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tsquare

Back from Portugal

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Adventures in eating and drinking, Portugal

I found Portugal to be a place of great contrasts. It has traditional customs and dress juxtaposed against pierced, tattooed rock stars; ancient fortifications, castles, and palaces yet the spare elegance of Siza’s modern architecture; and twisted-alley hilly-formal cities as well as white-walled sun-drenched seaside villages. It has port (fortified wine) and cured meats such as presunto and sausages, fields of fresh oranges, almonds, favas, carob, and figs, and an abundant shoreline well stocked with fish and shellfish.

Eating was a pleasure.

In Lisbon, I wandered into A Nossa Churrasqueira in the Alfama district. Lunch included a half chicken cooked over live coals, served with rice, french fries, and olives. A mixed salad, composed of green leaf and cress, sweet onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes, is liberally oiled and salted. The bread is crusty, the crumb light, the cheese – quetjo fresco. A glass of house white. A small espresso down the block at a cyber café. Everywhere, the coffee is espresso, and very good. Served in china – no paper here.

Also, a stop at Pastelaria Centro Ideal de Graca for some sweet and savory pastries for later. (Since they didn’t acknowledge speaking English, I gave up on trying to say hello from our musician in New York.)

Another day, more pastry – Pasteis de Belem for uma bica (small coffee) and the famous egg custard tarts. I preferred the ones yesterday – slightly caramelized on top rather than dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Dinner at O Fumerio just off the main boulevard and the anti-war protest march. Red wine Vinho Regional Alentejano “Charneco” 1999. Smooth and fairly light. There is fresh crusty bread along with house made mild white cheese, and gooey stinky cheese, sliced smoked meats, and feijoada – beans and greens topped with a wild assortment of cured meats, ham hocks, blood sausage, garlic sausage, spicy sausage, and I’m guessing, tripe.

Woke in the night to a 15 minute display of fireworks – end of football season, I am told.

In Sintra, there is more pastry, including an odd, not too sweet cheese tart that is a specialty of the area (and sold at the airport as well!) I am amazed at the kitchens in the old palaces, but eat out of desperation at a Chinese restaurant. The sizzling prawns and rice are actually pretty good.

In Coimbra, at Adega Funchal, I finally have caldo verde (very green kale/cabbage soup with smokey sausage slices) and bacalao (dried salt cod, soaked and in this case, fried), served a with salad composed of beans, eggs, onions, and olives dressed with oil and vinegar, and white wine Dao Nelus Colheita 1999, also, more wonderful crusty bread and a country cheese made from sheep, cow and goat milk. For dessert, there is a caramel cake – two layers of deep golden cake, a filling tasting like butterscotch cream, and a lovely deep golden brown topping of chilled caramel topped with chopped nuts.

In many store windows, you will see candied nuts – sweet, but with a little kick, marzipan in many shapes and colors, cocoa dusted almonds, licorce, sugared almonds, stuffed dates, and more. The local pastry special is “Tentugal” – flakey pastry logs with an orangey/yellow filling, fairly dry and not too sweet. I come to learn this is some variation on the theme of “egg yolks and sugar”.

Another dinner in Coimbra at Restaurant Giro. Bread, cheese, a red wine “Brasinha” Adega Cooperative de Vilarinho do Bairro Anadia, salada mista, and a mixed kabob brasa (gilled). The bread has a slightly toasty flavor, the salad of lettuce, shredded carrots, tomato and onion is redundant to that served with the kabob (along with rice and fries!). The kabob has slices of onion, green pepper, and carrot as well as a variety of tender chunks of meat.

Dinner in Porto – Restaurant Viuva. A glass of house red, bread, pork chunks grilled and served with rice and fries and a salad. The pork is tender and flavorful, though quite salty and peppery. This dinner, with tip 5 Euros.

A train ride out to see the port vineyards (not exactly the right season for this!) End of the line is Mirandela. Half the stores in town have huge displays of presunto and sausage hanging in their windows! Nothing more alluring than eating small sandwiches made of crisp light bread and freshly sliced presunto!

Late dinner back in Porto at A Tasquinha. They charmed me with wholemeal and fluffy white bread (I turned down a beautiful plate of presunto, olives and small fritters), two mackerels served with the heads on, along with roasted potatoes, rice, and salad. House white Adega Cooperative de Santa Marta de Penaguia vinho regional Terras Durienses, Caves Santa Marta. For dessert, she makes me a plate with 4 slender slices of their beautiful cakes – a fruit/sponge, a specialty of the Douro – dense with almond, a multi-layered biscuit with liquid chocolate and egg white, and a something else –notes are failing me – served with a glass of Dona Antonia reserva pessoal port by Ferreira. Followed by a basket of fresh walnuts. All the cakes are remarkably light, yet creamy.

A last meal in Porto at a little café Confeit Barbarella. Fried egg (such an orange color yolk), salad, rice, fries, bread, and sausage Mirandela – it is poultry (?), but deep fried! Good thing the streets are hilly and my days of walking are long!

Next installment – the Algarve.


Edited by tsquare (log)

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Thanks for the report....it was a delightful trip down memory lane (vicariously, of course) for me.

I'm so glad you tried out Centro Ideal de Graça. Come to think of it, they probably don't speak English there. But thanks for trying.....and I trust you got some tasty pastries in the bargain.

For your last meal in Porto, you had one of the most interesting typically Portuguese dishes--alheira de Mirandela. It's a sausage, the ingredients of which vary, but generally include breadcrumbs, garlic, often some kind of poultry. There's a story that Jews, in order to avoid unpleasant incidents during the Inquisition, started making these to mimic the appearance of regular pork sausages. So when the Inquisitors came around and saw the alheiras hanging in the kitchen, they knew that these people couldn't be Jewish if they had pork products hanging in their houses....!


My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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I await your next installment. Having just returned from Andalucia, I can attest to the fact that there is palatable life in a region without multistarred restaurants and memorable gastronomic treats in unstarred places. Our forays into Galicia and western Andalucia whet my curiosity for that land just beyond. Perhaps in a coming trip that curiosity will be satisfied. In the meantime, reports such as yours provide a little viacarious pleasure and sharpen my appetite for what I can almost taste.

I'm curious as to what sort of desparation led you to a Chinese restaurant in Sintra. There's a part of me that would love to explore the Chinese restaurants of Europe. That part is supressed by memories of disappointing meals in them. My guess is that sizzling prawns are probably a wise choice from either a Chinese or Portuguese kitchen in Portugal if one is not far from the sea.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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alheira de Mirandela.  It's a sausage, the ingredients of which vary, but generally include breadcrumbs, garlic, often some kind of poultry.  There's a story that Jews, in order to avoid unpleasant incidents during the Inquisition, started making these to mimic the appearance of regular pork sausages.  So when the Inquisitors came around and saw the alheiras hanging in the kitchen, they knew that these people couldn't be Jewish if they had pork products hanging in their houses....!

Alheiras - a good version is probably one of my favourite sausages on earth - soft, crunchy where it has exploded (best not to deep-fry but saute gently and let the skin explode so the filling leaks out), with unexpected bits of different meats inside. A joy.

As for Chinese restaurants - the Macao connection means that if you are lucky they can be better than the rest of Continental Europe.

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I'm curious as to what sort of desparation led you to a Chinese restaurant in Sintra.

It was the sort of desperation that comes from hiking uphill a couple of hours to the castle and palace, and back down, too early for most restaurants to be open for dinner - and on a Sunday when many don't open at all. Hadn't tried all the options of Portuguese food yet, so it seemed like cheating. But the place was quite attractive and the food well prepared. I've eaten lots of cheap Chinese food in England and Ireland as a reliable option when touring.

Eric - Thanks for the clarification on the alheira de Mirandela - I did hear that story, but in a different context. This makes more sense. Alas, a huge regret - went through Mealhada 3 times, but not at dinner time - no suckling pig for me!

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That is the most tragic thing I have heard in weeks--going through Mealhada 3 times and STILL not trying the suckling pig!

For future reference: even if you're just going through on the highway, you can ALWAYS stop at the service area (there's one actually in Mealhada) and get a suckling-pig sandwich at the cafeteria there, any time. It's the real stuff, locally made, on some delicious crusty local bread.....I have always stopped for some whenever I have driven past.


Edited by Eric_Malson (log)

My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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I don't know if it's just a sign that corporations haven't taken over or if it represents a deep seated connection between the people and food, but I've had decent luck at highway service areas in Spain.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Most of the motorway service areas in Portugal seem to be depressing Spanish and French franchises, but the Mealhada one is a privately, locally owned venture that serves vast amounts of roast piglet in the form of sandwiches (which isn't really a fair description of those special crusty rolls absolutely stuffed with meat) in the cafeteria and in a real sit-down restaurant! I can happily confirm the excellence of the"sandes de leitão" for anyone passing by between meal times.

Had an excellent leitão a few nights ago - visiting friends and family weren't really up to yet another restaurant so we picked up two "doses" of piglet (with their freshly fried crisps, black pepper sauce and salad) from the restaurant, after checking whether we could with the owner, bought a bottle of the local red sparkling wine (sort of red vinho verde champagne - a light but pleasant tipple) and enjoyed it at leisure at home.

At leisure isn't really the word, because it disappeared very quickly :smile:

Chloe

north Portugal

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I don't know much about Portugal, but rapidly learning that it may be my loss. In Spain however, a lot of our eating was done "between meals." As a long time francophile and avid snacker, I've learned to curtail my habits and eat square meals at the proper time. The abundance of tapas bars and the chance to grab a bite at odd hours adds immeasureably to the joys of being a tourist in the Iberian peninsula. (The closing of major tourist attractions for two, three or four hours at lunch is a drag, on the other hand.) In some area of Spain though, it seems that tapas, or the best tapas bars and the ones with the best selections, operate on a schedule as well.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Installment 2 – The Algarve

From this point on there are typically five of us dining together at most meals, some of the descriptions apply to things shared or just sampled.

Faro – a bright restaurant Restaurante Adega, Dois Irmaos Funado– Monkfish with prawn kabab interspersed with bell pepper, onion, and tomato, served with boiled potatoes and a little salad, red wine from Mealhada Cooperative “Tojal”. The monkfish is firm – very lobster like in flavor, the prawns are served whole with shells and heads. There is a note on the bill that may say something like, “if you don’t like the cataplana, please inform the owner and you won’t be charged.” (Or maybe my deciphering is way off and it says you will be served in the next order!)

Tavira - Lunch riverside from the Mercado da Ribeira. Vinho Verde Casal Garcia. Cockles with lemon and cilantro. We eat two platters of these sweet small clams. A little presunto sandwich. There is the river, sun, and good company.

Dinner is at a restaurant near the ferry to Ilha de Tavira, perhaps Quatro Agus (wasn’t paying attention.) The couvert (the stuff they set on the table to tempt you with and ruin your appetite and up the bill – but usually worth the extra couple of euros) includes bread, tuna salad spread, olives, and garlicky carrot salad. Dinner of squid and prawn kebab served with rice with raisins and a vegetable side of carrots and cabbage. We split 4 or 5 desserts (a chocolate cake, an almond cake, a cake filled with egg yolk and sugar that is spun into hot oil to make a nest looking confection, and a sponge cake with fruit, as I recall), drink espresso and port. Dinner wine is red, Maria da Fonseca, Periquita, decanted and served in big balloon style glasses.

Lunch the next day is at an Oceanside café near Cacela Velha. The bamboo shaded terrace and restaurant are almost empty, the season hasn’t started. More bread, cheese, olives, and cockles, oysters fresh from the adjacent beds have excellent texture and taste of the sea on a good day. An entree of baby squid, fat pink roasted with garlic and oil, are served with fries and salad. I sample cuttlefish – a bigger version of squid, a little frightening to behold, but sweet and tender. Fresh orange juice is served in tall glasses, icy cold. We watch a man kicking small crabs out of the surf for bait, and carting buckets of clams.

Dinner (really, there was a lot of walking and sightseeing between meals) – in Tavira at Patio. Red wine Caves Velhas, Dao, white wine Vinho branco seco reserva 2000 Douro Planalto. The couvert is excellent cheese, tuna pate, carrot salad, and bread. We split two cataplanas – one with monkfish, clams and prawns, the other with pork and clams. Cataplana is the name of the cooking utensil – a copper clamshell like device that is used to gentle cook the selected combination with tomatoes, potatoes, carrot, herbs and wine, I’m guessing. There are probably a lot of variations on this, but the point is to end up with a fragrant and delicious pan of food, meant for sharing. After dinner there is a round of bitter almond digestive.

Breakfasts haven’t been discussed. Usually, it is uma bica and a pastry or bread with cheese. At hotels, they set out a buffet with weak coffee, tea bags, cocoa powder, juice, scrambled eggs, some meat – bacon, sausage or something, cold sliced meats and cheeses, yogurt, butter and jams, cold cereals (cocoa puffs, museli, and bran-type are typical), breads, and sweet pastry items.

Lunch in Loule is the worse meal in Portugal. A tosti – toasted sandwich. There was plenty of it, such as it was, but don’t get me wrong, there was too much of it no matter what! The concept seems perfect with the great ham and cheese we’ve been eating. But this sandwich included ketchup and mustard and I’ve forgotten what else, mercifully. A vegetarian pizza is topped with cubes of once frozen peas and carrots, as well as green beans, plus some fresher peppers, onions, and spinach. It’s all just wrong.

Out into the country, we dine near Querenca, perhaps near Loule? Casa Paixanito. An aperitif of white Port. It’s very light, but hits me like a ton of bricks. Wine is Douro Doc Casa do Doura Reserva Douro 1999 by Sogrape. I just wrote down everything, not sure what is important here. Couvert of bread, salmon pate, olives, lupini beans – “tremucos” boiled and salted, slip them from the skins for eating. They are wide and flat and addictive, but out host says they go better with beer. The restaurant was a way station on the road between Lisbon and the coast. It’s grown into this excellent and attractive restaurant serving tapas style dishes. We eat cod fritters, clam/corn mush (don’t know the name), thin sliced beef tongue, blood sausages with apples, fava beans, roasted peppers, and goat cheese with honey and almonds. Dessert is chocolate mousse ladled out of a big silver bowl, part frothy and light, and part dense and intense.

Lunch today is a riverside picnic – you guessed it, bread, cheese, wine, pastries, and a Portuguese specialty – spicy sausage cooked at the table over flaming spirits! They have terra cotta dishes especially for this. This smells great, and tastes pretty good except for the blacked skin, but it sits heavy in the belly.

A fine dinner at Monte da Eira, again somewhere near Loule. Red wine, Jose de Sousa 1998, vinho regional alentejano. Good red with leather. Couvert of bread, olives, carrot salad. Entrée of seafood and elbow macaroni stew/soup made with mint, clams, shrimp, and fish. I sample lamb cooked with potatoes and bread (that’s what my notes say anyway) and more mint and herbs and vegetables. We are done in and dessert is vanilla gelado – ice cream.

A light lunch of sandes (sandwich) and a bite of cake in Silves. Dinner in Lagos at Don Sebastiao Restaurant. The wine cellar here is immense. We drink red, Alentejo Borba Montes Claros Reserva 2000. Couvert with extra order of carrots. I recall a chunky livery type dish, intense and rich. I eat lamb chops with mint sauce that seem awfully English, though quite good. Taste some fresh sole, also kid roasted in red wine and served with boiled potatoes.

Another poor lunch in Sangres. The place is barely open – looks to be a better place to drink and meet at night. Stomach has had it. I eat a small tuna salad. Dinner is at the Pousada do Infante Sangres. Couvert, I choose a broiled prawn appetizer as my entrée. There is a dessert buffet that includes a great selection of cheeses, fruit, nuts, cakes, and flan. I eat a small piece of chocolate cake and a wiggly sliver of flan. Perhaps it is crème leite?

A great lunch follows at Restaurante Sitio do Forno on the cliffs at Pontal. Surfers paradise, when the wind and surf are right. Today, the waves only serve to carve the cliffs. A Fonseca white wine, extremely fresh sea bass and rock fish served whole from the outside grill. Big salad, a platter of cooked fresh broccoli, carrots, and potatoes.

A final dinner. I’m done, but I taste two appetizers meant for a Sunday brunch. Smoked salmon on toast with cream cheese, and scrambled eggs with sausage, tomato and fresh mint. I order Portuguese duck with rice, but can eat only a few bites. It is good, kind of like duck fried rice, but I just can’t eat anymore. A few sips of a robust Palha Canas Vinho Tinto 2001, Estremadura Casa Santos Lima (13.5%) and of Quinta dos Murcas 1999 Douro (perhaps even more robust?)

Missed out on drinking firewater, especially that made from arbutus or figs. Brought home a bottle of Ginja, cherries bobbing around in a potent liquor, and a bottle of Licor Beirao, an herbal concoction.

All along the walking trails in the Algarve, the hillsides are covered in productive trees of almonds, loquats, olives, figs, carob, and orange as well as flowering plants such as poppies, rockrose, iris, calla lily, and herbs. I identified angelica, anise, borage, purple and yellow lavenders, mint, a rosemary looking plant that didn’t have much scent, sage, and thyme growing wild as well as cultivated crops of grapes, favas, peas, cabbages and kale. Already, I am feeling drawn to return.

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Great post, thanks tsquare

Couvert of bread, salmon pate, olives, lupini beans – “tremucos” boiled and salted, slip them from the skins for eating.

I didn't know that tremoços were also known as lupini beans - thanks for teaching me! I had always referred to them as just lupin seeds.

clam/corn mush (don’t know the name)

In the Algarve, it's called xarém (sha-RAYNG). When I get up the courage to visit the Algarve one day, I'll look forward to trying it!

a wiggly sliver of flan. Perhaps it is crème leite?

"Leite creme" is (or should be) an almost liquid custard (a bit like natillas in Spain) that is then caramelised on top.

I order Portuguese duck with rice, but can eat only a few bites. It is good, kind of like duck fried rice

A good description of Portuguese Arroz de pato. It's curious that in the country of soupy rice dishes, the duck rice is generally a very dry dish.

Chloe

in wet, wet north Portugal

where it's due to rain for the next 10 days :shock::sad:

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I assume northern Portugal has weather much like Galicia and I'm told that one of the reasons Madrileños like to vacation in Galicia is to escape the eternal sun of Madrid. :biggrin: I may not be convinced, especially as it rained while we were in Madrid, but it may well be the reason the beaches in northwestern Spain will never be overrun by Germans, Dutch, Danes and Brits.

Once again I have little reason to enter the Portuguese threads except to learn. I wasn't aware that Portugal was "the country of soupy rice dishes." In Spain, we've run across all sorts of rice dishes from the dry paellas to the more creamy rice with lobster, but only once did we find a version that was almost as wet as asopao -- Puerto Rico's national dish -- which is really a soup with rice, more than just a wet rice.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Thanks for the great account of your trip tsquare. Sounds fun and tasty.

I spent a couple weeks in Portugal on a "business" trip one time. Most of the time in the Azores and a few days in Lisbon. I didn't get to try the variety of items that your did, but came away very impressed with Portuguese food in general. I'd love to spend some time on the mainland.


Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Glad the reports were of interest. It was a good exercise to write this up and realize how many different things I did try. I think food can provide interesting insights into culture. I was told a number of stories, some of which have been related here, about how and why some of these dishes came to be. This led into discussions about history and politics, as well as current trends in culture and food policy.

When I get up the courage to visit the Algarve one day, I'll look forward to trying it!

Chloe,

Thanks for filling in so many gaps in my notes and comprehension! What keeps you from visiting the Algarve? Fear of not wanting to return home or of ex-pats? It was very comfortable there, though of course, slightly off season. I can imagine it being overwhelming if full of tourists and sun seekers!

Bux,

Also a land of soupy noodle dishes. I was thinking I had not had any pasta in weeks, then remembered the meal at Monte da Eira. That was very tasty.

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