It reminded me of home. If I had to confine how I felt about Portugal in five words, maybe that would be it. The cab we rode into had seen better days, and as it drove into the rough highway while attempting to illegally overtake another car I can’t help but half smile. To my right a familiar landscape of dilapidated buildings intertwined with what I presume were electric cables rose from the ground. From this side of town, Lisbon seemed more like the Philippines than a place somewhere in Europe. But five minutes into the journey and the similarities dissipated, and I began to see the unique beauty of the place.
Determined to explore the sights and wonders of Portugal, we set afoot on Lisbon on that not so warm November day. Getting around the city was not difficult and we walked around most of the time to maximize the chance of seeing everything, but we also took the bus and train fairly often to save time. It’s still hard for me to explain but somehow, Lisbon proved to be one of the most photographic places I have visited. Something about how it survived through the years made it standout from the other cities I’ve been. It was not even about how the city looked, it was the vibe it exuded. Portugal showed me that not all beautiful things are shiny and new and that to an extent, there is beauty in ruin.
I hope this post allows you to take a glance of Portugal through our photographs, from the food we ate to the many things we saw and discovered in no particular order. May it be a visual experience, a window from which we can share our happiness from this trip. Fragments of time frozen in a frame, a welcome reminder of how at times, this city had me at a loss for words.
I was born with a way with words. I knew from the beginning that I felt a certain ease in weaving words together and maybe creating something beautiful. Needless to say, I am not one to run out of adjectives. But I guess there are times when pictures tell a better story. And for those moments we were rendered speechless, for those times our words were simply not enough – we are lucky we have pictures to say it all for us. Looking at all these, nostalgia simply overtook me and I learned that there’s something else travel gives a person aside from gaining perspective. It gives you something to look back to – a pleasant memory to make you smile, a period in time you can always recall and happily “travel” back to.
A couple of years ago, Paris would have been a distant dream to someone like me. It was a dream so impossible that if I had to categorize, it would probably fall alongside those aspirations that were destined to remain just that – just dreams. But life is funny like that and when I became a nurse in London, Paris was suddenly one of the easiest place I could go to. Just like that, the City of Lights was a mere train ride away – not to mention all those pastry, cheese and wine waiting for me to taste.
Aside from the usual sights that tourists flock incessantly, it is hard to miss the abundance of good food around Paris. Their passion for fine dining is clear with the bounty of bistros and ristorantes established in just about every corner of the city. For this reason, deciding where to eat could prove problematic at some level but I was determined to leave Paris with the remnants of a proper French meal. And thus my quest for an authentic french cuisine experience led me to Le Gai Moulin Bistro.
The city is well known in its own right, however I find that the only thing not mightily overrated about Paris is the flourishing culinary scene. The quality of the food reflected the fact that truly, good food not only nourishes the body but the soul as well. A random bistro across the train station served me one of the best french fries I have had – crisp on the outside, light and fluffy in the middle and without a glimmer of unnecessary grease.
Le Gai Moulin is one of those restaurants fairly centrally located but for some reason, hoards of tourists aren’t exactly throwing themselves at the door. This bistro seems to be one of the well – kept secrets of the locals – allowing only an occasional table or two to be occupied by lost tourists. And truly, finding it was one of the best things that happened to me in Paris. The first thing that drew me in is the fact that it was one of the first gay restaurants in the city; up and running with pride since 1981. They offer hearty, authentic French food with a homey feel from the heart of Le Marais which is an established gay district in Paris. Whether you are a tourist on the lookout for an authentic Parisian meal or plain and simple just after an unpretentiously satisfying dinner, look no further than Le Gai Moulin Bistro.
We arrived in time for lunch and with growling stomachs. The butter croissant I ate that morning was not holding up anymore, luckily we came in with a reservation and were seated immediately. The rustic wooden exterior was surprisingly low profile that I almost missed the place when we reached Rue Saint – Merri. Needless to say, place was packed, the air filled with the enticing smell of food and aimless chatter of hungry diners. The interiors were simple and far from posh, a stone wall painted white and decorated with some paintings and artsy boards – some of them might have been from an era some twenty something years ago.
We ordered a three course menu available for lunch which was reasonably priced at €15.50.You also have the option of having only a main course (€11.50) or going for a starter and a main priced at €13.50. It was good value for money, considering other restaurants in Paris would easily charge €20 for a three course meal.
Most set menus make me feel like I’m being forced to order out from the cheapest items from the main menu. But this was not the case in Le Gai Moulin as there was a fair selection of items and the variety was well thought of as well. For starters, we ordered Baked Eggs and Foie Gras and Burgundy Snails (can’t miss out on Escargot!).
The escargot arrived promptly with the tools to accomplish the task of wiggling them out of their shells. It was served in a vibrant green sauce that was savory but not overpowering. The snails were soft and had a clean fresh taste. To be honest they were gone too soon from our plates.
The Baked Eggs with Foie Gras was my personal favorite and I had a moment after my first bite. It was such a party to the tastebuds that I felt bad for all entire of human race eating anything else at that very second. The creamy, salty, tart taste of Foie Gras complemented the eggy goodness underneath. Polishing that combination over bread is now officially my favorite thing to do. This made me realise how humble ingredients like eggs can succumb to greatness when combined with the right stuff.
The selection for the mains were just as good as the starters but the carnivores in us won that day so we decided to order Grilled Rump Steak with Bearnaise Sauce and Fries and Pork Wellington with Salad and Fries. The Grilled Rump Steak was cooked to a good medium rare and had a good charred exterior holding all the flavour in. The meat was tender, came with a strong smoked taste and was incredibly juicy.
The Pork Wellington comprised of a portion of pork tenderloin cloaked in a curry coconut milk sauce dusted off with some paprika. I started by slicing the medallion of pork in half – revealing how evenly it was cooked all throughout. I swept a piece of pork against the sauce before popping it in my mouth and I was just taken aback at how good the sauce was. It was so good and balanced that it made me wonder where I’ve been all my life. After that I pretty much dipped everything on it from my fries to the salad.
As a sweet finish we ordered the Creme Caramel and Raspberry Puree on top of Fresh Yoghurt. The Creme Caramel was encased under crystallized sugar that you had to crack to get into. It was reminiscent of my childhood Leche Flan back home, although the ones I’ve had were richer in flavour and had slightly better texture. The Raspberry Yoghurt was good for cleansing the palate after a good meal if you did not fancy anything too sugary. All in all a pleasant way to end such a delicious meal!
Chances are, you have once daydreamed of walking around Paris and said to yourself those were the dreams you saved for the impossible. Chances are, you have seen people take pictures with the Eiffel Tower as background and so you told yourself, well good for them. But if the odds swerve in your favor and in a turn of events, you find yourself in Paris standing beneath that rusty old tower for real – then good for you. Because now, you can head over to Rue Saint – Merri for your very own French gastronomic experience at Le Gai Moulin. Where chances are, you are going to love it as much as I did.