For the past ten days I've been teetering on the brink of eating fish. And cheese.
I wish I could say it was easy after all this time, but our first Portuguese summer holiday "after" came with a lot of struggles for me. There was the breakfast buffet in the morning which offered waffles as well as rolls, cheese and the full English version. Even harder than withstanding the temptation of cheese was the delicious scent of freshly made waffles in the air. There were restaurants in the evening, and, well, let's just say the basic concept of veganism is not so commom on the Azores. I cannot guarantee the dairy-free-ness of everything I ate, but I tried, I really tried. And I don't wanna eat French fries or a small salad for the next few weeks.
I did not eat fish. And I did not eat cheese.
And I know exactly what saved me. It's Rotas da Ilha Verde (http://rotasilha.blogspot.de/).
Vegman and travel guides describe it as the sole vegetarian restaurant on São Miguel. But it is so much more.
The street is narrow, the house almost nondescript except for the funny chair-and-table ensemble hanging above the door. Upon entering, you are greeted by sunny colors and smiles. You are welcome. Eating at Rotas doesn't feel like going to a restaurant, it feels as if you've been invited into someone's home. There are old cupboards with teapots and glasses, a flea market lamp in the corner, doodles on the wall. The two women working there are as beautiful as their rooms, and, even before your food arrives, profound warmth settles in your stomach.
Then your food is served, and, no matter what you ordered, it is the best you've ever eaten. Every damn time. My husband even had a zucchini dish once, and he hates zucchini. I ate rice noodle bags with mushrooms, seitan, eggplant cannellonis, vegetables, rice, noodles, salad, pineapples (everything on different occasions), and every bite made me happy; a kind of happiness I've only ever associated with food in Karen Blixen's novel "Babette's Feast". Every time we had finished our meals, I looked jealously at the guests who had just ordered, almost wishing I wasn't so deliciously full.
Rotas was the best.
The second best thing I ate during our trip were corncobs which were cooked in the hot volcano springs in Furnas.
As for São Miguel... this island is many. Imagine Ireland's green hills, Canada's vastness, Portugal's coasts and combine it with hortensia, geysers, tea fields, black sand and the sound of cow bells - the latter of which made me wistful, of course. Seeing the cows on the green meadows is so beautiful, but knowing why they are there... The Azores are, among other things, famous for their cheese, and it is both disturbing and very appropriate that our local supermarket used two stuffed calves to decorate their cheese counter. After all, calves are the byproduct of the dairy industry and, in order to get milk and cheese, they have to be out of the way. Use them for veal or stuff them - whatever :(
What is beautiful, though, is the treatment of the sea mammals. The Azores were a whaling nation, but the cruel hunt has long stopped. Today there are a lot of marine biologists and the old observation towers are still used, but for the whale watching companies and they do a lot of educational work. I can only hope that nosy tourists like me don't disturb these beautiful animals too much, but, wow, we saw a whale and it was wonderful. So big, so mighty, so calm, though. And I swam with dolphins, wild dolphins who were jumping through the air, diving underneath me, all around me in the depths of the Atlantic. The best thing: hearing them communicating with each other underwater.
Now I'm back home, my heart full of memories.
Traveling is the best.