No room for improvement in Evora…..

Roman Temple Évora

The largest city in the Alentejo region of Portugal, Évora, is one of those places that I love to visit in any season. We’ve spent many nights here on our way to the Costa Vicentina in the summer months or on our way to Lisbon during the winter holidays. It’s beauty and charm stands strong regardless of the harsh weather. The 1st Century Roman Temple here never ceases to leave me in awe as I walk up to the Convent dos Lóios where I stay with my groups. Centuries of history always rush through my mind and leave me a bit speechless.

Esporão Winery

Alentejo is known for its wine, excellent food, olive trees, cork and very relaxed way of living. That is just to name a few things. We have probably covered every inch of it throughout our travels in Portugal. Beautiful wineries, small towns with excellent food, and fascinating history is to be found everywhere. Being here during the grape harvest is extra special. At some wineries the grapes are still crushed by foot. The local food varies throughout the Alentejo from hearty meat dishes and soups in the interior to excellent seafood along the coast. One thing you must try while in the area near Évora is the black Iberian pork. These black pigs are raised happily, grazing on acorns from the local oak trees.

There is a restaurant in Évora that I have been wanting to try for an eternity. Tucked away in the old Moorish neighborhood you will find Botequim da Mouraria with seating for 9 people, no reservations accepted. It is owned by a lovely man named Domingos, who runs the front of the house and his wife Florbela, who is the miracle worker in the kitchen. I could only order one item off the menu since I was alone. But, I enviously watched my dining neighbors enjoyed grilled mushrooms, prawns drenched in garlic and butter, ham and melon, and grilled fish. My heart told me to go for the grilled filet of black pork and it was divine. There is no other word to describe this dish. It was served with a green salad tossed in front of me and homemade potato chips. Domingos was slightly annoyed that I didn’t eat the potatoes but the pork and salad were perfect together. If you go, you should really eat their fresh chips!!

I love the set up of the restaurant. Everyone is seated around the “bar” like a family. You can see all the fresh products they have on display along with the gorgeous wine selection. Domingos is kind and honest about how much you should order. It feels like a fine dining experience in an incredibly relaxed atmosphere. By the end of my meal I had taken up pleasant conversation with the Japanese couple to my right and the Irish Thelma and Louise to my left. Everyone was obviously as thrilled as I was to have gotten one of the lucky seats for lunch that day!

When Domingos served my beautiful pork I kindly asked him for some “piri piri” or spicy sauce. One of my favorite things about good Portuguese restaurants. He brought out this jar of fiery oil made with the spicy malagueta peppers used in Portugal, Brazil and Africa. Within 2 minutes the jar was being passed about the bar to the other guests. There is nothing like a piri piri made with love.

Domingos forced me to have dessert since I did not eat my potatoes. There are moments in life when you just can’t say no, like with my Nana Lena. She would have been appalled if we said no to any homemade dessert of hers! Siricaia is an egg custard traditionally served with candied plums that come from the beautiful town of Elvas right on the Spanish/Portuguese border. The perfect end to a perfect meal!

Special day in Sintra…..

So, a very dear friend is going to be in Lisbon and Porto very soon. For me it would be heaven to take him out to a great dinner and enjoy his company in one of these great cities. I think the last time we saw each other we went to a Gypsy Kings concert in Phoenix Arizona. A very, very long time ago. Nonetheless he still feels like family to me and I am seriously bummed that when he is in Portugal, where I spend half my time, I will be off working somewhere in Andalucia. So, this is for you Andy. I hope you have an awesome time and I wish I could be with you! I know you are staying at a hotel in Sintra so why not enjoy an afternoon taking the tram to from Sintra to Praia das Maçãs. The tramline opened in 1904 and runs for 7 miles from Sintra down to the beach.

There is an awesome restaurant called Búzio where we had a seafood rice and a perfect salad to go with it. I like rice dishes in Portugal more than anywhere else. My favorite is Arroz de Tamboril which is a soupy rice dish made with monkfish and shrimp. It is almost always flavored with cilantro which is what makes it perfect.

You can take the tram down to the beach and have a nice walk, enjoy a great lunch and then take the tram back to Sintra for a coffee and a great Portuguese pastry like a pastel de fejião, a queijada or a pastel de laranja. You can eat 4 different pastries a day while you are there because there are so many to try.

You can be a nerd like I am and pose with the tram. Enjoy!!!!

Reminders of Bourdain…..

Walking around Porto

Quite a few years ago my husband told me that we had to eat a “cachorro” at this place in Porto. A few weeks earlier we had enjoyed this amazing grilled meat platter with rice and potatoes (all carbs always) and black beans at this great place in the Batalha Plaza. I was sort of hoping for a repeat but since I am from Chicago and a good hot dog is rare to fine, I needed to go for it. In my entire life I never knew that one could have an addiction to hot dogs. But, it is now a truth for me.

The “New” Gazela

Two summers ago my Mom and I watched the Anthony Bourdain episode in Porto. He had not been back there for many years so I was excited to see what his adventures would be this time. AND THERE HE WAS eating my “cachorro” at Gazela. That same grilled bun with just the right amount of hot sauce.

Now there are photos of him inside the original Gazela. I’ll never be able to eat here again without thinking of Anthony Bourdain and how many hours I spent traveling and enjoying food and people from all over the world right by his side. Yesterday I read that Eric Ripert and José Andrés decided to name June 25th “Bourdain Day”. I’ll have one for you to celebrate that day in just a couple of weeks. They opened a new spot now, I’m sure it was because of you. Saúde!

“There are no two finer words than “encased meat”, my friend.” Anthony Bourdain

Open air market, sardines, and the sea…

IMG_4867Just south of one of my favorite cities, PORTO, there is an active fishing town called Espinho.  We have spent quite a bit of time there during the summer months sleeping in our van, swimming and enjoying the fantastic seafood that the restaurants offer there.  I was even coaxed into taking a surf class one morning.  The morning we had our class the waves were huge and the beach had a red flag.  My biggest nightmare became reality.  Miraculously I made it through alive but I stick to body boarding from then on.

IMG_5594

IMG_5588 (1)

IMG_5598 (1)

IMG_5605

In the mornings we would wake up early to watch the fishing nets being pulled in from the sea.  We loved watching this whole process.  Early in the morning the boats take the nets out and leave them in the sea.  Hours later tractors pull the nets back onto the beaach.  Traditionally this was done using the Portuguese fishing boats and steer to pull the nets back on to shore.  The catch of the day is pulled up to shore and then the people in charge begin to sort, separate and sell to local restaurants or families.  It is so much fun to watch.  Usually it is the men and boys who are separating the fish and the women take care of the business side of things. The atmosphere here is so pure and and the people are living the same way they have for years and years.  If there is one thing that can keep my attention before coffeee, it is the fishing industry in Espinho.  It is a mixture of calm, chaos, confusion, organization and the hardcore daily life of locals.

IMG_5607 (1)

Bar in the Fishermen’s Neighborhood

There is a small fish market right next to the local bar in this neighborhood but every Monday in Espinho they celebrate one of the best open air markets I have ever experienced.  For 12 hours each Monday you can find pretty much everything imaginable.  The market expands over a mile long and is filled with local farmers, artisans and the gypsy market as well. The fish market here is absolutely gorgeous.  We met a wonderful woman named Carlota.  We watched as she purchased the fish and then followed her to the stall where she sold the goods.  Some were already prepared for “Caldeirada”: a traditional Portuguese fish stew prepared with an assortment of skate (or any other fish), potatoes, onions and cilantro.

At one point in the morning you could purchase a huge crate of fish for two euros.  Sardines are the best in the summertime.  We would have purchased the two euro crate if we had a fridge in our van but it was probably not a good idea to do that!! We enjoyed them in a restaurant almost everyday without the lasting smell.

The rest of the market is an array of colors and smells and local people selling their items.  You can find the freshest vegetables, bread, cheese, pots and pans, clay cookware, live hens and roosters.  I could go on for hours talking about the products that you can purchase in this amazing market. Instead I will leave some nice photos below to give you an idea.

One of my favorite parts of the open air markets in Portugal is the food that you can eat while you are shopping about. My partner loves having the grilled chicken with salad and wine.  He could eat this everyday of his life.  But, in Espinho we found a great little stand that sold a variety of dishes.  The 50 cent jars of wine went great with a “bifana”, a traditional pork sandwich served with mustard and hot sauce.  We also noticed people showing up with their empty tupperware containers to fill them up with the soup of the day.  Of course we had to try the soup!  One Monday it was “Papas de Sarrabulho”.  At first this may not sound so enticing to you.  It is mashed blood with potatoes and meat from a variety of animals. It is a soup that is prepared in the Northern part of Portugal and wonderful in the winter months.  Like most dishes prepared with blood, it was surpsingly tasty!

We enjoyed the Monday market days thoroughly but they could also be exhausting due to the hot weather.  Usually we followed a morning at the market with an extremely refreshing swim in the Atlantic and a long walk along the beautiful coastline. On the other days of the week we would swim and eat and swim.  We would eat grilled sardines almost everyday.  In Portugal they serve them on top of great bread so the flavor of the sardine soaks into the bread.  You eat the sardine and then put olive oil on the bread and enjoy the wonderfully flavored bread!  We usually followed the sardines with a fish caldeirada. We even prepared it a couple of times on our own over an open fire.  Along with a lovely salad and local wine you really can’t go wrong.

RESTAURANTE OS MELINHOS – CREDIT FOR AWESOME FOOD!

 

One afternoon we ran into Carlota along the boardwalk selling fresh fish.  This a town of hardworking people.  On Mondays she would be at the regular market and then during the week she would go from restaurant to restaurant and house to house selling her daily catch.

IMG_4997 (1)

IMG_4954

End of the morning work……….time for a beer.

 

 

 

elegance and quality on the Camino……..

 

image

From personal experience, this yellow arrow will always lead to somewhere magical. On one of our many excursions to Portugal we found ourselves on “La Via De La Plata Portugues”. This Midevil Route of the Path of St.James led us to the beautiful city of Braganza in the region of Tras os Montes, Portugal.  This city with human settlement dating back to the Paleolithic Age welcomed us with Christmas music played in speakers on the streets, an open fire in the plaza to warm our hands and its incredibly well preserved Castle dating from the 13h century.

image

We spent the night in the Solar de Santa Maria, a small hotel placed in the old home of the chief of police from 1639.  The owner asked at what time we would like breakfast the following morning.   When we came down we found the best spread I have ever seen,  set up just for the two of us. Homemade jams, Christmas sweets, fresh fruit, rolls and a variety of local cheese.  We rate hotels by their breakfast and this is definitely sharing the number one spot!

local, cheap, and good!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday I was just thinking about a new blog post to catch up on the last couple of years.  As I flipped through photos and memories I couldn’t quite decide where to begin; Naples, Portugal, Switzerland or Granada.  In the evening my new roommate/adopted daughter was talking about the dishes she misses most from Portugal and mentioned this wonderful traditional cod. It was quite random that I had this blog post saved as a draft with this photo. So, here is one of my favorites as well from a lovely little restaurant near my old hotel in Lisbon. Bacalhau com grao. Boiled salt cod with garbanzo beans, boiled potato and served with chopped raw onion and parsley. I like it with piri piri but I usually break all food rules when it comes to hot sauce.  More to come and Happy Sunday!!!IMG_9465

Passion, Port and the Douro Valley

img_4830The Douro Valley in Portugal is known for its prolific wine production which is eventually taken to Vila Nova de Gaia near the city of Porto and stored in the wine cellars.  Traditionally the wine was transported there by “rabelos”, a cargo boat native to the Douro region.  The microclimate in this area also allows for the production of olives and almonds.  The rolling hills along the river provide fantastic scenery to enjoy a cruise or a train ride.  This summer we enjoyed both of these and a great pass through lock of the Regua dam, one of fifteen dams that exist on the river.

We parked our van in the town of Pinhão from where we were able to explore much of the valley and enjoy the excellent wine.  Right in the small town of Pinhão is the Quinta do BonFin, one of the many winery’s owned by the Symington family.  Eventually the grapes will end up at the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Here we enjoyed one of our favorite afternoon drinks, “Porto Tonica”, white port with tonic water and a slice of orange or a cinnamon stick.  The views from Bomfin were absolutely beautiful!

 

I have a minor addiction with tiny towns in the middle of nowhere.  From Pinhão you can hike straight up hill to the well-preserved town of Provesende, home to 356 inhabitants. This town dates back to the time of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula.  They say that the  name comes from the last Moorish King of the area, Zaide. The town is pintoresque and loaded with history. You can see the Pillory from 1573 , the granite fountain and the Manor homes which remind us of the wealthy families that resided in this area.

 

One of my favorites parts of this town were the trash bins on the streets that are actually the baskets that were traditionally used to collect the grapes during the harvest. What an outstanding idea! We also hit the jackpot for lunch in Provesende.  The main restaurant in town was already closed but the owner offered us a “light snack”.  Before we knew it we had a spread in front of us of ham and cheese, local olives served with a sugar cane honey to dip, vegetable soup, bread and local olive oil, sliced apple sprinkled with bee pollen, and a local sausage called Alheira.  Don’t forget the wine, we are in the Douro Valley!

  • Dedicated to my Smithsonian group that I was forced to abandon due to minor injury.