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Living in Portugal – Adapting to Portuguese Food

Meravista Property

(Lou) While preparing dinner last night, I casually picked a few grass stems out of my bunch of coriander before using it. I dropped them into the bin, then paused, reflecting on how incensed I would have been in England to find my herbs thus contaminated. Here, I’ve got used to just picking out the bits that aren’t supposed to be there.

Herbs - often a surprise

Herbs – often a surprise

I began pondering other food matters that now seem completely normal – along with a few that I think I will never adapt to.

Four things that now seem completely normal

1. Seeing whole rabbits, pigs’ ears and tongues and rows of tiny quails as standard items on the butcher’s counter – I used to find the pigs’ tongues in particular pretty grim, but now I scan the entire contents of the butcher’s counter without giving them a second thought.

2. Getting change from a €5 note when buying a round of beers for myself and three friends – this is a pleasure that I quickly adapted to!

3. Sucking the heads of prawns in order to enjoy the sauce they come in at its best – something I never would have contemplated doing when living in England.

4. Cakes that include custard – instead of fresh cream cakes and cakes with jam, Portuguese cakes tend to contain a gooey, delicious yellow custard. I’ve grown so used to them that when my dad asked recently if there were any jam cakes in the selection at a local café, all I could do was look blank. Clearly the joys of jam tarts and jam doughnuts, despite these being my cakes of choice back in England, had been long forgotten.

Prawns - suck the heads for full flavour

Prawns – suck the heads for full flavour

Four things that will never seem normal

1. Buying supermarket chicken in hugely inflated packaging – having been raised in a country with food safety guidance that says to avoid any meat in inflated packaging as it’s starting to go bad, being faced with a choice of 15 kinds of pre-packed chicken in the supermarket, all of it in packets that look about to explode, will never seem right.

2. Being served a main course in a restaurant without a single vegetable in sight – I’ve been particularly conscious of this over recent months, thanks to my quest to eat extra fruit and veg while pregnant. It doesn’t happen in all restaurants, but there are still many traditional Portuguese eateries where vegetables are restricted to the soup starter.

3. Eating sardine bones – despite my best efforts, eating sardines is still something of a trial for me, despite their incredible flavour. I sit meticulously picking out even the tiniest, hair-like bones while my husband, who has adapted far better than me, races through a plateful in the time it takes me to eat one.

4. Paying a small fortune for asparagus from Peru, in the supermarket here in the Algarve, while central Portugal is awash with roadside sellers of beautifully fresh, locally grown asparagus, which for some reason never seems to make it to the Algarve.

What else do you find strange (or not) about adapting to living in Portugal, so far as the cuisine is concerned? Leave a comment and let us know :-)

Bargain wine - always welcome!

Bargain wine – always welcome!

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The BEST Barbecue Chicken?

Back in the UK, our barbecues were distinctly British. At every one we’d feel the need to cook a bit of everything, and quantity over quality often ruled the day. This is understandable in a country where the climate makes the “BBQ season” rather short – you really feel you have to make the best of it.

Here in Portugal, cooking outside is a far more frequent occurrence, and although we still sometimes fall into the trap of cooking far too much, it always seems that we enjoy the “less is more” barbecues the most of all.

As such, we now frequently have barbecues with just one meat or fish centrepiece, and a couple of side dishes. Favourites include a butterflied leg of lamb or large, juicy stuffed fish, but the thing we return to again and again is spatchcock piri-piri chicken.

Chicken on the BBQ

Chicken on the BBQ

The recipe that follows is pretty much my own creation, and I’m rather proud of it. It’s one of those fun recipes that you can play around with a bit each time. It’s also really enjoyable and easy to cook, provided you are comfortable with your grill (which I will come to in a moment).

In terms of sides, it goes with anything. Last night, we had a simple green salad and some new potatoes with crème fraiche and chives, but it’s just as good with wedges, chargrilled veg, cous cous, rice, or any combination thereof.

As mentioned above, you need to be comfortable with your grill to make this chicken successfully. That’s because you are cooking the chicken from raw, and it’s easy to ruin it (or poison everyone) if you can’t control the heat. Even though I’ve cooked this dozens of times, I’d be very reluctant to do so on a coal barbecue. I use a gas Weber, which I adore, as it’s almost as controllable as a hob ring in terms of heat (see the end of the post for details). I’m sure a charcoal grill “ninja” could nail this with a mixture of direct and indirect heat, but my skills aren’t quite there yet.

Our much treasured gas BBQ

Our much treasured gas BBQ

INGREDIENTS

This is all you need for this recipe, which I think makes the most succulent barbecue chicken you could wish for:

- 1 x Fresh chicken, spatchcocked. (We are lucky enough to have these pre-prepared in Portugal, but you could ask your butcher or do it yourself – you’ll find plenty of instructional videos on YouTube).

- 1 x 330ml bottle of beer – anything will do, from lager to ale (not stout). I tend to go for a darker beer these days.

- 50mls olive oil.

- Hot sauce – note that I don’t mention a quantity or type. This is very flexible, and I’ve used everything from Portuguese piri piri to Mexican jalapeno sauce. I use loads, and you shouldn’t be scared to do so, even if you don’t like heat, as most of the spice burns away anyway. You can always serve the chicken with extra hot sauce if need be.

- Sea salt and ground pepper.

- Herbs and spices (optional).

Spatchcock chicken

Spatchcock chicken

METHOD

1. Heat the BBQ to hot. Meanwhile, in a jug, mix the beer with the olive oil, hot sauce and seasoning. Sometimes I add herbs and spices too at this point, and I’ve used everything from mixed herbs to cayenne, smoked paprika and garlic powder—it’s all optional, but fun to play around with.

2. Brush some of the marinade over the chicken and toss it on the BBQ. Brush the other side, and turn it over after a couple of minutes. The idea is to sear the chicken on both sides while the grill is hot.

3. Reduce the heat to medium/low, and continue to turn the chicken every 5 mins or so. Brush loads of the marinade over each side of the chicken between turns. The idea is to “feed” as much of the beer baste into the meat as you can during cooking. I always try to use every bit, but am usually left with a little by the time the chicken is cooked.

4. Usually the chicken will take 45 mins to one hour to cook. Thanks to the continual basting, it will remain succulent and juicy. I like to use a meat thermometer to check it’s cooked through.

The end result - beautifully moist and tasty chicken

The end result – beautifully moist and tasty chicken

5. Cover the chicken in foil for ten minutes, and then serve with your chosen side dishes and a squeeze of lemon. Be ready to fight over the crispy, spicy skin.

This BBQ chicken is so simple, but wonderfully effective. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. One chicken usually feeds two with plenty of leftovers. If you have guests, it’s probably best to do a couple if the chicken is to be the centrepiece of your barbecue.

You will find the grill we use via the link below. It is no small investment, but it’s lasted for years of heavy use and I would recommend it highly if you want to cook reliably outside.

Weber Q220 Barbecue – Portable Barbecue With Stand – Gas – Black Line

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Restaurant Review – O Monteiro, Cabanas

Just the other day, I was saying to my wife how easily we find ourselves stuck in the same comfortable routines. Even though we’ve now been living in the Tavira area for nearly five years, there are still plenty of bars and restaurants we’ve never set foot in.

Instead, we tend to continually return to our tried and tested favourites – perhaps not ideal when running a food blog! In our defence, we do a lot of our eating out when we have visitors to stay, and to ensure they have as good a holiday as possible we go back to places we know are sure to please them.

Anyway, on Monday evening, we tried somewhere new – and somewhere that’s been staring us in the face for years – O Monteiro, right on the seafront in Cabanas.

A couple of people had recommended it to us before, including the friends we were sitting with outside the neighbouring Beach Cafe Sportsbar that night. It was the first properly warm evening of the year and we were all getting to the point where we had to decide what to go home and cook. Tempted by the mild weather, we decided to forget about the hassle of the supermarket and all head to O Monteiro instead.

Pork and Clams from O Monterio

Pork and Clams from O Monterio

After a couvert of juicy green olives, bread and pate, we went straight for our friends’ recommended dish of pork and clams. We eat pork and clams a lot, but this was really rather different. The pork and clams were surrounded by an oval of juicy thick tomato slices and mixed with cubed potatoes and the very clever addition of finely chopped pickled vegetables that cut beautifully through the richness of the dish. This was pork and clams taken to another level!

I remain a huge fan of pork and clams cooked the more simple way too, and can imagine times when I will fancy one recipe over the other. However, the different presentation and slight enhancements to the basic recipe that we enjoyed at O Monteiro really do make it worth the trip.

Two of the other people with us also had pork and clams. Our other two companions enjoyed a bitoque (steak with egg) and lombinho (pork tenderloin) with no complaints at all! We were all (unfortunately) rather too full to comment much about dessert, but my wife reports that her arroz doce was “creamy, cinammony and lemony,” which I think is the general idea…

Pork and clams usually looks more like this

Pork and clams usually looks more like this

We really enjoyed our meal at O Monteiro – and the bill was a great surprise at just €15 per head including a decent tip (superb considering that we didn’t hold back on the wine and sangria!) We’ll definitely be back – and we’ll also take note of the valuable lesson that we really should try more of the places on our doorstep instead of sticking to what we know.

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Restaurant Review – Hamburgueria Casavostra

Since moving to Portugal, we have been searching rather fruitlessly for the ultimate gourmet burger, but it seems that we may have found it at last, thanks to Hamburgueria Casavostra in Almancil.

Hamburgeuria Casavostra - the Hamburgo

Hamburgeuria Casavostra – the Hamburgo

In London, Gourmet Burger Kitchen was our burger joint of choice, while in New York it has to be Shake Shack. Nothing in Portugal had even come close to these dizzying heights of burger greatness until we tried out Hamburgueria Casavostra last weekend. Tempted by the interesting menu, which featured some unusual combinations (the burger with blood sausage, green apple, fried onion and mustard certainly stood out) we headed to Almancil to see what the place was all about.

Hamburgeuria Casavostra - menu

Hamburgeuria Casavostra – menu

First impressions were good – the staff were friendly and attentive and seated us in a sunny spot in the quiet garden area. Drinks arrived promptly and they were happy to ensure that my burger was well done while my husband’s was medium. He opted to try out the Hamburgo – a classic burger with cheddar, bacon, pickle and tartar sauce – while I sent for the New Yorker, which was essentially the same but with the pickle exchanged for a fried egg.

Fried eggs on burgers seem to be very common in Portugal. It’s not something that has ever appealed to me before, but clearly my pregnancy hormones were in charge at the point I ordered my food!

Hamburgeuria Casavostra - burger with egg

Hamburgeuria Casavostra – burger with egg

Our burgers were served accompanied by a generous bowl of chips with a small scattering of salad to the side. After a couple of bites, we knew that we would be making the drive to Hamburgueria Casavostra a lot. While the presentation was good, the burgers were simply fantastic. The patties were juicy and full of flavour and clearly careful thought had been put into the overall balance of flavours on each plate. Everything was cooked perfectly.

Hamburgeuria Casavostra - the New Yorker

Hamburgeuria Casavostra – the New Yorker

Sadly the portions were so large that we couldn’t possibly squeeze in dessert, nor did we have room to try one of the many tempting-sounding cocktails on the menu, but we will definitely be checking out both on a future visit.

At €25 for two burgers, chips and drinks, Hamburgueria Casavostra certainly isn’t the cheapest place to stop for lunch by Portuguese standards, but we felt it was well worth the money. These were by far the best burgers that we have eaten since moving to Portugal four years ago. It seems that our quest for the ultimate Portuguese gourmet burger may finally be over!


Portugal in Spring – the First Barbecue of the Year

During the long months of planning before our move to Portugal, one of the things we imagined most often was a simple barbecue of chicken or fish sizzling away on our balcony while we enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening sun.

First barbecue of the year - it must be spring in Portugal

First barbecue of the year – it must be spring in Portugal

It’s fair to say that my husband has always been somewhat barbecue obsessed, which means he fits in perfectly in our new country. The smell of sardines cooking on outdoor grills is one that pervades every Portuguese village during the summer months. For those with no outdoor space, a tiny charcoal barbecue on the street by their front doorstep suffices, closely guarded to scare off any semi-stray cats who fancy trying their luck.

Shortly after we arrived here, we purchased a Weber gas barbecue. Though now nearly four years old, it remains one of my husband’s favourite and most used possessions. We also own a cheap coal barbecue, but since the Weber arrived the cheap version has been relegated to slowly and sadly rusting in the corner.

Fresh, local ingredients - apple slaw

Fresh, local ingredients – apple slaw

The first barbecue of the year is, for me, a sign that spring is truly underway in Portugal. As the evenings begin to draw out, I potter around the kitchen making side dishes (on this occasion apple coleslaw), while the sound of chicken sizzling away outside brings a smile to my face. Soon, the scent of the tomato/garlic/dark beer glaze (the husband’s own recipe) fills the apartment and I once again get to marvel at the fact that this is now our life.

 

The husband's secret recipe glaze

The husband’s secret recipe glaze

We’ll have plenty more barbecues over the course of this year, as we do every year here, feasting on grilled meat and fish with accompanying sides made from fresh, local produce. For me, though, the first barbecue after the Weber comes out of its winter hibernation is always one of the most precious.

The end result - beautifully moist and tasty chicken

The end result – beautifully moist and tasty chicken

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Red Wine Review – Porta da Ravessa Reserva

We have enjoyed many a bottle of Porta da Ravessa since moving to Portugal. It is reliably tasty and costs less than €2,50. In the summer months, Porta da Ravessa rosé is something that we keep a stock of in the fridge, as it is the perfect accompaniment to those spontaneous barbecues that pop up on warm summer evenings.

Portuguese red wine - Porta da Ravessa Reserva

Portuguese red wine – Porta da Ravessa Reserva

Given our fondness for Porta da Ravessa, it is surprising that it has taken us this long to try the Reserva from the same range. At just €3,99 it is still a bargain, so this weekend we trialled it with Sunday dinner.

The results were very positive. A rich, deep and intensely fruity wine, it stood up well to our spiced roast chicken dinner, although being six months pregnant I could only enjoy a sip or two! Full of red fruit flavours and with just the subtlest hint of vanilla, this is a lovely wine for the price and one that we will definitely be drinking again.

For a special occasion, I might be tempted to splash out the extra €2 or so for a bottle of Quinta da Alorna Reserva 2009 instead, but the Porta da Ravessa Reserva is one that is certainly good enough that we will be having it attain with Sunday dinner in the near future.

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Smoking Food in Portugal

I love my kitchen gadgets, and it’s something of a running joke with various family members that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find things I don’t have already.

At Christmas, my mother hit the jackpot, with a new gadget that’s found itself a place on my list of “best gifts ever.” Let me introduce to you the PolyScience Smoking Gun Food Smoker!

The Smoking Gun Food Smoker

The Smoking Gun Food Smoker

We have a bit of a fondness for smoked food, and our relatives in the Portuguese countryside have built various food smokers with good levels of success. However, I’m sure none of them would mind me saying that my new toy beats them all!

The food smoker arrived in Portugal last week. Unfortunately we weren’t able to bring it back from the UK straight after Christmas as we were already at our luggage limit, and I didn’t fancy cramming something gun-shaped into my hand luggage!

We decided to take the Smoking Gun over to our family’s house at the weekend, so that we could all have a play with it together.

The main plan was to do chicken wings and ribs, but we weren’t going to stop there. While the meat was cooking we smoked some olive oil, which was seriously delicious. We were introduced to smoked olive oil in Barcelona last year, and if it’s not something you’ve tried, please trust me when I say it’s something you need in your life.

Smoking olive oil in Portugal

Smoking olive oil in Portugal

We then smoked a couple of varieties of cheese, with great success, and my father-in-law blasted some smoke into some bourbon. As a non-whisky drinker, it still wasn’t to my taste, but he seemed delighted with the results.

The “Smoking Gun” is delighfully easy to use. You burn a tiny bit of woodchip in the smoking chamber, switch it on, and blast some smoke into a lidded container using a length of pipe. Generally the food only needs about 30 seconds sitting with the smoke to take on some serious smoke flavour. The best thing of all is that you can add dry herbs for extra flavour, and you really can taste the difference.

The Smoking Gun in Action

The Smoking Gun in Action

You also only need a tiny pinch of woodchips to smoke some food. The tiny pots provided will last us ages, but we are keen to try all the other flavours in the range.

After our small experiments, we moved onto the main event: smoked ribs with BBQ sauce and hickory smoke, and chicken wings with applewood smoke and smokey herbs. It was all just as good as it sounds!

A feast of smoked meat

A feast of smoked meat

I get through a lot of kitchen gadgets. Some get used once and never again, but I’m pleased to say the Smoking Gun is something I think we will use a lot. It’s so simple to use that adding a smokey flavour takes no more effort than grating a little pile of parmesan, and is therefore something we can do on a whim. I hope our future guests like smoked food, as I think we’re going to be serving a lot of it this year!

CYNICS PLEASE NOTE: The Smoking Gun was a genuine Christmas present, and Food and Wine Portugal wasn’t paid a single penny for this positive review!

You can find the smoking gun on Amazon UK, just use the link below:

Polyscience® – The Smoking Gun Promo Pack (Includes 5 x 500ml pots of wood chips)

Readers in the USA will find the product here, at a bargain price compared to the cost for us poor folk in Europe!

PolyScience The Smoking Gun Handheld Food Smoker

 

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Restaurant Review – Pousada Palacio De Estoi

In a lovely break from the frugality of January, a relative treated us to the delights of Portuguese fine dining at the restaurant of the Pousada Palacio de Estoi a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time we had visited Estoi Palace and we were delighted to meander through several richly decorated rooms on the way to the restaurant. From the glimpses of grandeur that we were treated to, this is definitely a building that I would like to return to for a fuller exploration at some point.

Portuguese restaurants - the amuse bouche

Portuguese restaurants – the amuse bouche

On the night we dined at the palace restaurant, there was just one other occupied table, which provided a delightfully exclusive feel to the evening’s proceedings. The menu was varied and included a good range of options for the vegetarian in our party, which is not always a given in Portuguese restaurants. The wine list also presented a good selection.

Before our starters arrived, we were treated to a delicate, bean-based amuse bouche, as well as a selection of freshly baked rolls and garlic-infused olive oil.

Portuguese restaurants - celebrating seafood

Portuguese restaurants – celebrating seafood

Several of us opted for the seafood crepe to start, which was beautifully presented and contained a generous helping of mixed crab, prawns and scallops. Others in our party chose the goat’s cheese gratin, which was delicious and probably the highlight of the starters that we sampled. The clams were also very good, though perhaps a little on the salty side for some tastes.

Portuguese restaurants - the lamb

Portuguese restaurants – the lamb

We tried out a variety of main courses, including the pasta with wild mushroom sauce (simple but very tasty) and the wild boar stew (a hearty dish packed with rich flavours). While the lamb leg was perhaps a little less tender than would have been ideal, the duck supreme with red fruits sauce was delicious and perfectly cooked.

Portuguese restaurants - wonderful duck

Portuguese restaurants – wonderful duck

Portions sizes were substantial, meaning that only I (with the excuse of eating for two) ordered a dessert. I’m extremely glad that I did. The fig parfait, which came accompanied by wild fruits sorbet in a caramelised sugar basket, was one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted – and I’ve eaten an awful lot of puddings over the years!

Portuguese restaurants - the perfect fig parfait

Portuguese restaurants – the perfect fig parfait

Another highlight deserving of a mention was the Irish coffee. Though this seemed to cause some confusion initially (the waitress disappeared to check with the chef that it was ok for us to order it), the drink that eventually appeared was so good that it was passed around the table for everyone to try. Even those who weren’t partial to whisky were impressed.

Overall, this was a wonderful meal and somewhere that I would be more than happy to eat again. At around €50 per person, it isn’t one of the area’s cheaper dining options, but it really is excellent value for money considering the standard of the food and the service.

Portuguese restaurants - the incredible Irish coffee

Portuguese restaurants – the incredible Irish coffee

 

 

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Cheap Portuguese Lunches

Traditionally in our household, we follow the extravagance of the Christmas and New Year period with ‘frugal January.’ This is our annual tradition of living on a tight budget throughout the month of January in order to recover from both the expense of Christmas and the richness of the food consumed throughout the festive season.

Vegetable soup - healthy and cheap

Vegetable soup – healthy and cheap

This year, with a baby on the way, frugal January is particularly important to us. Every penny saved on food shopping (as well as other areas) is another penny that goes towards the expense of parenthood.

Interestingly, we’ve found over the years that living frugally in January sees us eating more fresh food than normal and savouring the tastes of local produce. Whereas other months might see us throw a frozen pizza in the oven for lunch for the sake of convenience while we work, in January the emphasis is on low-cost healthy eating, packed full of fresh ingredients.

So far this month, our cheap Portuguese lunches have included all sorts of delights. Here we pick five of the best to share with you.

Octopus salad - quick and easy to make

Octopus salad – quick and easy to make

Vegetable soup – most supermarkets in Portugal sell vegetable soup packs, consisting of a selection of chopped up vegetables. The one we purchased contained half a cabbage, carrot, leek and a few other goodies. While the resulting soup can be a little bland, we found that adding heaps of chilli flakes gave it a nice kick. As well as eating it on the day it was made, we produced enough to freeze two more lunches worth, making this a true bargain lunch.

Tosta mistas – as Christmas has seen a toasted sandwich maker added to our kitchen appliances, we enjoyed a cheap lunch of tosta mistas (toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, which are available in pretty much every café in Portugal).

Octopus salad – with a tin of octopus in garlic oil and a jar of mixed pickled vegetables already in the store cupboard, all we needed to buy to make this delicious lunch was some fresh coriander and a couple of bread rolls to warm through and eat with it. Octopus salad takes just a few minutes to prepare, as no cooking is required – only chopping. Perfection.

Portuguese carrots - one of our favourites

Portuguese carrots – one of our favourites

Sardine paste, Portuguese carrots and fresh bread – although properly defined as couvert (the Portuguese pre-starters served at the beginning of a meal), this combination often serves us as one of our favourite cheap and delicious Portuguese lunches. The Portuguese carrots are quick to make and can be prepared the day before.

Hummus – although not precisely a Portuguese food, chick peas are so ridiculously cheap here that we often enjoy homemade hummus for lunch. The chick peas are simply blended with garlic, oil, lemon juice, seasoning and (as tahini can be hard to get hold of) some toasted sesame seeds. We serve it with whatever crunchy vegetables we happen to have in the fridge that can be dipped into it, along with some whole wheat crackers.  Tasty and packed full of goodness.

What are your favourite cheap Portuguese lunches? Let us know via the comments box.

Image credit: Flickr

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Portuguese Christmas Treats

This year will be our fifth Christmas since moving to Portugal. One of the things we worried about before we moved here was that Christmas would not seem like Christmas without traditional English treats like mince pies and gingerbread men.

Homemade gingerbread - a Christmas essential

Homemade gingerbread – a Christmas essential

It turns out we needn’t have worried. After five years we are still stubbornly clinging to the English elements of our Christmas feasting. Admittedly we do things a little differently now – this year I had to make my own golden syrup before I could bake any gingerbread, having been unable to source any in the local shops. We’ve adapted the Christmas traditions that we grew up with to suit our Portuguese circumstances, including the culinary aspects of those traditions.

But we haven’t just shoe-horned our English traditions into our new country. Instead, we have begun to add Portuguese Christmas treats to our repertoire. Though I’m not confident enough to have a go at baking one just yet, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bolo rei making an appearance. This morning we had it for breakfast with hot chocolate – the perfect way to start a pre-Christmas working week.

Golden syrup can be hard to find but is easy to make

Golden syrup can be hard to find but is easy to make

It’s strange to think that for our children, bolo rei – a cake packed with dried and crystalized fruit and shaped like a crown – will be an integral part of their Christmas, when we hadn’t even heard of it a few years ago.

Likewise, our coffee table would be incomplete at this time of year without a box of the incredibly cheap and deliciously tasty chocolate truffles that the supermarkets all stock. With chocolate in Portugal usually being quite pricey, we couldn’t believe it the first time we tried these truffles. At under €2 per box and from a variety of brands, they will definitely be a long-term Christmas fixture for us.

Bolo rei - a new Christmas essential

Bolo rei – a new Christmas essential

It will be fascinating over the years ahead to see how much our festive traditions continue to change. While in countless ways we have been eager to adapt to the Portuguese way of doing things, Christmas is the one real exception, yet it seems that we have already begun to blend the two countries’ traditions. I wonder whether, by the time our children are grown up, our Christmas will have become fully Portuguese, or whether we will still retain some of those English elements.

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