The little town of Aveiro – a half hour’s train ride south of the coastal city of Porto or a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Lisbon – is laced with man-made canals and framed by pretty Art Nouveau buildings. Built to serve fisheries and marine agriculture, they now stand testament to a bygone era.
A group of men launch their colourfully decorated boat – a giant gondola-like craft, known in Portuguese as a moliceiro. For centuries, these boats were used to gather seaweed, which is still used by some farmers to fertilise neat fields of crops by the lagoon. Today, moliceiros are kitsch platforms for general fishing on the calm water, which reflects like a silver mirror beneath the big sky.
The scenic tableau of Aveiro has remained unchanged for centuries. Locals dot vast low-tide mudflats, foraging for succulent shellfish such as mussels, cockles and clams, as well as lugworms, which are highly prized as fishing bait. Their slow pacing echoes the flamingos that also flock here, raking then digging, focused on the rich silt.
Working patiently, each person covers a few square metres in between the tides. Everyone gets involved, men and women, old and young. A boy hones his skills with a little rake and bucket close to the shore. He forages for what may become his lunch or earn him a precious few Euros when sold to one of the area’s myriad fish restaurants.
Between the town and its lagoon, historic salt pans provide further gourmet bounty. Aveiro’s speciality, flor de sal (sea salt), is like saline gold. It’s hand-harvested by scraping only the finest top layer of salt from the pans as they dry in the sea breeze, which wafts in from nearby Atlantic beaches.
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.