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Lisbon Restaurants: Reviews & Recommendations


fredbram
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How does Porto de Santa Maria compare with the other two?.

(BTW, I'm assuming that you're referring to Madrid's O'Pazo, aren't you?)

Yes, of course. Good sprawling now-luxurious beach restaurant (used to be a lot simpler before fame), the sensational fresh 'queijinhos' they serve as 'amuse-gueules' will impress an international client more than the good but very basically prepared fish or the famed seafood rice which is distinguished by immense amounts of black pepper in it. If this is the best seafood restaurant in the world, then I might be the maker of the best wine in the world... :wink:

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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There are those of us who have a soft spot in our heart for black pepper. Than again, a good syrah goes a long way for us too. How are the the sensational fresh 'queijinhos' prepared when served as an amuse bouche? What would I call them in English? The best amuse bouche I've ever had was a plate of the finest fried bait as served at the Pourcel Brothers' then two star Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, France--deep fried fish as etherial as any cream enriched crayfish mousse. I think I say that in a spirit not so different from Miguel's pronouncements of the best fish or best restaurant.

I also think one-upmanship is meaningless when proferred without factual backing, but I also think statements of the best-of-anything are always going to be made and almost always, "in my (limited) experience" is a phrase that may be tacked on at the end of the statement. At the most extreme seriousness, this sort of statement is little more than a declaration of personal taste or personal experience, and as such, challenges are only of mild interest. What is interesting is the continued exploration of the subject and the places mentioned. Pedro's question brings us back to the interesting core of the discussion. Wherever this thread has gone, I think I've learned a bit about Portuguese food and restaurants from most of the posts.

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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vserna: no oneupmanship was involved, I assure you. I said PSM was "probably" the best in the world, much as Carlsberg beer claims to be "probably the best lager in the world".

It's certainly where I've enjoyed the best fish and shellfish I've ever had - and I've been going there ever since it opened, at least once or twice a week. I often stay at the nearby Hotel Fortaleza do Guincho (so much so that they use a wedding photograph of my wife and I to advertise their honeymoon package!), where the restaurant is supervised by Antoine Westerman who once made me the best Alsatianchoucroute I've ever tasted. Here's the website: http://www.guinchotel.pt/english/index.htm.

My father was director-general of fisheries of Portugal for a long time and then secetary-general of NAFO, the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization - so it's understandable that fish is my passion. My brothers and sisters and I spent our childhoods eating fish just about everywhere in Portugal and pretty much all over the world, thanks to all the fishing negotiations. The best I've ever had, btw. was a "caldeirada" (fish stew) on board a Sesimbra fishing boat.

So please don't think I'm minimizing Spanish cooking - just allow me my opinion that, where fish and shellfish are concerned we and the Galicians do it best. We have the Atlantic coast before us and, after 900 years, surely it's only to be expected that we're a little obsessed with - and thoroughly used to - our daily fish.

By best I mean, obviously, my own preference for very fresh, very simply boiled, grilled or fried fish. Let me add a restaurant I'd forgotten to mention which, imo, serves the best grilled fish in Lisbon: it's called Pedro dos Leitões (though there's not a suckling pig in sight) and it's in the out-of-the-way Calhariz de Benfica/Buraca zone. The "garoupa" (grooper) is particularly luscious.

Isn't it quite indicative that the two restaurants you named are Galician and Basque - two fishing cultures with much in common with the Portuguese? I shall definitely try them extensively when I'm next in Madrid or on the Basque coast. In Madrid and Seville I always go to La Dorada. Though they've come down a bit (something to do with the owner's complicated love life, the waiters say) I think they're magnificent. Last May I visited Sanlucar de Barrameda and much enjoyed the fresh Manzanilla, langoustines and gambas - but, once again, they're not as good (imo!) as the ones you get here.

It has all to do with the quality of the sea water. Even in the Algarve, which has a little Atlantic benefit, the fish and shellfish suffer from the warmer, stiller waters. Their flesh is softer and sweeter. It's in the cold, choppy ocean up North (and in Galicia) that the best shellfish is to be had.

P.S. Btw, "queijinhos" are to be had in practically all Portuguese restaurants - they're everywhere. They're not at all like Ricotta or cottage cheese because they're firmer and more consistent and have more flavour. Nowadays they're mostly pasteurized and contain cows' milk (still delicious, though, with sea salt, black pepper and bread and butter) but "under the counter" you can still get the real thing, made from ewes' or goats' milk and unpasteurised. An element of danger is involved (something called "Malta Fever") but I've never heard of anyone actually falling prey to it.

I agree that the "arroz de mariscos" in PSM is no good. Even when you splash out for live shellfish to be used in it they always make it too salty and peppery - I think they lack the proper stock. The best place in Guincho is The Faroleiro - that's where everyone goes when they simply must have it. Personally, I abhor it. As I said, I like my shellfish boiled alive, freshly brought in from the ocean (rather than kept in tanks).

For me nothing is purer or more delicious than live Atlantic shrimps, "navalheiras" (small crabs, "nécoras" in Spanish), "santolas" (spider crabs), "lavagantes" (lobsters) or "lagosta" (spiny, i.e. clawless lobsters) boiled for a very short time in the very sea water they lived in - with nothing added. No salt, no pepper, no lemon, no mayonnaise, no seasoning at all. It's like eating an orange straight from the tree - the opposite of cooking and, in my opinion, the essence of the Portuguese appreciation of seafood.

Apologies for the length, once again! :)

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If I might be allowed another comment, it has to do with Fredbram's wise strategy of going to Fidalgo three times.

Unfortunately, all Portuguese restaurants are extremely nepotistic, a terrible vice. This means that they'll always keep whatever's best for their oldest and most regular customers. Even in top-notch restaurants like Gambrinus in Lisbon, the off-the-menu list is always far better than the printed fare. For the best customers there's even the secret "sopa do pessoal" (the staff soup) which is infallibly better, fresher and cheaper than all the rest.

When the waiter shouts his instructions to the cooks he'll have a secret code to tell them how hard they should try. One favourite word is "caprichado", meaning "taken to extremes" but it's far more complex than that.

Everywhere you see the same dish served on adjacent tables and, pace Orwell, some pork is always more equal than others. Visitors are at a great disadvantage here as there are very stereotypical views about what "turistas" like (i.e. will put up with), no matter how knowledgeable they seem. Although, thankfully, there are very few cases of overpricing or downright fraud, the truth is that the general attitude is condescending and even slightly paternalistic. I hate to confess this, of course, but people here are so honest I'd hate myself even more if I didn't. Good restaurants in the great gastronomic capitals of the world rightly pride themselves on their consistency and equality of treatment. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Lisbon. In the Algarve it's even worse. Only the North and the Alentejo escape this awful discrimination entirely.

So what is the solution for the one-time visitor, whose presence indicates he'll probably never be seen again? The solution, as Fred discovered, is to plan meals in sequences. Dine at a place and, if it's not as good as you'd expected, go there for lunch the next day. The improvement will be noticeable. But, by going there a third time, guilt will weigh in and pride will raise its head and you'll find you're treated as if you've been going there all your life. We Portuguese are singularly suspicious and insecure but the upside is that we're easily reassured and charmed.

The worst strategy is to eat once at every place you think might be interesting. That's an enormous mistake. What you want to do is establish a regularity, a pattern of preference, as if you've clearly "chosen" that restaurant above all the others. Flattery and remembering people's names, as well as pretending (if you have no scruples) that you're now living in Portugal, rather than just visiting, will get you everywhere.

If you're an incurable igualitarian (as most Americans notably and admirably are) there's another strategy that works: act helpless and place yourself entirely in the hands of your waiter. Tell him or her: just bring me what "everybody else is having". This places waiters on their honour, which is a very strong thing in Portugal. Pity is a powerful factor here - no one will cheat someone who seems to absolutely depend on their kindness. We natives know it too - nothing is more guaranteed to produce an awful meal than the arrogance of actually opening the menu and choosing.

Here it's all about the relationships and the conversation. Act really sad and disillusioned if you don't like something. Be sincere but charming and faithful - that's the ticket. And, above all, behave as if you're trying to establish a life-long relationship.

Sending postcards and telephoning before you travel is also guaranteed to impress. Latching on to fellow diners, before they enter, asking them to intercede, is always worthwhile too, if you have the cheek.

Embrace the favour-ridden culture, even if it sickens you, and all will be well!

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I found that post quite interesting. In most countries, if I was to return to a restaurant that served me poorly the first time, I'd be marked as a sucker who didn't deserve any better. In France and the US, I certainly get better service by demonstrating an appreciation for the food, although knowing people in the right places works all over the world.

Putting oneself in the hands of a waiter is a tricky business. There are restaurants where it's the waiter's responsibility to pawn off the stale food on the unsuspecting, but generally, we've had good luck in appealing to a waiter's pride, especially in Spain. As I mentioned, I have no experience eating in Portugal.

We don't always reserve ahead when we're traveling, but we frequently do and I'll agree that it's a good tactic, even when it's not necessary to book a table. It sends the signal that you're choosing the restaurant and not just falling into it because it's around the corner from your hotel, or the place you got hungry. It puts the burden on the restaurant to meet your expectation.

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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If you're an incurable igualitarian

I consider myself an incurable "egulletarian" :laugh:

Interesting thread with a lot of useful insights. thanks to all.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I often find that most things we think are local are, in reality, human nature. :)

Although sometimes the things I think are universal and a product of human nature are, in fact, merely local to the place in which I grew up or perhaps belong to a set of customs common to a large part of the world, but alien to the small place I was in when I made my latest faux pas.

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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How are the the sensational fresh 'queijinhos' prepared when served as an amuse bouche? What would I call them in English?

The closest thing would be a 'chèvre frais' (well, it's not English, but you get the gist of it): small, cylindrical, but creamier (albeit very consistent) than chèvre in the case of the best queijinhos, which can be made ideally from ewes or goat milk, the most famous ones being from thr town of Tomar (but actually they're made all over the place). As Miguel indicates, many today are made with cow's milk, but that's not the real thing. At Porto de Santa Maria you get a couple of slightly different, 'artisanal' cheeses that are at the same time very tasty and 'wild' - no processed flavors here - and fresh and light. Pepper, sea salt and some crusty bread. Wonderful appetizer.

This type of things, to me, is more relevant to a country's gastronomic heritage than the greatest boiled, grilled or steamed shellfish around. I've had picture-perfect, pristine seafood in many, many places: Kumamoto oysters at San Francisco's Swan Oyster Depot, a whole turbot in Baltimore's delightful Black Olive (flown in from Europe, yet pure iodine-fresh!), littleneck clams at the NYC Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, Carril clams at Loliña in, well, Galicia's Carril, langostino (striped) shrimp at Bigote in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, spider crab at Madrid’s Combarro (probably the most spectacular seafood place anywhere right now – I’ve seen wine writer Stephen Tanzer almost swoon over tiny ‘camarón’ shrimp there...), belon oysters at Le Vivier in Lomener in Brittany, a grilled Dover sole at Bentley’s in Mayfair, langoustines at J Restaurant in Stockholm, scampi at Antica Besseta in Venice, raw corvina cebiche at La Costa Verde in Lima...

But, great as these things are, they are more a reflection on plentiful coastal waters than on a nation’s culinary genius. That’s why, for instance, cheese always means a bit more to me (culturally if not gustatorially), and Portugal’s genius with cheese, particularly soft cheeses (from milk curdled with thistles, as in southern Spain and northern Africa) led by the great queijo da Serra, is something else again. Or the ability to do what my father (a food writer himself) used to call ‘magically turning a dried-out rag (i.e., a piece of salt cod) into a culinary masterpiece’ – and that’s what the Portuguese can do with codfish.

This is a gastronomic web site. Of course we know that during the week most French people eat a pallid, frozen steak with some frozen french fries, hurriedly sautéed after coming home from work. Same with Spaniards. I know lots of Britons who’ll just open a can of macaroni and cheese, and some Americans who actually eat Spam. And now we know that fried pork loin, some fries and some boiled rice, all lumped together, is a regular Portuguese staple. Goodness gracious, what boredom! That’s not really what we’re interested in, is it?

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Unfortunately, all Portuguese restaurants are extremely nepotistic, a terrible vice.  This means that they'll always keep whatever's best for their oldest and most regular customers.  Even in top-notch restaurants like Gambrinus in Lisbon, the off-the-menu list is always far better than the printed fare. For the best customers there's even the secret "sopa do pessoal" (the staff soup) which is infallibly better, fresher and cheaper than all the rest.

When the waiter shouts his instructions to the cooks he'll have a secret code to tell them how hard they should try.  One favourite word is "caprichado", meaning "taken to extremes" but it's far more complex than that. 

Miguel: welcome, alfacinha, and thanks for that enlightening post. I always suspected something like that was, in fact, often the case but was never quite sure. Then again, the last couple of years I lived in Lisbon, I was by then a regular at almost every restaurant I went to, or was taken there by a friend who was, in turn, a regular.... :cool: So, how about a meal together the next time I'm in Lisbon? (which can't be soon enough at this point!)

I loved going to the restaurants near Guincho.....out of curiosity, Miguel, have you ever had what is probably my all-time favorite seafood dish, the cataplana de marisco at Mestre Zé, just below Guincho?

I always heard that the Mercado do Peixe (near Alcântara, as I recall) was a good place to eat fish, but I never went there.

And vserna, I don't know where you meet your Americans, but I'm pretty sure I don't know a single one who actually eats Spam.

My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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And vserna, I don't know where you meet your Americans, but I'm pretty sure I don't know a single one who actually eats Spam.

Mmmm... So you think they put Spam on market shelves just for its decorative effect, eh? You must be a very fortunate person living in a very fortunate part of the world, which deserves congratulations. Me, I once was a reporter covering areas of New York City where Spam is a big local item. But of course, if you don't want to understand the allegory which I'm (clumsily, no doubt) attempting when I mention Spam or macaroni and cheese, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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[...] I'm pretty sure I don't know a single one who actually eats Spam

Eric, unfortunately all of us have our regular dose of spam on a daily basis. Just take a look to your mailbox. :wink:

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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And vserna, I don't know where you meet your Americans, but I'm pretty sure I don't know a single one who actually eats Spam.

Mmmm... So you think they put Spam on market shelves just for its decorative effect, eh? You must be a very fortunate person living in a very fortunate part of the world, which deserves congratulations. Me, I once was a reporter covering areas of New York City where Spam is a big local item. But of course, if you don't want to understand the allegory which I'm (clumsily, no doubt) attempting when I mention Spam or macaroni and cheese, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion.

*Sigh* It can be so difficult to convey a bantering tone in a post on a bulletin board....

Still, if you're going to bring into the discussion something as essentially ....well.... nasty as Spam, you surely must expect to get a rise out of someone. I'm sure there many people that actually buy (and, theoretically, at least, eat) that stuff, but they are, as an old friend of mine used to say, "strictly NOCD" ("Not Our Class, Dear"). :cool:

As for that lunch, Miguel....Guincho would be as good a place as any to start. Or Sesimbra. Or, if it's winter (which it very well may be), how about the wonderful cabrito assado--with the positively ambrosial arroz de miudos-- at O Labrego in Feliteira (Runa)?

My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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I suspect that if one referred to Spam as "nasty" stuff in the general food forum, there might well follow some quite irate messages. No less a product than Velveeta has had many favorable posts by those who love its taste and by those who just think it's essential to a certain dish they like. I understand Spam sushi is relatively poplular in Hawaii.

Spam has a good market in the US. What's more, one can't assume all Europeans enjoy their nationally aquired tastes. In another thread, think I mentioned the time we ordered some morcillas in a bar in Donostia. An American near us asked her Spanish friend what that was and the friend said she didn't know what was in that and didn't want to know. It's not something she would eat. It was not the first time we met a European who didn't enjoy the local specialties as much as we did.

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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In another thread, think I mentioned the time we ordered some morcillas in a bar in Donostia. An American near us asked her Spanish friend what that was and the friend said she didn't know what was in that and didn't want to know. It's not something she would eat. It was not the first time we met a European who didn't enjoy the local specialties as much as we did.

No doubt, Bux. That's a foregone conclusion. I am talking national trends and overall taste patterns, not specific exceptions. This carries over into any realm of human endeavor. For instance, I am Spanish and I hate bullfighting, whereas a number of American bullfighting (and bull running) fanatics converge every summer on Pamplona. Yet I think it would not be inaccurate to state that there are many more bullfighting fans in Spain than in the United States. Transpose that to food, and it's all I'm trying to convey here.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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  • 1 month later...
If you think we're picky with codfish in Spain, Bux... we're just beginners next to Portugal! It's a national religion there. Hundreds of recipes. Not getting into dried codfish when visiting Portugal is exactly like not getting into pasta when visiting Italy, avoiding cheese in France, boycotting paella in Valencia or forgoing chiles in Mexico - how can one emit an informed opinion about the local cuisine by shying away from its main staple? It's beyond my comprehension. Bacalhau à Gómes de Sá, bacalhau a brás, bacalhau dourado, bacalhau a lagareiro... Mmmmm... It's the soul of Portugal.

Yes this very true. But also in the interior carne and mostly pork is very popular. But in the border and hilly places they love lamb stew. Portugal has a complex about food compared to Espana.

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Portugal has a complex about food compared to Espana.

Why? Portugal is a smaller country, therefore with a little less geographic and agricultural diversity than Spain, so unavoidably the 'variety' factor is less powerful. However, Belgium is also much smaller than France, yet the Belgians shouldn't feel any complexes about their great food! I believe Portugal is so strong in so many areas (dried codfish, fresh fish, shellfish, suckling pig, soft cheeses, vegetables, soups, 'conventual' sweets, dry table wines, fortified wines...) and even in cooking techniques (the cataplana should be promoted internationally as a 'double wok', and it could become the next great utensil in kitchens!) that it's just a matter of exploiting them adequately and of working on updates of the traditions for Portugal's cuisine to thrive and its gastronomic reputation to grow.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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  • 2 months later...

May is a great month for Lisbon (well, anywhere) but it all depends (taking excellent food as a given) whether you'd like to concentrate on:

Modern/Fashionable Lisbon: Bica do Sapato;

Old 18th Century Lisbon: Tavares Rico (Chef is (modern) Joaquim Figueiredo, one of our best;

Fashionable with traditional food: Pap'Açorda (same owners as Bica do Sapato);

Really good Grilled fish, "al fresco": Pedro dos Leitões;

Shellfish only, bourgeois, expensive, old-fashioned: Porto de Santa Maria (in Guincho, 20 miles away) or Gambrinus;

Best fish and shellfish, ugly but food-obsessed and cheap: Tertúlia do Paço;

New Cuisine: Clube de Golfe da Bela Vista (Vítor Sobral);

Rustic, peasant cooking, welcoming: Tasca da Adelaide;

Superb, outstanding traditional Japanese sashimi and sushi: Aya 2

Oh, I give up. You must give me a few pointers so I can try to suggest somewhere. One night in Lisbon is tragically not enough. My most honest suggestion would be to go to a very cheap, typically Lisboan restaurant, where everyone goes, and eat "bacalhau assado" (delicious grilled salt cod, as nowhere else in the world, our staple): the best place for this is the "Marítima de Xabregas" where the prices are really, really cheap. If you could work in an afternoon pre-dinner shellfish extravanganza go to the equally cheap (but expensive, as all fresh shellfish is) Ramiro.

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Miguel -

i'm happy that you replied. i'll be in portugal mid april and was wondering about restos in lisbon, now i've got the expert opinion. :wink: i saw your albufeira suggestions in another thread...what about outside those two places? i don't know where exactly we'll be headed, maybe we should base it on food!

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v_wang:

Give me some time so I can work out some suggestions!

I think your philosophy - not knowing where you'll be headed - is highly intelligent, as Portugal is ideal for wandering about aimlessly. Definitely buy Cadogan's Portugal guide - it might not be up-to-date, publication-wise, but things don't change much here and its advice is spot-on: we Portuguese use it.

If food is to be your focus, try to remain up North as much as you can. Dammit, I'm born and bred in Lisbon (my father was born in Alfama, which is at the very heart) but since I joined eGullet honesty has regularly driven me to outrageous treachery.

Let me just say that, apart from the fish and shellfish, there are are number of dishes that just can't be missed.

There's a restaurant called Casa do Victor in Vila do Rei, hidden near Vieira do Minho and the Gerês, which serves the best bacalhau ever - gigantic guitars of salt cod perfectly cured (he has the last remaining Aveiro supplier who sun-dries the cod here in Portugal in the old way - it is unobtainable anywhere else), grilled beyond perfection, almost sinful in being so close to God. It's served with the best potatoes and the best olive oil.

Apart from veal chops the size of tennis rackets, grilled on the same open fire, that's all he's been serving for 50 years.

Another reason the bacalhau is so exceptional is because it's soaked in a pure, icy Gerês mountain stream that runs just by the restaurant. The Gerês is a beautiful, pristine national park where anyone unfortunate enough, in a moment of distraction caused by the breath-taking views, to let out the slightest fart will soon be staring at a six-month jail sentence. ;)

You know how much we Portuguese love bacalhau - well this makes you never again really, really enjoy bacalhau. Victor should serve a forgetfulness pill with the coffee so that the wonderful taste and texture could be wiped out from our memory, never to haunt all our subsequent bacalhau dishes which, however satisfying and eye-opening, will inevitably sour the lingering mouth-happiness with those three damning words: "Yes, but Victor..."

What I usually do is stay in the lovely Pousada de São Bento, in Caniçada, then take a taxi there - because of his delicious "vinho verde". By the way, don't let him convince you to try one of the well-known green wines. Ask for his unlabelled bottles - he's ashamed of it because it seems too humble and is actually illegal nowadays - but you'll try the real, fresh, zingy "vinho verde" (very, very low alcohol) which Minho peasants keep for themselves. It's impossible to stop drinking it!

Vitor is around 8 miles away from the Pousada and will take you into the 15th Century - misty, curling roads, bright green even at night, vine trellises everywhere and granite houses - the real Minho, unspoilt and enchanting, primeval even.

Another must is our "leitão" (suckling pig) which is very different from the Spanish type. Its skin is impossibly crackly and thin, not unlike the best Peking duck, and the flesh is moist, watery and, again, sinful. You know how, when Peking Duck is properly served, they bring the strips of crunchy, delectable skin first and the meat itself is second-thought? Well really good Mealhada leitão, for the scarce 15 minutes when it's just-emerged from the oven, shining and bright, manages to reunite the best of both these worlds.

Even "luscious" would be an insult. When you bite down into one of the small pieces, the succession of textures and tastes is like a lightning trip around the world of all your most memorable meals, summarizing essences of bacon and eggs; perfectly roast chicken; moist barbecue pork; crispness; the wet, giving humidity of rare roast beef and an astounding freshness more associated with lettuce or freshly-fried turbot skin than anything so boring and dead as meat. This is because they're "bísaro" piglets, brought up like little princes, in individual chalet-like cottages with classical music playing.

However, 99% of the suckling pig served in Portugal is not bísaro and, although good, not divine. For the bísaro you have to go to Mealhada, near Coimbra, which is a long Vegas Strip of leitão restaurants. But even here, most of them use the black Iberian piglet. Two you can trust absolutely - always very full; go early - are Meta dos Leitões and Pedro dos Leitões, practically next door. I usually stay at the romantic Bussaco Palace Hotel and pig out for three or four days.

Don't have leitão anywhere else, no matter what you're told (Negrais leitão in Lisbon, for instance) as it's not much better than the suckling pig you get in Spain or Italy, where they're far too big, not crispy enough and their meat is just like a tenderer version of good pork. And make sure you wait for a leitão to come out from the oven and cut while it's red hot - even in Pedro or Meta. After ten minutes, it starts waning.

A good trick is to offer to pay double just for the "costela" (the ribs). If they refuse, just leave the leg bits and neck bits and order another "dose". The "costelas" are the best of the best.

They're served with round ultra-thin potato crisps and a lovely salad. Make sure to order the "molho" (sauce) which is made from the piglet's liver and kidneys, just slightly peppery, nothing else.

For some reason in Mealhada everyone drinks a really atrocious local sparkling wine, white and red. They also eat slices of orange with their "leitão" - beats me why! I'd recommend a very young dry white wine. The best local one is "Quinta do Valdoeiro", made nearby, but make sure it's a very recent vintage. 2002 is acceptable; 2003 is best. 2001 is beyond the pale. If you're feeling generous, go for one of the lip-smacking Luís Pato whites - or another local Bairrada white or rosé. With these, 2001 is the limit-year, as they're so well made.

The prices at Pedro and Meta are higher than elsewhere but still outrageously low: for 50 dollars two people can have their fill of "leitão" and good wine and still have change after two single malts. And that's counting with the increase in the price of the euro.

As you see, it's very difficult and time-consuming to give even a brief description of a dish, because of all the caveats and particularities. And there are hundreds! :)

Edited by MiguelCardoso (log)
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Miguel, you're far too helpful. At least I have two weeks before I go to read and reread this, and try and narrow it down! I saw that flor de sal piece from the Atlantic that you posted in the other thread - do you know if you're able to visit the harvest area?

Thank you so much.

ps. you don't really mean it about the besaro piglets and classical music, do you?

Edited by v_wang (log)
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Oh yes, v_wang, it's true. In 2001 or 2002 I published an 8-page spread about bísaro piglets, with lots of photographs of the happy, little creatures in "Preguiça", a weekly food magazine which was my pride and joy at the newspaper I then edited ("O Independente"). The reporter was Dulce Mendes.

I'm sure the "marnotos" or salt-farmers of the Algarve will make you most welcome. Rui Simeão - actually called Rui Neves Dias - in Tavira is a friend of mine and harvests lovely "flor do sal". Pay him a visit! He's won lots of awards as he's such a passionate advocate of nature. His address is available if you click on his name on the above link - a boring promotional press release, but the only one I could find. Here it is if you can't be bothered!

Salt harvesting in Portugal is thriving and is by no means confined to the Algarve. Even if you can't read Portuguese, the pictures in this article will give you an idea.

Edited by MiguelCardoso (log)
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