood there for a bit, looking confused, and the owner came over. She didn't speak any English, and my scraps of French only got us as far as establishing that I wanted to eat something. She finally turned to the crowd of guys: "falar Inglês?" One guy came over and raised his beer to me. "How's it going?" As it turned out, he didn't have much more English than I did French, but he had enough to establish that I wanted to know if they were serving dinner. That was enough to get us started: The owner and I started discussing dinner in a desperate pidgin of French, Portuguese, and Spanish: "Que comida?" "Ummm... Je ne sais pas."  (Something I didn't understand) "Ummm..." "Bacalhau?" "Si, obrigado!"  "HAH! Obrigado!"

She sat me down, brought me some water, and was confused as to why I didn't want beer or wine (I didn't try to explain that I would PASS OUT). She also brought me some bread, and a bowl of beautiful little black olives. These were the olives that canned black olives are supposed to taste like. Holy cow.

A few minutes later she came back: "Sopa?" "Si!" She went away again. A few minutes later, a woman came out of the kitchen with a tureen and handed it to the owner, who brought it over. "Sopa de galinha," she said as she ladled it into my bowl, a beautiful chicken soup: little bits of pointier-than-orzo pasta, bits of chicken, and a beautiful rich broth, glossy with schmaltz. She filled the bowl, looked at me, and then added a bit more.

A few minutes later, before I was quite done with the soup, she came back with the bacalhau. Cod fried so it was shatteringly crisp on the outside but perfectly cooked on the inside, with a rich tomato and onion sauce over the top, and a few more of the olives. Perfect.

While all of this was going on, the football game was getting closer to starting. There was endless commentary, and ongoing footage of people streaming into the stadium in Porto. As the stadium was filling up, the bar was also slowly filling up, and the owner was setting a long table in the middle of the room. 

Several minutes after I had gotten my bacalhau, the guys who had been filtering in started sitting down at the table. The tureen showed up again, and got passed around. The owner gave a couple of guys a hard stare and made them take some sopa. The kitchen brought up bread and potato chips. As I was finishing up, and the interminable pre-game show was finally showing "Última hora!", the kitchen staff brought up platters of fried fish, fruit, and other foods. I paid, told the owner and the guy who helped me "muito obrigado", and got a clap on the shoulder and hearty goodbyes from several of the football fans.

I wandered back to my hotel, full and happy.