Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fine Eating in Portugal

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I almost called this post “Snails, Sardines and Gooseneck Barnacles” but thought that might not sound as appetizing. Although we did eat those things during our nearly two weeks in Lisbon (pronounced “lish-boa” in Portuguese – go on, say it! It’s a fun accent) the capital and largest city, then Porto, the second largest city three hours up the coast, along with a few day trips to near by towns. We also took a trip to Greece in the middle to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends. You can read all about them in this post, and you can get a delightful recipe for moussaka.

Here’s a shot of one of the beautiful plaza’s in Lisbon.

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Eating is such a great way to experience a new culture, and we took full advantage of the country’s offerings.

During our first dinner, we walked into a tiny neighborhood place near our hostel outside the hustle of the tourist zone. I noticed plates of small tan and brown bean-shaped morsels on most everyone’s tables, and requested a plate of the same before we even got our menus. They were snails! Tiny brown snails, still in their shells, sautéed or boiled and bathed in olive oil and garlic. I honestly enjoyed their flavor but couldn’t do more than about half the plate.

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The rest of the meal was soft cheese and fresh bread, boiled potatoes and olive-oil poached shark.

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The next evening we found a great little cafe with a view of Lisbon.

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The heart of old  Lisbon is located on a river very near the Atlantic Coast, so seafood is huge here. Grilled sardines are another local specialty so I tried those our second night. They were served with salad, and I ordered a chilled gazpacho (chunky tomato bread soup) with it. The sardines have a pretty strong flavor but the char from the grill was pleasant paired with it. Grilled sardines are a traditional dish in Portugal – you could find them on almost every menu. 

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The next day, after wandering around a 1,000-year-old castle (no big deal), we spent the afternoon at a cafe, sipping Sagres beer (a refreshing lager brewed in Lisbon), and eating bread with sun dried tomato spread and olives. So civilized.

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The Portuguese like pork. A lot. One of our favorite pork experiences was in sandwich form at this pop-up place in the middle of a large, main plaza in Lisbon. Dry-cured pork, similar to Spanish “jamon serrano” or Italian prosciuotto, was layered on super fresh bread smeared with queijo amarelo, a super soft, almost runny cheese, sort of similar to brie. Yum.

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We are big vegetable eaters in regular life and found greens and other healthful foods a bit difficult to come by in the restaurants. A soup of the day was offered at most places which was usually a vegetable broth soup, so we often ordered that to get a shot of veggies in.

“Caldo Verde” is a typical soup and literally means green broth. It’s made with chicken broth, potatoes and cabbage and or kale. That was one of our faves. The one below came with a poached egg.

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Cherries were everywhere in Portugal! Often cherries were an option as dessert at the end of a meal. This restaurant served them over ice. A perfectly refreshing end to a heavy meal.

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I love finding restaurants with good food AND good atmosphere. We had several meals on the windy, stair-studded steps of Lisbon, like this one.

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We took planes, trains and automobiles to get between Portugal and Greece. On one leg of a flight we were served a surprise meal, smoked salmon sandwich, with a fruit smoothie! Also, contact solution came in the mix. Kind of a strange addition, but I’m not complaining.

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And then we got to Greece for the wedding. And what a wedding it was! We were so so SO happy to celebrate with Chris and Maria. This is them during the Jewish part of the ceremony (the first part was in a beautiful Greek Orthodox church in the village) under the chuppah that some friends and I built.

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Our time in Greece was spent doing wedding prep and hanging out with dear friends, but we did manage to sneak down to Amoudi Bay to have some fresh-grilled calamari. The calamari is only seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice so you can really taste the sea and the smokiness from the grill.

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Absolutely delicious, especially when you’re sharing the meal with this guy.

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We ate a lot of fine things in Greece, but the best part of those meals was dining with dear friends.

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This was a shot from Myrto’s birthday party and the day before we left. What a delight.

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See you later, Greece. We’ll be back soon.

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On our way from Greece back to Porto, a city in Northern Portugal, we had a six-hour layover in Barcelona, so we went to La Boqueria, a large, public market, for breakfast.

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We finally made it to Porto. What a beautiful city on the banks of the Rio Duoro. This is where Port wine is made, and another spot for excellent seafood.

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When we first arrived, our hostel told us about “Francesinhas,” or “little Frenchman” sandwiches. Legend has it some drunk Frenchmen were missing home and asked a Portuguese restaurant to make them a croque madame, the famous grilled ham sandwich with an egg on top. Because they were drunk, they kept demanding more and more ingredients, and this sandwich was the result. It has about five kinds of meat sandwiched between two halves of white bread and cheese. There’s fragrant gravy – tomato and cumin-scented on top – along with the friend egg and fries. We both agreed it was something to try but one was enough for us.

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I mean look at that. Wowza. We split one and were still super full.

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One of my favorite travel food activities is to check out the chip flavors. You often see such crazy flavors! I like doing this so much I even wrote a blog post on the topic when Andrew and I were traveling in South America a few years ago. The “ketchup” flavored Ruffles were our faves on this trip.

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We couldn’t go to Porto without tasting port. Everyone recommend Taylor’s, so we hiked up the hill to sample their ports. We tried tawny, ruby and a white port. I liked the tawnies best. Those are aged in smaller barrels which gives them more exposure to oxygen which makes them taste a bit sweeter and fruitier, and have a lighter color than the rubies.

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If you go to Portugal, you MUST go into the Duoro Valley. We took the train up the Duoro river into the valley, then rented a car. We stumbled upon this guesthouse, Casa Grande do Serrado, on booking.com and boy did it work out. They not only had a gorgeous 200-year-old house to stay in, but they make their own wine and port so they took us out to vineyard for a private tour and tasting. All for $50! It was like Napa Valley but mountainous.


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Our host Nuno was so hospitable and spent several hours sipping wine and port with us and talking about wine, soccer, Portugal and life. It was an absolute delight.

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The next day we went to Lamego, a small town just south of where we were staying at Casa Grande. They’re famous for their sparkling wine. Andrew was driving so I finished the better part of this afternoon aperitif. Made the train ride back to Porto pretty entertaining!

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Portugal is huge on custard pastries. We had a LOT of them. This one was coconut-flavored. It was super eggy and sweet – so good with an espresso. I don’t want to admit how often we stopped for these. Yum.

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The most famous dessert in Portugal though, is Pastel de Nata. They are simply custard tartlets with caramelized sugar on the top, and you can find them everywhere.

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On the way home one day we stopped in this fruit shop and stocked up on nectarines, peaches, bananas and oranges. It was so refreshing!

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Our last night in Porto we took a tram out to the coast then walked up the beach several miles to a cluster of seafood restaurants. Our hostel had instructed us to try these sea barnacles (the small dark things at the bottom of the plate). They were hard to eat! You really had to dig in to pull out the small edible part. They sort of reminded me of crawfish – a lot of work for a small pay off. The shrimp we got were totally amazing and tasted very fresh. The dipping sauce you see is straight mayo.

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After Porto, we headed back down to Lisbon, where our return flight departed from. To celebrate the last night of our trip we had a progressive dinner. We started around happy hour at Lost in Esplanada. Beautiful city views, happy hour specials and fresh, creative food. We had an impressive cheese plate with some roasted vegetables. I had rose and a beer while Andrew had an infused green tea and a beer. We relaxed, people-watched and enjoyed the view during our last night. It was totally delightful.

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For Part II of our dinner, we splurged at Bistro 100 Maneiras, one of Chef Ljubomir Stanisic’s four restaurants. He seems to be a chef in the spotlight right now, and is food really proved that.

We started with smoked mushrooms in a jar with asparagus and a poached egg. The server brought the jar over, then mixed it all up and served each of us a portion. The mushrooms had some of their own liquid, which mixed with the poached egg. Definitely delicious.

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Next up were these tasty little clams in an incredible ginger-garlic-dill broth. Really interesting. The grilled bread was totally necessary to soak up all the broth.

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Our final course of the night was a dish of black pork with some fresh sprouts and polenta cakes. The pigs feast on mushrooms in a certain part of Portugal, which gives their meet a distinctive sweet taste. I read about black pork and other Portuguese delights in this post from Epicurious. A helpful read if you’re also planning a trip.

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It was a delightful and delicious trip! I’d highly recommend Portugal to anyone. On to the next adventure!

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One Response to “Fine Eating in Portugal”

  1. 1

    Roberto — July 24, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

    Hello Annakate,

    Thanks for your words about Casa Grande do Serrado,our vineyards and wine cellar, and also for your words about Douro and our country, Portugal. We enjoyed a lot your visit, you are a very nice couple.
    We hope luckiness for you an Andrew.

    From Sanhoane, Douro, Portugal a hug from,

    Roberto, Alexandra and Nuno

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