Celebrating Portugal…..

June 10th is the Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities. Luís Vaz de Camões, author of the epic poem Os Lusíadas and considered the greatest poet of Portuguese and the Portuguese language, died on June 10th, 1580. The use of this day, June 10th, has had a long and weathered history since it was first chosen in 1640 after Portugal’s independence from Spain. It is celebrated in Portuguese Communities around the world. In 2018, the Portuguese President and the Prime Minister were received in Providence, Rhode Island by the Governor and the large Portuguese community in this area. The celebrations included music, dance, Portuguese wine and a lot of bacalhau along with many other traditional foods.

A homemade Bifana

The other day I was reminded again that we still can’t cross the borders and thought we could use a bit more Portugal in our home. What better way to celebrate Portugal than a BIFANA? The bifana is one of those foods that we run to as soon as we arrive in Portugal. We have our favorite places in Lisbon but we really like to stop in the town of Vendas Novas in the Alentejo region if we are driving through Portugal. Everybody stops in this town for a bifana, petiscos and a bowl of soup. The last time we passed through here at 10 in the morning the places were packed with locals and travelers alike getting their bifana fix on. Next time we make that stop (please be soon), I will film a video of the scene.My bifanas were made by slowly cooking the thinly sliced pork loin in white wine with a lot of garlic, smashed piquillo peppers, dried Ñora peppers, bay leaves, spicy paprika, lemon juice and a some butter even though it calls for lard. Salt and Pepper of course. There are different recipes but we like this one best. And, they are amazing. I rarely use my twitter account but I randomly posted a photo of this and it received a ton of likes and comments by people who know their bifanas. The only thing missing was that incomparable Portuguese roll.

Time Out!!!

The sun came out for a bit! Streetcar in Lisbon.

We have been eating 100 percent vegetarian at home for the past couple of months. I was a vegetarian for so many years that it is easy to slip back into this way of life. We are usually pretty veggie centered but going 100 percent has brought me back to some great recipes like Tofu Tikka Masala, Vegetable chili with TVP and an amazing Creamy Braised White Bean recipe that I found in the New York Times. It has also reminded me of a few of the last great meat and seafood dishes that I enjoyed. Not craving, just reminiscing. Some of these were on our last trip to Portugal. I’ve been missing Lisbon a bit these days knowing that I won’t be there every few weeks this Spring like I have been for the past 10 years or more so I’m reminded of this awesome meal we had a few months ago at the Time Out Market.

Quiet street in Lisbon, only in late November.

We love going to the Time Out market when we have some “us” time to enjoy the city. The Ribeira Velha market was the original market in Lisbon dating back to 1100. It was located at the foot of the Alfama neighborhood. The market was rebuilt and moved a couple of times. One of these times being after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The structure we find today located in the Cais do Sodré district was inaugurated in 1882. It functioned as a fresh foods market for many years. The newly restored Time Out Market opened here in 2014. It is now home to the original fresh food market along with kiosks and shops selling regional specialties with some owned by a few of Lisbon’s most famous chefs. It’s a gastronomical festa in a lively and enjoyable space. I’ve enjoyed many great meals here. For a few years I was addicted to the Tuna “prego” Sandwich at SeaMe, an excellent seafood restaurant. I still highly recommend it!

Prawns with Rosemary

On our last visit to Lisbon in late November it was cold and raining when we arrived. The streets were empty and dark. I hadn’t seen Lisbon like this for quite a long time and it reminded me of a novel I had read recently, The Day of Atonement by David Lis. The warm market was quiet and welcoming and we found a romantic spot at Balcão da Esquina. I’ve always loved Tasca da Esquina, one of the great restaurants by Chef Vítor Sobral, and Balcão is his place here in the Time Out Market. To start with, we went for some amazing Sautéed Prawns with Rosemary and Red Chilis (the malagueta chili). Forget about not eating bread as this sauce begs for the dipping.

We followed the prawns by one of the best dishes I have been served in a very long time. Bísaro Pork with Clams and a Cilantro Sauce. The clams were absolutely perfect and the sauce was earthy and light. But, the pork!! Oh dear, that pork was so darn good that we could have ordered one more plate. The whole dish was fantastically cohesive. And, we also learned something new. The Bísaro pigs are Indigeneous Portuguese pigs. They were actually close to going extinct because of the African plague as because the Iberian pigs were being favored. They come from a Celtic origin and reside mostly in the province of Tras-Os-Montes (see post New Years Eve in Tras-Os-Montes) where they are used in traditional dishes and to make many types of sausages in order to keep their meat year round. If you go to Lisbon and you are a meat eater and cilantro lover please go try this dish.

Oh, and the wine!! We ordered, of course, the wine with the chef’s name. First, a glass of white with the shrimp and then a red from the Alentejo region made with Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, and Trinacdeira grape varieties. Both went perfectly with our selected dishes.

Obviously we could not get out the door without a Pasteis de Nata, (egg custard) and a glass of port wine. I prefer my pastel de nata with only cinnamon but the traditional way to eat the custard is with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Everything about this evening was worth the walk in the rain. Like many cities, Lisboa has a special charm in the winter, and for me it feels more authentic during the quieter months. The grey skies make a perfect backdrop to this colorful city.

A place to return to someday……part 1.

Just a bit less than half way to North America when leaving Lisbon you will find one of the most beautiful archipelagoes in the Atlantic. The Azores or Os Açores in Portuguese consist of 9 volcanic islands and is one of two autonomous regions of Portugal. The other being Madeira. Most people choose to visit the islands between April and November when the weather is at its best and you can enjoy the numerous beaches and hiking on the islands. Our favorite time to travel is the off season when the crowds are less and you can easily distinguish the locals from travelers so we went to the Azores for New Years and the first week of January a couple of years ago.

It tends to rain in January but the sun came out quite a bit and allowed us to hike and have some beautiful views as we discovered the island of São Miguel. This is one of the first three islands that were initially sighted and discovered in the 14th and 15th centuries. The first inhabitants to the islands were actually sheep who were placed there to eventually feed the first settlers who included the Portuguese mostly from the Algarve and the Minho, the Flemish, the French, and Sephardic Jews amongst others. When the Spaniards temporarily took over Portugal in 1580 they also wanted the Azores. It is said that cattle were released by the Azoreans to confuse and scatter the invaders. Still today we found more cows than humans on the Ilha Sao Miguel which for me is just perfect! They filled our photos at every scenic outlook and blocked the roads.

One of my favorite places on the island was Sete Cidades , which is the name of a town and also a spectacular nature area. It is probably one of the most beautiful panoramas I have ever seen. There is a viewpoint where you can look down on the two lakes that fill in the center of a volcanic crater. Lagoa Azul reflects the blue color of the sky and Lagoa Verde reflects the rich green color of the earth. Hiking in this area is greatly rewarded by a local lunch in the town.

Everything we ate during our stay was excellent. All diary products were superb from the milk to every cheese that we tasted, especially the fresh cheese served at the hotel breakfast and the Queijo São MIguel which is easily found throughout the mainland as well. Beef was aplenty and we had a few amazing dishes from simple to fancy. They also produce great wines to accompany the local food. Wine production has nearly doubled here in the past years, most of it being produced on the Island of Pico.

I had never tasted a “limpet” before the Azores. It is like an aquatic snail with a cone shape. We tried the limpets at a restaurant right on the beach. They were grilled and served with lemon. Simple and plentiful. Maybe not my favorite dish but it was fun to taste them. I definitely need a second try on our next visit.

After lunch we walked through the small and obviously poor town of Rabo de Peixe. We stumbled upon a solemn funeral procession of a young man from the town. The air was heavy with humidity and grief. Everyone was dressed in what must have been their best clothes, paying their regrets to the loss of a young life. I remember the feeling in this town more than I remember the taste of the limpets. The obvious poverty and solemness was very different from what we had experienced up until this moment on the island. Real life and death. To be continued……

Seafood at the biggest market in Portugal and at home….

When we drive south from Lisbon on our way to the Costa Vicentina we usually find ourselves in the city of Setúbal at the the mouth of the Sado river and just across from the Troia Peninsula. It also borders the Arraibida Natural Park. Sétubal used to be the center of the canned sardine industry in Portugal and you can visit a museum that is housed in one of the old canning factories. However, there is nothing better than shopping for fresh seafood at the local market. This vibrant space decorated with beautiful tiles and statues is the largest covered market in all of Portugal.

The seafood in the market is beautiful, especially the black scabbardfish. But, you will find all of the ingredients for the local seafood dishes like cuttlefish, clams, cockles, sea snails, and of course sardines. Fresh vegetables, breads, cured sausages and my favorite local cheese called Azeitão are plentiful and sold by local vendors.

A visit to any market in Portugal is not complete without a light snack. Whether you are at one of the large flea markets or a local fresh food market you always have a great choice of Portuguese dishes to choose from. Grilled chicken with a glass of local wine, sautéed liver with onions (iscas con elas), or a sandwich with fried chicken breast. Our go to market snack is always a bifana, a simple sandwich made from marinated pork cutlets served on a fresh roll with condiment options of mustard and hot sauce. With a mini Sagres beer or a glass of local sparkling wine it’s the perfect “pre-lunch” meal. You can easily have a full meal with the dishes that are offered but when in Setúbal it’s best to save room for some fried cuttlefish served with a fresh salad and roasted green peppers in a nearby restaurant.

The last time we were in Setúbal we decided to take the ferry across to the Troia Peninsula. What is now an area for luxury hotels and beautiful beaches used to be home to one of the largest fish salting and preserving workshops during the Roman Empire. These pastes and sauces, like Garum, were produced here and then exported in Amphorae by sea to the different provinces. You can visit the roman ruins here that include the fish salting area, baths and some dwellings dating that were occupied up until the 6th century.

Our van on the ferry
Troia Peninsula which was the Acala Island under the Romans.
explanation of the fish preserving area

Sometimes when we are home for too long we start to miss some of the amazing seafood dishes that we have enjoyed so many times in Portugal. After watching a travel show a couple of weeks ago we decided that it was necessary to replicate one of the dishes that had been prepared on the show. We bought some excellent prawns and clams and made this amazing dish with butter and cilantro. After a seafood meal in Portugal the most common dessert is a “prego”, a grilled beef sandwich with lots of garlic. We couldn’t leave out the dessert! With these blazing hot malagueta peppers it was the perfect meal.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

elegance and quality on the Camino……..

 

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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.

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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