A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eating in Portugal

I so looked forward to our trip to Portugal, but I dreaded eating out for three solid weeks:  I am a big fan of home cooking, fresh light meals, and lots of fruit and vegetables, which are hard to find away from home.  I knew that I loved Portuguese foods and had eaten in good restaurants in the Azores and Lisbon in the past, but I was so impressed by the wonderful and healthful meals we encountered at every turn in our travels.

Breakfasts included in hotel stays usually had cheese, sliced ham and Portuguese sausage, fresh breads and butter, as well as sweet pastries.  And espresso or cafe au lait.  And fresh fruits—most impressive were the very sweet local oranges, and sometimes strawberries.

Every block in Lisbon had a mini-mart.  This wasn’t like a 7-11 with chips and frozen pizza, but instead a tiny grocery with wine, bottled water, canned goods, small cheeses, and the basic produce such as beautiful tomatoes and oranges, onions and cucumbers.  We often had one big meal in a restaurant and then picnicked on bread and cheese for lunch or dinner—not for economy, but because of having walked for eight hours and needing to relax.  Or sometimes we were driving around the countryside and were away from civilization.  And sometimes we were just stuffed from the last ample meal.

Here are some of the memorable things we ate.

Portuguese wine is fabulous—there are vineyards everywhere—and can be bought for as little as $2 per bottle.  Also there is little markup in restaurants, so you can have house wine for a couple of Euros, and a more expensive bottled wine for a little more.  The wine seemed lighter and so we drank multiple bottles every day.

First night in Lisbon at a restaurant near the bullfighting ring:  Salada Croscente—crispy thin-sliced grilled eggplant, red lettuce, cashews, grated asiago cheese.  I had grilled tuna and Dad had sea bass.  Steamed and smashed baby red potatoes.  Sauteed vegetables.  Local champagne.  $65.

Next, to Tony and Manuela’s apartment.  It’s in an old building in the historic Belem area where Henry the Navigator is celebrated, and where Vasco de Gama and others embarked on their New World travels.  First, wine and appetizers.  Then an impressive spread of partridge pie, shrimp roulade (souffle rolled around a shrimp filling, with tomato sauce), bread, salad with the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, a mixed fruit cup, chocolate cake and custard tarts. I had a piece of cake but could only manage one bite of the beautiful custard tart. The partridge pie was pie-shaped with a rich pastry dough, and the partridge filling was very dark and rich, perhaps with the organs pureed in the sauce.  It was heavy but flavorful and so special.

Bread, cheese, and wine for supper.

We ate at Vitaminos (like a mall food court place) for breakfast at the Campo Pequeno mall.  Fresh fruit cups, cafe au lait, a slice of quiche.

The da Silvas took us to the seaside town of Caparica where they often go to Sunday lunch.  First course, steamed baby clams with garlic and cilantro accompanied by crisp garlic toast.  Then fish plates:  dourado for me,  robequeno for Dick, flounder for Tony and Manuela, with boiled potatoes and green beans for the table.  Beautiful bread.  Goat cheese. Cheesecake, coffee. 

In a small town we passed through driving down to the Algarve:  lunch of pizza for Dad, ham and cheese baguette for me, and salada primavera (also with ham). 

Arrived at beach hotel in Salema where we’ll stay for three nights.  Find that there are seven fish restaurants within walking distance!

First Salema night:  at Lourencos, the waiter brought around a platter of fresh raw fish and we chose chunk of stone bass.  It must have weighed two pounds, and I wasn’t aware that we had ordered the Whole Thing.  Anyway, with olives, bread, goat cheese, fish,  potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and a bottle of white wine, we were stuffed.  $48 Euros.

Breakfast at the hotel; lunch of bread, cheese, and fruit at Sao Vincente fort.  Beer at a beach cafe in late afternoon.  Dinner, a cataplana, which is a hinged cooking vessel in which a whole meal is cooked.  Ours had fish and vegetables in it

Third night in Salema, Boia Bar:  prato do dia (daily special) was lamb—thin tender slices in a brown gravy with fresh mint, little browned potatoes, salad.  Dick had fresh swordfish.  Red wine from Alvor, a town we had been lost in that very day!

In the town of Mertola, a rough cafe:  bacalhau de casa (home-style salt cod) for Dick, corvina for me, local wine.  Then we walked up to the castle.

In Evora: wine, cheese, and strawberries in room for dinner.  Lunch next day at Mr. Pickwick:  the famous regional dish of pork with clams for me, roast lamb for Dick.

The nearest restaurant to our hotel in Evora (we had walked from 10:00 to 5:00 already) was a “medieval” one.  Dick had bacalhau (a plain boiled hunk, but he likes that), and I had a Salada Portuguesa, an ambrosial black-eyed pea salad served over greens and topped with fresh crumbled tuna and hard boiled egg..

Porto lunch down by the river:  grilled sardines for Dick and swordfish (different than what we call swordfish, but wonderful), salada mista, broa, (yeast-raised cornbread).  My vegetable was sauteed cabbage.

We had a glass of cheap white port at a riverside outdoor cafe in Porto.

We ate in the Leiria town square, with castle in background and little boys playing soccer in the foreground.  Outdoor cafe with pigeons who carried off our leftovers (while Dick was still sitting at the table!).  A toasted baguette with grilled vegetables and goat cheese drizzled with honey and topped with fresh rosemary; a green salad with sliced cold meats; and lasagne de peixe (fish lasagna—light pasta, white fish sauce with bacalhau and other white fish, some green layer, probably swiss chard—totally wonderful).

Torres Vedras, stumbled into an excellent cafe while looking for the castle.  Dick had the soup of the day, which was a rich tomato soup poured over chunks of bread, with a plate of garnishes:  two kinds of sausage, pork rinds, a hunk of bacalhau.  I had cold tuna and bean salad garnished with onion and cilantro, and piri-piri sauce.  The waiter sternly cautioned me about the piri-piri—trop fort, he warned me in French, very strong.  It was chiles in marinated in olive oil.  That meal, with a jar of house white wine, was 13.50 euros, or $17.00

Cabo Verdean restaurant near our Lisbon apartment—no menu, just the national food, said the English-speaking waitress.  This was a large plate of chickpeas, maize or hominy, and tuna made into a sort of stew.  Very heavy and not too flavorful, but always interested in trying new things.

Near the Convento at Tomar with Tony and Manuela:  Rancho for me and Tony, a sort of macaroni casserole with ham, sausages, and tomato sauce.  Manuela had alheira, a fake sausage filled with beef and bread stuffing, very delicious (the lore is that when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave the country in early times, they only pretended to eat pork and substituted this sausage instead).

Near Sao George Castle in Lisbon, right in the middle of the tourist area, a museum attendant recommended the restaurant where he ate daily—no tourists there, only locals.
I had a mushroom omelet and salada mista, and Dick had a delicious red mullet, a wonderful firm flavorful fish like snapper.  Fruit salad for dessert.

Cooked a chorizo (Portuguese sausage) at home in our apartment this evening, with broad green beans and bread.  Strawberries and Portuguese dark chocolate.

Back to Caparica with Tony and Manuela, same great fish restaurant.  I had the best flounder of my life, a small whole one crusted with salt and I think finely ground almonds, grilled with a little lemon and olive oil.  Rice pudding, just like the Scandinavian type.

That evening walked out to the restaurant nearest to our apartment.  A rough place filled with soccer fans, but very good food.  Mixed grill, french fries, salada mista, house wine for two, about $15.

In the Chiado shopping district, ate lunch at a combination cafe/bookstore, lots of interesting folks around.  A rainy day, so I had the tomato soup of the day and then we both had the chicken prato do dia.  I wanted a little extra greenery so ordered a salada mista and received a large, delicious platter of greens, sweet onions, and tomatoes with dressing for 90 eurocents.

Our final dinner in Portugal was at a nearby Goa restaurant—Goa is an Indian colony of Portugal.  The food is very refined yet spicy.  We had exquisite vegetable and chicken curries.  It’s so great to be able to walk to dinner

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