How to Clean a Fish

And Other Adventures in Portugal

By Esmeralda Cabral
Categories: Health, Social Work & Psychology, Psychology, Social Sciences, Food & Cooking, Literature & Language Studies, Auto/biography & Memoir
Series: Wayfarer
Publisher: The University of Alberta Press
Paperback : 9781772126556, 320 pages, May 2023
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781772126884, 304 pages, June 2023
Ebook (PDF) : 9781772126891, 304 pages, June 2023


“We sat around the large outdoor table for our last big meal. The patio was filled with flowers growing along the wall and spilling out onto the street. The side and back yards were terraced and shaded by an almost impenetrable roof of grape vines. The fragrance of the flowers mixed with the garlic from the kitchen. I breathed in deeply and prepared myself for the delicious food and for another round of simultaneous translation.”

Table of contents

A Word about Saudade

A Harrowing Ride
How Did We Get Here?
Passport Woes and Flight Plans
Around Town
The First Big Storm
Portuguese Hospitality
A Rainy Day in Lisbon
Planning to Run
Winter Market Days
Ashes to Ashes
A Phone Call from Canada

The Lisbon Mini-Marathon
Tracking The Passport
Lost in Alfama
Fado Concert
25th of April
Reflections on Duality
Our Guests
Matt’s Arrival
A Weekend in Aldeia
World Cup Friendly
Border Services 1
Spring Market Days

A Dog’s Life
Border Services 2
Summer Market Days
An Inheritance of Loss
Fado Bar
Sardine Season
Adeus Costa da Caparica
A Vacation in the North
Good-bye Lisbon
Back in Vancouver

Further Reading


How to Clean a Fish describes an extended family stay in Portugal, full of food, adventure, and the search for home. Offered the opportunity to live in Costa da Caparica for an extended period, Esmeralda Cabral jumped at the chance to return to the country of her birth. Together with her Canadian-born husband, children, and Portuguese Water Dog, Maggie, Cabral makes new and nostalgic discoveries—a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys and beautiful painted tiles, a delicious bica and pastel de nata, a classic fado concert, the gentle ribbing of local fishmongers, a damaging high tide—translating words and emotions for her family along the way. Packed with local cuisine and customs, tales of language barriers and bureaucracy, and threaded with that irresistible need to connect with the culture of our birth, How to Clean a Fish is for readers curious about life in Portugal and for anyone who has moved from one place to another and is seeking their own version of home.


“Esmeralda enthusiastically embraces the opportunity to live with her family in a beautiful fishing village near Lisbon. Sharing genuine conversation with folks she meets, exploring her love of fish, and constantly translating and interpreting for her husband and children, Esmeralda’s journey is rooted in an awareness of history and culture, and in the dilemma of belonging.” Maria Manuela Vaz Marujo, Professor Emerita, University of Toronto

"These pages are as delicious as the Portuguese food the author so enthusiastically writes about. Any English speaker interested in Portugal will gladly savor Esmeralda Cabral's genuine narratives as a tasty introduction to Portuguese culture's joys, appeals, intricacies, and mysteries. She is well-versed with food, fado, the language, and even soccer, but she has to negotiate how to feel somewhat at home in the complex web of subtle Portuguese ways.” Onésimo Teotónio Almeida, Brown University

"With the keen eye of a traveller, Esmeralda Cabral serves up close depictions of daily life in Costa da Caparica, including market days, pastéis de nata, and Portuguese hospitality. Told with warmth and layered with Cabral’s nuanced reflections on home, belonging, and family, How to Clean a Fish is an enticing memoir that will connect with readers." Meaghan Hackinen, author of South Away: The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels

“Our easy-going and approachable narrator gives us a charming and entertaining book that is part travelogue, part memoir. Readers will find themselves cheering Esmeralda—and her family—on.” Scott Edward Anderson, author of Falling Up and Azorean Suite