One of the best aspects of living in another country is getting to know the locals. Spending three months living in Porto afforded us days upon days of just aimlessly wandering the city. They were days of pure bliss. We used to laugh that we could find our way to anywhere in the city but couldn’t name more than one or two streets. And, we could always find our way to the Bolhao Market.
In our daily explorations, we often returned to our favorite places and we made friends among the locals. We’ll soon be publishing a series of interviews with a few of our favorite people, our Porto friends. In the meantime, I’ll tell you about the Bolhao Market and the olive lady.
The Bolhao Market
In Porto, there is a classic, albeit somewhat shoddy, market – The Bolhao Market – where you can shop for flowers, bread, fruit, vegetables, candy, spices, dried meats, cheese and fish. Oh! So much fish can be bought. The pungent odor of the fish could be over powering, but if you’re in Portugal, it’s all about the fish. Nestled in between the rows of vendors are several little cafes where one can sit outside and eat fried fish, or sit and sip a glass of port with a plate of cheese. Life in the market is just that… life. And, it is one of our favorite places.
While in the market one can also browse through a plethora of souvenirs. Every thing from cork-made bags, table cloths, napkins and aprons can be found. There’s also a wide selection of hand-painted brightly colored ceramic dishes signed by the artisans. Buying souvenirs at the market is always a better deal than down by the river where the tourists shop and pay top dollar.
In the very back corner, or actually in the front corner depending on which street entrance one enters the market, we found the olive lady. She worked two booths, one for olives and one for dried beans. What we loved about her was her smile and her constant chatter. We never knew what she was talking about but she would just chatter on as if the three of us were the best of friends and we never even knew her name. We just always referred to her as the olive lady and she could not have been any sweeter.
The Olive Lady
In the three months we lived in Porto I would guesstimate we visited our friend the olive lady at least every 10 days or so. Sometimes we bought a small bag of dried beans we would use in making soup, but mainly we bought olives. We love olives, although for some reason I’m not a fan of Kalamata Olives. Unlike some of the other vendors in the market she always encouraged us to taste the olives. And by the way, we could buy a bag of olives for $2 – 2.50 per pound. Compare that to an average price of $9 – 10 per pound at most olive bars in the US. We ate our weight in olives while living in Porto.
I lost count of how many times I was scolded by market vendors for touching their fruit and/or veggies while we were traveling in Europe. Although I understand the don’t touch premise, how can I choose a good nectarine or avocado if I can’t pick it up? But, I digress.
On our last visit to Bolhao Market to buy olives, we asked our friend if we could take her picture. She smiled her charmingly sweet smile and motioned for me to join her inside the booth all the while chattering away. Although we knew she was petite, we never realized that while inside her booth she was standing on a six-inch platform. When I stepped behind her row of olives to join her for the picture, Abi and I both burst out laughing because I towered over her! As she looked up at me she too joined in the laughter.
As much as we wished we could have conversed with her, our memories of our friend the olive lady are perfect as they are. We didn’t need to know what she was saying because we knew her words always came from her heart.
The Future of the Balhao Market
While shopping in a nearby store, and speaking with the owner, we learned the Bolhao Market is slated for closure. Half of it is already shut down and under scaffolding. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the olive lady, and the other vendors, once the market closes and undergoes a complete transformation. We couldn’t ask her, but we look forward to returning to Porto (many times) and at some point in the future we look forward to exploring the new and improved market and hopefully, buy a few olives.
Now there’s a great quote Patti: “In Portugal, it’s all about the fish!” And, might I add, the olives, the figs, the oranges, the wine … and the people who make their living selling these goodies. I love how some of the casual encounters in daily life can actually be the highlight of the day. A smile makes such as impact! When you return to Porto, I have no doubt you’ll find your olive lady set up for business in a new place and sharing her smiles!
It’s true, right?! It is all about the fish! 🙂 And, the wonderful people who share their culture and hospitality.
I’m not much of a shopper but like these kinds of open air markets and I Love olives.
BTW, I like the new website look.
Gaelyn recently posted…Super Blue Blood Lunar Eclipse at Kofa NWR
Thank you, Gaelyn! It’s a work in progress but we’re super excited with the new look.
Patti, I love visiting local markets when travelling abroad since it is a great way to better understand local cuisine and culture. No doubt it is also a great way to meet the locals and make new friends. I hope the improvements to this market are for the best and that this lovely “Olive Lady” still has a place to work 🙂
Completely agree, Gilda! Want to get to the know the locals and the culture – visit the neighborhood markets!
Markets are so popular, I bet they are reconditioning it. Hopefully the olive lady will make do while she is out of business. Wonder if she makes some of the olives?
I don’t think she made the olives. Our thought was she buys in bulk and then sells in smaller quantities, but they sure were good! From what we understand they are planning to update and redesign the market to include a level of cafes and dining options.
Beautiful story. I do hope your Olive Lady will return to the new market and you get to visit her again. Connecting really is easy when we allow our hearts to lead.
Suzanne recently posted…Boca Grande, Florida
Yes! With open hearts and open minds, the world really is wide open to all. Having spent so much time in Porto in 2015 and 2017, it feels like home away from home and we look forward to returning.
This post is close to my heart… I loved reading about it because we feel the same way. Living in a place for an extended time, as you did in Porto definitely affords a very different experience of a place ~ and that for us, as well, is about making friends and connecting with the locals. With or without language. The place that immediately comes to my mind for us, was in Hoi An, Vietnam. And when we reurned two years later, most of the locals not only remembered us, but clearly motioned something like ” where the hell have you been?” Questioning our loyalty, that perhaps we had found a different favorite place for our morning noodles!
Oh those olives look great, and the olive lady, delightful. Lovely post. Look forward to the next ones.
Completely understand, Peta. Early on in our time in Porto we headed across the river to say hello to a friend we met in 2015 while in Porto. She works at one of the port houses. As we were walking along the sidewalk – on our way to the port house – she passed us on the street and we called out to her. She recognized us immediately and it was such a special moment. This time we got to spend more time with her, on more than one outing, and it was the best!