There’s no question that food is an important part of life here in the Algarve. Before tourism, the region was largely devoted to fishing and agriculture, with figs, almonds and oranges all grown in abundance. The trees still dominate the inland Algarve today, but in coastal parts many traditional farming and fishing pursuits have given way to the tourism and travel sector.
Food is nevertheless still a key part of what makes the Algarve so unique and fishing and aquaculture remain important activities. Every town has its fish market, with locals bartering over the price of that morning’s catch. The tourists benefit via the thousands of restaurants that are dotted along the coast, offering everything from sea bream cooked on the charcoal grill to dishes of steaming, buttery clams to octopus for the more adventurous foodie.
The Algarve diet was high up on our list of priorities when we moved here. Eating salty sardines hot from the grill and washed down with a glass of cold vinho verde encapsulates the image of Portugal that we kept in mind during the long, dreary London commutes, when living here was still but a dream. We couldn’t wait to sample all of the local olive oils and to try our hand at cooking feijoadas (bean stews), seafood rice dishes and wine-roasted octopus.
The wonderful, fresh local ingredients that we have access to in the Algarve are truly something to be celebrated. I’m not sure there are many things in life as good as juicing sun-warmed oranges straight from the tree, or gorging on sticky figs that are bursting from their skins after the neighbour brings round a basketful. And it seems that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) agrees.
UNESCO has officially recognised the Algarve diet as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity, after a lengthy application process by Tavira Câmara. It’s an honour for the region and a lovely affirmation of the wonderful gastronomic culture that exists here. Part of the recognition relates to the way in which recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, preserving the food traditions that contribute to the Algarve diet. Anyone who has tried a chocolate mousse made from an old Portuguese family recipe will understand just how deserved the UNESCO recognition is!
V is for Vaca
Vaca is Portuguese for ‘cow,’ which comes in all manner of cuts from the butcher’s counter. One of the most popular ways to serve beef in restaurants is as a fat steak presented with a fried egg on top.
Steak in restaurants can vary considerably in quality, as can steak from the supermarket. The trend of selling aged steak has not caught on in Portugal as it has in the UK, meaning steaks here tend to be less flavourful by comparison. There are still good steaks available (some of the best we have had have been from cattle reared in South America), but finding good steak is a fairly hit and miss process.
Another common use for beef is in hamburgers, which are available in pretty much every high street and shopping centre food court, thanks to Burger Ranch (the Portuguese equivalent of Burger King). Burger Ranch burgers are cooked to order and actually pretty good, so far as fast food goes. The Triplo tends to be the ultimate takeaway Man Vs Food challenge for our guests. With three beef patties, as well as cheese slices and salad, it’s a seriously big burger.
Many food courts also feature a slightly more upmarket burger joint – H3. H3 celebrates the beef patty by serving it in a variety of forms, mostly without bread. From a simple burger with half a lemon slice placed on top, to the complex foie gras, onion confit and port wine reduction offering, the emphasis is on fresh, gourmet-style food, at least so far as is achievable by a takeaway chain!
Wine is an essential item in Portugal. To serve dinner without it would be bordering on unthinkable. The fact that good wine is available from around €1,75 upwards means that wine is an affordable commodity for every family.
Portuguese wine comes in red, white, rosé, green and rosé green forms. Although for many years the quality of Portuguese wine was little known outside of the country’s borders, it is gradually beginning to become increasingly popular overseas.
To summarise Portuguese wine in a couple of paragraphs is impossible, but for our particular recommendations, check out the wine reviews included elsewhere on this blog.
X is for Xerovia
Xerovia (also sometimes spelled cherovia) is Portuguese for ‘parsnips.’ A core part of our winter Sunday roast back in England, parsnips are now an infrequent treat for us. They struggle to grow successfully in the Algarve as they need frost to flourish, so we rely on imports from further north. Supply is unsteady to say the least and, when they do pop up in the supermarkets, parsnips are often past their best.
Christmas dinner in Portugal always involves a dedicated hunt for parsnips. If the local stores aren’t up to the challenge, we head to Iceland, which opened here a couple of years ago and thankfully brought with it a stash of frozen parsnips. For us, Christmas dinner simply wouldn’t be complete without them.
Y is for Yeast
Yeast is an essential ingredient for Portuguese bread and fresh bread is something that the Portuguese do extremely well. It is fair to say that bread has become something of a mild obsession for me since moving here, as this article explains.
If you’re trying your hand at making Portuguese bread, avoid rapid-rise yeast: fresh Portuguese bread needs to rise slowly in order to fully develop its flavour. Avoid adding salt when you first mix the yeast with warm water (you can add the salt later) and make sure that the water is warm rather than hot. Stick with these simple rules and you will be making delicious Portuguese bread in no time.
Z is for Zest
With oranges and lemons growing in abundance in the Algarve, zest is an ingredient that we use frequently when cooking. From savoury dishes to lemon tarts, to super-sweet Portuguese cupcakes with lime and chocolate frosting, zest is an essential ingredient in our kitchen. Three of my favourite zesty recipes since we have lived here include:
The fact that my mother’s orange trees produce more fruit than we can possibly consume every year means that we are constantly finding new ways to use juice and zest in our recipes, so regular readers are sure to see these pop up time and again over the years ahead!
Image credits: Commons Wikimedia
The happy news that we are expecting our first child has meant some significant changes to our eating (and drinking) habits. I knew that alcohol would be off-limits once I was pregnant and that other foods should be avoided, but I was not quite aware of the extent of the limitations that would be imposed upon my diet!
It is now advised that I should avoid certain foods, including gooey cheese (perhaps the thing I miss the most), rare meat, smoked fish, pâté, raw eggs (no more eating the mix while I bake cakes) and certain kinds of fish. This means that the secreto pork from my favourite takeaway, which is covered in about a bucket’s worth of salt and cooked until just pink in the middle, is off the menu. Sushi is also out, though thankfully the recent discovery of vegetarian sushi has given me some comfort. Steak and lamb have become rather pointless, as it pains me to see them served well done.
After a week or two of bemoaning my restricted diet, I realised that this is an opportunity to make some changes and eat more healthily than I ever have before. The process has reawakened me to the wonderful simplicity that is Portuguese food at its best. Last night we ate plump, tender chicken thighs served on a bed of coriander-infused couscous and locally grown vegetables. The night before, I cooked salmon fillets and served them with brown rice and mango salsa. As a snack, I baked cereal bars, packed full of nuts and dried fruit and sweetened with a little rosemary honey bought from a stall at a local market.
Eating healthily in Portugal is a true pleasure. It’s also extremely cost effective. Our weekly food bills have definitely reduced as our emphasis has shifted to a simpler diet. Of course, the reduced number of bottles of wine in our shopping basket has impacted on that too!
With many staple Portuguese dishes consisting of fish or meat, salad and boiled potatoes, or perhaps in our area coming with an á Algarvia sauce of tomatoes and onions, healthy eating is an easy choice here. Many richer and more complex dishes are of course on offer (I enjoyed a fabulous pork and clams cataplana at Brisa do Rio a week or so ago), which make a wonderful treat, but even those are typically made from locally produced, fresh ingredients. Highly processed foods and ready meals have never caught on in a big way in Portugal.
Although I do lament the lack of beautiful, soft, mould-ripened cheese in my diet, I’ve found that healthy eating in Portugal is easy, cheap and enjoyable. The plethora of local markets and fresh produce really does leave us spoiled for choice when it comes to eating healthily. I’m looking forward to spending the next several months eating for two and feasting on the simple and delicious bounty that Portugal has to offer.
Image credit: Robert Herring
Friends who have done their homework are always keen to try a pastel de nata (a kind of flaky pastry/egg custard delight) when they first visit us in Portugal. This celebrated national treat has managed to cross international boundaries and is now widely available in England, thanks to the restaurant chain Nando’s. Thus many friends who come to stay with us want to try an authentic Portuguese pastel de nata.
Interestingly though, when it comes to the sweet treat that our guests tend to buy the most of, the treasured pastel de nata has to step aside. Instead, the lesser known chocolate salame wins the day. Granted, it doesn’t have the most appealing name – it conjures up images of some kind of salami and chocolate combination which really doesn’t sound tempting. But get past the name and you will discover one of Portugal’s sweetest delights.
Chocolate salame is so called because of its appearance when sliced. It’s a roll of thick, chocolatey goodness mixed with eggs, sugar and butter, and shot through with pieces of Maria biscuit (similar to Rich Teas) and sprinkled with sugar on top. The result is a delight for the taste buds – very sweet and perfect for a quick snack.
Sold in individual slices and larger bars, chocolate salame is something that I would encourage everyone visiting Portugal to try. Be warned though – you might end up being unable to stop at just one slice…
Image credit: Wikipedia
Lidl in Portugal enjoys a more mainstream supermarket reputation than it does in the UK. Shopping there provides some excellent bargains and access to a number of products that have won leading magazine taste-testing accolades over recent years.
Lidl’s wine selection provides several staple Portuguese brands, but also some that don’t tend to be found in the country’s other supermarkets. This week, we decided to put some of Lidl’s award-winning wines to the test, selecting three medal winners – two reds and one verde – all of which were purchased at typically low Portuguese prices.
Dona Ermelinda – 2013 Challenge International du Vin Gold Medal Winner
A lovely wine – rich and full of dark fruit flavours. This is definitely a wine for sipping and not glugging and, as it’s quite heavy, more of a winter wine than a summer one. We ate it with a light vegetarian meal, but it would be better suited to hearty dishes such as stew and dumplings.
Nobre Colheita Alvarinho 2012 – 2013 Challenge International du Vin Bronze Medal Winner
This was a lovely fresh and fruity wine. It didn’t have any fizz to speak of, and was a little darker in colour than we usually expect from a green wine, but neither of these facts was to its detriment. Packing a full, concentrated flavour, we found this wine to be very drinkable and it stood up well to the big pasta meal that we served it with.
Almocreve 2010 – 2012 Mundus Vini Gold Medal Winner
The Almocreve was by far the lighter of the two reds that we purchased. It tasted like a glass full of tipsy red berries and was much more of a summer wine than the other two. The Almocreve was our clear favourite of all three wines.
Nestled in a cul-de-sac off the busy EN125 road near Castro Marim in the eastern Algarve, it would be easy to dismiss O Infante the moment you have driven past it, but to do so would be a sad mistake.
We first popped into O Infante on the way home from the beach and immediately felt a little underdressed in the smart surroundings. The staff didn’t seem to mind at all though and promptly sat us down with the extensive menu. The service throughout that meal was excellent and has remained so on the other occasions that we have visited.
We’ve tried numerous different dishes at O Infante. The lamb chops is my personal favourite – a generous portion of chops along with rice, vegetables and potatoes. As with all main courses it is a substantial dish – O Infante serves up some seriously big portions.
The ‘three steaks of the chef’ is another dish that tends to be popular when we take guests to O Infante. It does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s three steaks, served side by side on the plate, each with a different sauce. The enormous pile of meat is accompanied by vegetables, rice, chips and a stack of crispy onion wispy bits. We’ve eaten this particular dish several times now and the quality of the steaks can be variable, which is one of very few criticisms we’ve been able to come up with about this restaurant.
Where O Infante really comes into its own is with the two person and special dishes. The cataplana is, quite simply, the best I’ve tasted. It is packed with giant prawns, crayfish and clams, all in a beautifully rich yet light sauce. To add to its brilliance, it also includes an entire lobster.
However, even the cataplana pales in comparison to the shellfish feast that is on the specials menu. It’s not cheap (€90 for two people) but it is definitely worth the money for a special occasion. Served on a huge circular platter that is presented to your table with a flaming bowl in the middle, it includes lobster, several sizes of prawns prepared in a variety of ways, dressed crab, clams, langoustines and so much more.
The dessert menu is almost as large as the main menu and the chocolate mousse comes highly recommended. The range of ice cream and sorbet desserts is impressive and those that we have tried have all been extremely good.
Coffee after the meal is served with a cinnamon stick on the side, which adds a lovely hint of spice when swirled through a bica (espresso).
O Infante, despite costing ever so slightly more than our usual haunts, is one of our favourite places to eat with friends and family. It tends to be a ‘last night’ venue when we want to be sure that our guests have a wonderful last dinner to remember their holiday by. With great food and service to match, it’s a good restaurant for a special occasion and one we will be visiting regularly for years to come.
We also discovered recently that O Infante appears to have a sister restaurant – O Infante Panorâmico – nearby at Praia Verde. With stunning views out over the beach and the sea, O Infante Panorâmico is also a great place to dine, though for some reason we couldn’t put our finger on it didn’t quite live up to the original O Infante’s impressive standard.
Image credits: Rob Herring
S is for Salsichas
Salsichas (sausages) form an important part of the Portuguese diet. Varieties abound, from smoked sausages such as chouriço, which can be eaten sliced on their own or used to add flavour to any number of stews and one-pot rice dishes, to fat Brazilian sausages, which are perhaps the closest to English-style sausages.
My particular favourites are the long, thin reddish sausages, which are perfect for a barbecue (although my husband does bemoan the fact that the red colour means it’s hard to tell when they are cooked through!).
Also popular are hot dog sausages, which come in a wide range of tins and jars in every supermarket. Hot dogs are widely available on the menus of cafés and other eateries where burgers are served. Cheap and simple, they are usually topped with delicious crispy onion bits and a good dollop of ketchup and/or mayonnaise. From fast food restaurants to nightclubs, hot dogs are available pretty much anywhere you look!
Be careful when buying Portuguese sausages to establish whether they are raw or pre-cooked. It can sometimes be hard to tell, as a friend who stayed with us found out to her detriment. Look out also for restaurants serving the speciality dish of chouriço assado – chouriço covered with aguadente and set alight. Served in its own special dish, this is as worth ordering for the spectacle as for the flavour.
T is for Turkey
Turkey (peru in Portuguese) is eaten far more regularly in Portugal than in England. Every butcher’s counter has a range of cuts available, with the most popular seeming to be thinly sliced breast sections. It’s a cheap and tasty meat, which is used in a range of dishes.
One of the most common uses of turkey is to make peru com cogumelos – thin breast steaks served with mushrooms in a delicious, creamy, mushroom-packed sauce. It’s perfect served with rice and is a regular purchase from our local takeaway on those evenings when we haven’t the energy or inclination to cook.
U is for Upside Down Cake
This is definitely cheating slightly, but I racked my brain to come up with a food that began with ‘u’ in either Portuguese or English and this was all I could come up with!
When we first moved to Portugal, we brought with us a fabulous recipe book – The Food of Spain and Portugal by Elisabeth Luard. It contains a recipe for an almond and orange upside down cake, which was one of the first recipes I attempted to bake when we arrived. For the purposes of this blog post I am studiously ignoring the fact that the recipe is in the Spanish section of the book!
The result was a slightly sticky, richly flavoured almond sponge with delicate slices of orange on top. The slices are eaten skin-on, providing a delightfully sweet flavour with just a hint of bitterness from the rind. The recipe book has been used regularly since this early success and is one that I would heartily recommend to anyone looking to experiment with the flavours of both Portuguese and Spanish cuisine.
If you can think of any Portuguese foods that begin with the letter ‘u’ do let me know by leaving a comment in the box!
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
There are times when every expat craves a food from their homeland that is either difficult or impossible to obtain in their new country. When I first moved to Portugal there were two English foods that I particularly missed: chicken kievs and fish and chips.
I satisfied the first craving by making my own chicken kievs until Iceland came along and opened in the Algarve, saving me the trouble. The fish and chip craving was somewhat harder to address, until we discovered the wonderful institution that is Fagins.
Tucked away on a back street near Praia da Rocha in Portimão, Fagins is not the easiest place to find. Our first visit there involved a fair amount of wandering around in circles, but the food was definitely worth the wait.
Fagins does exactly what it says on the tin. This is a proper, English fish and chip shop that provides some of the best fish and chips that I’ve had, either in England or beyond.
The cod comes in generous portions and is perfectly cooked – crispy batter giving way to plenty of flaky white fish. The chips are spot on and perfect with oodles of salt and vinegar, just as proper chip shop chips should be! We’ve also tried the battered sausage and the curry sauce, both of which are delicious.
While Fagins doesn’t have seating of its own, a number of nearby bars are happy to let you eat your fish and chips in them, provided you purchase drinks to go with them.
With friendly, efficient service and great food, Fagins is good enough that we are more than happy to spend over an hour driving there when the fish and chips craving strikes. It is currently up for sale, as the current owners are planning to retire, so we can only hope that whoever takes it on next manages to maintain the great reputation that the team has managed to build up – a reputation so good that Fagins was recently awarded a much-deserved Trip Advisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence.
No Solo Água, at the Fortaleza end of Praia da Rocha in Portimão, is one of our favourite haunts. Tucked away from the crowds and with its own private bit of beach and swimming pool, this beach club provides a wonderful place to sunbathe, swim, eat and drink. It’s not a cheap option, but we don’t mind paying the extra to escape the masses, lounge on the giant, cushion-covered beds and enjoy a little corner of peace in the western Algarve during the super-crowded summer months.
Though we go to No Solo Água most frequently for cocktails with friends, we’ve also sampled the food there on several occasions, from snacks to full meals. Everything we have tried so far has been really tasty and clearly made with care.
The Portuguese prawn curry is a particular highlight – creamy and delightfully seasoned – while if I’m just after a quick snack the herb-covered garlic bread with cheese is the perfect thing to nibble on. The squid rings are very good too, cooked until soft but not chewy and with a light batter that doesn’t become cloying the more you eat.
The real star of No Solo Água’s menu, though, is the sushi. So far we’ve only tried one dish from the hot sushi section so far, but already I can’t wait to go back for more. I’ve never eaten hot sushi before and wasn’t sure quite what to expect. What arrived at our table looked similar to regular sushi, other than a delicate, floaty-light coating of batter around its outer edge.
I tried it with some trepidation and was delighted at how good it was. At over €10 for 10 pieces, when our favourite sushi restaurant – Nagoya – provides 20 pieces of sushi and 4 of sashimi for €6.90, No Solo Água’s offering needed to be pretty special, and it was. I can see me eating nothing but sushi for our next several visits there!
Overall No Solo Água is a great place to spend time. The food is great, the cocktails are nice and the scenery is just lovely. There’s no denying that this is an expensive place to spend time, but in my view it’s definitely worth paying the extra.
P is for porco
Pork (porco) is everywhere in Portuguese food and, this being a country where very little is wasted, pretty much every part of the pig can be found in one dish or another. Cheap and full of flavour, pork is often eaten pink, which can seem strange to those brought up in countries where this is still seen as dangerous (and not without good reason).
Porco preto ibérico (known in English as ‘black pork’) is sourced from a breed of grey and black pigs native to Portugal’s Alentejo region, which range freely while stuffing themselves full of acorns, resulting in incredible-tasting meat. My favourite cut of porco preto is secreto – a long, fat-marbled strip that is perfect when cooked over a hot grill with loads of salt on it. Sadly it’s incredibly fattening, so has to remain something of a rare treat rather than an everyday meal!
Q is for queijo
Queijo is Portuguese for cheese and is another foodstuff that is frequently eaten in Portugal. Most restaurants serve cheese as part of the couvert (a selection of mini pre-starters) before a meal. It’s also used to make cakes similar to sponge cakes, which are deliciously moist and sticky, as well as being used in savoury dishes.
Like pork, cheese here comes in many forms, a popular one of which is queijo fresco (fresh cheese). A white, wobbly kind of cheese, this can taste a little bland on its own, but when livened up with salt, pepper and a drop of olive oil, the flavour comes surprisingly alive. Requeijão, which is a type of curd cheese similar to ricotta, is also popular and is delicious when eaten with marmalada (jelly-like quince preserve).
Goat’s cheese is eaten frequently in Portugal, both in fresh and pasteurised forms, and is amazing when warmed through and eaten with fruit. Cheese made from a mixture of cow, goat and sheep’s milk are also common.
There are so many kinds of cheese in Portugal that it would probably take me a week to describe them all. Suffice it to say that the range available is fabulous and no visit to Portugal should be complete without trying as many varieties as you can manage.
R is for rabbit
Rabbit is eaten more frequently in Portugal than in England, having fallen out of favour in the latter in recent decades. Rabbits are usually bought whole in the supermarket and then used in stews packed with vegetables and rice. Though they clearly provide less meat than many other animals, rabbits have such richly flavoured meat that the reduced quantity of it is far from being an issue.
I have eaten rabbit a few times in restaurants, but I have yet to take a raw one home for my stew-pot. Perhaps that should be my next Portuguese cooking challenge…
Image credits: Wikimedia commons, Flickr