How to Clean a Fish: And Other Adventures in Portugal

“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 grapevines. 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.”

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 jumps 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.

Order now from your favourite bookseller:

Publisher: ‎ The University of Alberta Press (May 16 2023)
Paperback: ‎ 320 pages, $27.99
Digital: $15.39
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1772126556


Praise for How to Clean a Fish :

"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

“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


"As she moves through her stay in Portugal, Cabral becomes bolder with her fish selections and desire to master the cleaning process. She also becomes bolder in sharing her memories, digging into stories of her initial move to Edmonton, her relationship with (and loss of) her parents, and her feelings of being an outsider both here in Canada and in Portugal."                                                    Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, Alberta Views, December 1, 2023  Read here.


"This charming book...reads like a series of handwritten postcards, which are always more poignant than self-indulgent Instagram posts."                                                                                                          Literary Review of Canada, October 2023


"There's fado and saudade, the sad songs and the Portuguese nostalgia, the yearning for home and not knowing where that is, the sacredness of the fish you cook and eat, the tension of being the hyphen in Portuguese-Canadian."

Sheldon Goldfarb, The British Columbia Review, August 1, 2023 Read here.


"On closing the book, I felt privileged to spend this time with Cabral and her family. Her writing is well-paced and a pleasure to read."                                                                                                        Trish Talks Books, July 17, 2023 Read here.


"Cabral's straightforward prose began to resonate with me. She wasn't trying to impress me with exaggerated stories.... It's a great read. Informative. Interesting. Insightful. Simple pleasures for simple folk."

Nicola Ross, July 11, 2023 Read here.


"Cabral has the knack of inviting us along on her jaunts. We are right by her shoulder as she learns, explains, remembers."                                                                                Ron Robinson, Winnipeg Free Press, July 8, 2023 Read here.


"At times heartbreaking with loss and longing for loved ones, at other times hilarious with mishaps along the way, How to Clean a Fish is a great read."                                                         Emanuel Melo, The Torzorean, June 5, 2023 Read here.


“Complex and introspective, the memoir How to Clean a Fish covers sweet travel adventures in Portugal.”

Michele Sharpe, Forward Reviews, May 1, 2023  Read here.