It’s The Food!
The food in Portugal and Spain is spectacular. The freshness is just not possible in the US with the way exurban areas have lost their farms and been converted to suburbs. And the American methods of fishing, ranching, and farming further separate the food from its roots. In a country like Portugal, seafood tastes like it came from the ocean. It is often served simply, without strong sauces, because the inherent flavors are preserved. The seafood section in the largest supermarket in Lisbon would be embarrassed to offer pre-cut fillets except from the largest tuna and salmon.
Tapas are served everywhere. One supermarket we visited had separate stations where fresh tapas were prepared: one for smoked seafood, one for cheese, and one for sausage. Wine was served along with the tapas, even before noon; drinking alcohol before lunch (in moderation) is common.
And then there’s “ham.” Americans tend to think of dry cured pig leg as prosciutto, but it’s made in Portugal and Spain also. In Portugal, it’s called presunto, in Spain, jamon (pronounced ham-ohn). It’s freshly sliced from the leg in restaurants and bars and people buy whole legs to take home where they slice it themselves.