There was no problem waking up the kids on this particular morning; they were dressed and had whipped themselves up into an excited frenzy before we had even finished breakfast. But it wasn’t a birthday party that was on the plan for today, nor a trip to a swimming pool. We weren’t even off to the zoo. The reason for the Christmas-like excitement in our family was: it was market day in Pernes!
After squeezing Daisy the bus in amongst the dusty cars and pick-up trucks stocked high with melons, we ventured out into the rapidly rising heat. The kids immediately rushed to see if their favourite stall was there again, cutting a path through the groups of old friends gathered in the shade to discuss the week’s events. There were whoops of delight when they glimpsed what they had been talking about all week: farturas!! Tasting a lot better than their name would suggest, these fried doughy treats with sugar, lemon and cinnamon are undeniably delicious, worth a week of waiting.
As we sat under a plane tree munching our prize, I asked the kids why they loved the market so much. I expected them to immediately shout “farturas!!” in unison, but Child #1 had a more surprising and profound reply.
“The market brings people together,” he said, between mouthfuls of sugary dough. What a nice thought: it brings people together.
As if to emphasise his point, a man came up to me at that very moment and started a conversation. Since I speak hardly any Portuguese, this of course evolved quickly into a sequence of smiles and gestures, and ended a moment later with a firm handshake, pats on shoulders, and more smiles all round. (In fact, all my Portuguese “conversations” tend to go this way…).
“You see!” continued Child #1, “that would never happen in Luxembourg and that’s exactly why I love Portugal so much”.
The kids were thirsty post-fartura, so they each took long drinks from the cool, fresh water fountain in the main square. Suitably refreshed we explored the market, wandering through the stalls of mostly local fruit, vegetables, sausages and cheeses. Clothes traders shouted out the price of their wares (5 EUR for everything as far I could understand). The smell of chicken roasting on open wood fires was irresistible. In the market hall, unfamiliar fish awaited their ultimate fate on fast-melting ice, whilst the bakery next door was doing a brisk trade in soft crusty bread so simple and delicious that one wonders why it isn’t made everywhere. Taking a later break at the playground (yes, the market square has a playground!), Child #2 managed to charm a distant cousin* into giving her some money for a second helping of fartura… In short, it was another blissful morning.
That lunchtime we feasted on chicken, bread, cheeses, olives, sausage, tomatoes and a variety of fresh fruit, just as we had done the previous Friday. As we ate, we unanimously agreed on how much better life in Europe would be if there were more small-town weekly markets and less big-town supermarkets: less car usage, less packaging, more local produce… and much more “bringing people together”.
Daisy the bus visited the Pernes weekly markets on Friday 5th August 2016. And the Friday before that. She wants to go back as soon as possible.
*My wife’s mother is originally from this region of Portugal.
(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr
Practical tips for visiting Pernes weekly markets
- Pernes is located in central Portugal, just over an hour north-east of Lisbon, on the N3 road between Torres Novas and Santarém.
- Pernes markets take place every Friday, in the mornings only.
- A wonderful place to eat in Pernes is at the local “Bombeiros” (fire station), situated at the southern end of the village. Huge portions of simple and delicious food at very reasonable prices. Do bear in mind that one “dose” is probably big enough for two people sharing; if you want a single portion ask for a “meia-dose” (half-portion).