Telling the story of
a different Portugal.
This was the spirit that,
in June of 2013, created the Laboratório
d’Estórias (The Story Lab): an experimental design space that takes
inspiration from stories of Portuguese popular culture to reinvent traditional objects,
using them to tell new stories and to recreate the country’s history.
The ALFACINHAS DOS CARACOIS (Snails’
No one knows who first had
the idea of calling people from Lisbon “alfacinhas.”
Well, practically no one.
was a little girl with snail-shaped dark brown curls who knew.
Although she was
an orphan, her great-great-great-great grandfather was one of the few Moors to
settle here after Afonso Henriques conquered Portugal.
Perhaps that is why she
had an unusual name: Al-Hassa.
Since “Al-Hassa” was not an
easy name to pronounce, everyone simply called her “Alfacinha.”
Maybe this is why, or perhaps
because she was so small and appeared so fragile – although she wasn’t! – this
name made sense.
Or maybe, who knows, it was
because she was as fresh as a lettuce leaf; or because destiny led her to earn
her daily bread by selling lettuce.
On cold days and hot days, every day she
went up and down the Calçada Carriche, filling the streets with her call,
“Alfacinhas! Olha as Alfacinhas! (Lettuce
- lettuce leaves).” But it was in vain.
Day after day, returning empty-handed and
with a full cart, the little girl had no choice but to eat the lettuce herself
in order to survive.
One day, a plague of snails
attacked Lisbon, eating all the vegetables in the city.
Seeing the hunger of
the population – and knowing well how this felt – the little girl came up with
a plan: she sewed lettuce leaves, one by one, into an enormous web, stretching
from one side to the other of the city.
During the night, all the snails
devoured the leaves, and became caught in the web.
The next day – a miracle! – the
snails were all cooked in a huge pot, with a pinch of salt and a sprig of oregano,
in a feast that everyone would remember.
Thus began the story of Alfacinha dos Caracois – whether because
of the little girl’s snail-like curls or the feast that she served, no one
It is known however, that lettuces
were planted on the city’s seven hills in her honor, lending the citizens of Lisbon,
over the passing of the years, some of the “Alfacinhas” popularized by Almeida
Garrett in the famous book “Viagens na Minha
Terra -Travels in My Land.”
This is why it is said that
escargot taste much better when they are served on a lettuce leaf.