Pat Gets Her Perceves
by Pat Hammond
Stalking the Wild Perceves
There's a saying in Portuguese that translates as "Dumb as perceves". You have only to see one of these Portuguese goosenecked barnacles to know just how dumb that is! But the perceves of my fantasies were dumb like foxes; they had eluded me for more than three years!
One of my earliest postings to Chowhound's message boards described my search for giant barnacles. I had come upon a description of these marine crustaceans once while doing some research on Venezuela. I decided I had to try them, but, Venezuela being out of the question, where would I ever get the chance?
One can find everything in New York City, so I began making inquiries among folks there. But even the most knowledgeable chowhounds couldn't help. Now and then there'd be a titillating hint: a store called Wild Edibles might have them, and someone reported having read a reference to them in New York Magazine. I followed up on all leads, but, alas, was always either too late or entirely mistaken. I went on to other food adventures, but never forgot those barnacles.
Then one day while reading an entry of Tom Armitage's journal from his trip to Portugal, I saw his reference to perceves or goosenecked barnacles. SHAZAAM! I was planning a trip to Portugal, so the die was cast.
My first night in Portugal was in the lovely town of Guimaraes, the original capital of Portugal and birthplace of its first king. It lies in the province of Minho, surrounded by gentle rolling hills. Our pousada (hotel), Pousada da Oliveira, was on the Largo da Olveira in the center of the Old City. On our first evening there, we went off in search of supper and I immediately inquired of our waiter, "Perceves?" "Nao" he replied, his Portuguese accent rendering the word somewhere between "No" and "Meeow". Our dinner was unmemorable, and we stumbled over the cobbled street to our beds. Must have been my pronunciation, I thought, just before falling asleep.
The next day we went off to Barcelos to visit their huge weekly market. On the way back, we stopped in the largo (square) for a glass of port outside the Café Paraxute (pronounced Parachute!). A young man who seemed to be an apprentice waiter served us. I inquired once again, "Perceves?" " Que?" [What?] "PERCEVES?" (When in doubt, why do I assume mispronouncing at full volume will help?) Off he went to find the REAL waiter, the Andy Griffith to his Barney Fife. By this time, I'd had the wits to write the word down and show it to him. AHHHH, perceveesh (I'd not yet become accustomed to that pesky way with "'s"). But the answer was: "Nao!" The look on my face must have been pathetic because he said half in French, half in English, "Come tomorrow, 7:30; I will try."
We spent the following day touring the countryside and climbing around the Citania de Briteiros, an archaeological site from the Iron Age. In the back of my mind I was wondering if he'd find them.
At the appointed hour we turned up outside the café where our waiter was setting up tables and chairs. He spotted me, grinned, and beckoned, "Come". We entered the tiny, darkened café and followed him back to a refrigerated glass case. In a shallow wooden box, nestled upon seaweed, lay my Holy Grail, at least two pounds of comical, vaguely grotesque-looking sea creatures. He'd gone to incredible lengths to obtain them: numerous phone calls and visits to other restaurants in the area, as he explained through gesturing and a smattering of English spiced up with French. Where, exactly, he had finally found the creatures, I was unable to learn.
We selected a table, ordered up a bottle of vinho verde and bread, and were served two heaping pottery bowls of the barnacles. Two BIG bowls for three of us! The moment of truth had arrived. Would I even like them? Would they cost a king's ransom? They were unusual, reminiscent of eating the necks of soft shelled clams, but very tender and OF THE SEA, cold, briney, juicey morsels, more addictive than peanuts. And no, they didn't cost a king's ransom! We tipped our enterprising waiter very well. I would have perceves once more while in Portugal, but none will ever seem as good to me as that long-anticipated first taste.
Read my notes from this trip in the following postings to Chowhound.com:
Portugal memories (long)
More Portugal - Oporto and
Portugal - Aveiro (last report)