My Favourite Portuguese Foods, 2014 Edition

Portuguese Food & Drink board on Pinterest

my Portuguese Food & Drink board on Pinterest

It’s probably all the Portuguese language classes, but I’m reminded on a fairly regular basis — OK, daily — how quickly my memory is eroding now that I’m in my 40s. I look at the columns of grammar-related matrices, the scores of Portuguese vocabulary words that haven’t found their way to a permanent spot in my brain’s filing system, and I wonder how long it will take me to remember them all. And then, once memorized, how and when to use these words, in the correct order.

However, when it comes to food I never forget a flavour or a smell. If I could somehow bottle that powerful association, I would apply it to grammar and vocabulary. Maybe I should write verb conjugations in my food?? Until I figure it out, I know I should write more about these stages in my expat life so I can read these lists five years down the road and laugh at myself. I also fully expect that my list of favourite Portuguese foods will change as I discover new things. For now, one year in, these are the Portuguese dishes that tickle my fancy the most, in no particular order:

bola de bolacha

My love for bolo de bolacha (cookie cake) is well-documented, because the variations to this dessert are endless. I’ve had some excellent ones, and I’ve had some forgettable ones. It’s a rather complicated cake, and easy to mess up: some are too dry, too sweet, the cookies don’t have the right texture, the cream tastes artificial, or someone had the bright idea to put sprinkles on top instead of nuts. I’ve tried so many different bolo de bolachas I’ve stopped taking photos of them all, because that just gets boring. Now, I just photograph the ones I really like or are unique in some way, and the one above fit both criteria — the hit of cherry sauce on top was better than any icing! We passed by Régua since then, and all I could think about was that bolo de bolacha!

An array of alheiras. Serious business in #Portugal. Need samples to decide!

an array of alheiras

I’ve had a thing for alheiras since the first time I tried them, and my favourite is still the picante (spicy) version — no surprise there. I also had an excellent vegetarian one with the main ingredient being mushrooms, but I found it in a small supermarket in Penedono and haven’t seen it since. Next time I spot it, I’ll buy a few packages and freeze them.

carne de porco à alentejana

the best carne de porco à alentejana I’ve had yet

I first had carne de porco à alentejana from a local takeaway about a year ago around the time Paulo was shipped off to the U.S. for work. I had no idea I would like it as much as I did — for one thing, I don’t get excited over clams. But there’s something about the tangy combination of clams and pork in a white wine broth that calls out my name on the rare occasion I see it on a menu here in the north. It’s a regional dish, and the name alentejana (“from Alentejo”) refers to Portugal’s largest region, which covers much of the lower half of the country except the southern beaches. Another reason I’m a fan of carne de porco à alentejana is the coriander, which isn’t used much in the north but used liberally in the Alentejo.

The photo above was taken on our road trip to the south in September, in a restaurant in coastal Alentejo (Costa Vicentina), by a tiny island called Ilha do Pessegueiro (“Peachtree Island”). It’s an isolated little beach restaurant that is a perfect example of how Portugal’s treasures seem to be hidden away, as if to reward only the most adventurous or persistent. In North America we’re accustomed to eyesore signage and “Best Of” lists and glowing reviews in the papers to lead the gastronomic way, but here in Portugal there is really nothing of the sort. The best way to find a place to eat is to show up and ask someone, or just roll up and go with your gut…

Perhaps it goes without saying that I’d find the best carne de porco à alentejana in the Alentejo, but I ordered this dish twice before on the trip, once in the eastern Alentejo and later in the Algarve, and neither held a candle to this one — every ingredient was superior. You’d think I would’ve given up on this dish after two tries in less than a week, but maybe the third time’s a charm, or just maybe I’m proving my theory about Portugal’s treasures being hidden away, in this case on a beach with nothing else around.

Not much to look at, but that was the best bacalhau com natas I've ever made. #PortugueseKitchen

You can’t tell from this low-grade picture from my phone, but this was the best bacalhau com natas I’ve ever made. It took several attempts, but I finally tweaked the nutmeg-enriched creamy cod flavour to my satisfaction, and my only complaint was not making enough of it. Bacalhau (dried codfish) is one of those foods I want to experiment with, because it’s such a big part of the gastronomy in Portugal and if I’m going to eat a lot of it, I want to make it my own way… that said, bacalhau com natas is a dish that is consistently good in any Portuguese restaurant, so if you would like an introduction to bacalhau, I would recommend it com natas, except for the lactose-intolerant.

bacalhau a bras - a Portuguese dish I replicated from my trip last June

bacalhau à brás

Bacalhau à brás was my introduction to bacalhau in 2011, when Paulo made it for a group dinner of couchsurfers (including me) and friends. Once the cod is soaked, it is incredibly simple to cook and FAR less labour-intensive than bacalhau com natas, but the only reason I don’t recommend this as the introduction bacalhau dish to newcomers is that it’s rarely on the restaurant menus. However, if you are lactose-intolerant, this would be the bacalhau dish to try, because the only ingredients other than codfish are onions, eggs, potato sticks, and parsley. Compared to com natasbacalhau à brás is so easy and quick I think it’s much more of a home dish than a restaurant dish, but try both and see for yourself!

And last but not least, since I consume this more than anything else in Portugal…

Matosinhos, Portugal

I know this isn’t food, but I have to give a shout out to the Portuguese for their high standards of coffee. I have never had a bad cup of coffee in Portugal yet. Extra points for serving it up on the beach!

I mostly Instagram my food: http://instagram.com/gailatlarge

My Portuguese Food & Drink Pinterest board:
http://www.pinterest.com/gailatlarge/portuguese-food-drink/

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (1)

This is a continuation of the preview of my press trip to Alto Minho, Northern Portugal, where we received a warm introduction to the region through activities and regional fare organized by Hotel Minho. On Day 2 Francisco of Bliss Tours took us to lunch at a restaurant in Melgaço called Adega do Sossego, where we test-drove their aguardente (brace yourselves!).

Adega do Sossego is a traditional Portuguese restaurant in the area, and to satisfy our culinary curiosities we ordered some local specialties of carne and peixe, that is, meat and river fish: naco de vitela na brasa (veal) and truta grelhada (trout). I was also quite taken by the ambience of the restaurant (we were downstairs), with its preserved stone structure and built-in shelving for the bottles of wine and port. Our thanks to Francisco for treating us to one of his favourite restaurants in Melgaço!

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (2)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (3)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (4)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (5)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (6)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (7)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (8)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (9)

Adega do Sossego Restaurant (Melgaço, Portugal) (10)

November 9, 2014
Album: Alto Minho Press Trip 2014

Traditional Portuguese Kitchen: How To Make Bola De Carne

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (11)

This is the second installment of a photo series featuring the inner workings of a typical Portuguese kitchen. Recipes can be found all over the internet but what I am discovering is that there’s a lack of photos for the preparing/cooking process. My goal with this series is to introduce traditional Portuguese dishes and how they’re made using photos instead of words. Let’s face it, I’m sure everyone’s mama cooks differently but every dish is the result of years of feeding families and are thus tried and tested! As with all cooking, measurements are not precise and are up to personal taste. Also, I don’t want to give away any of the chef’s secrets.

Special thanks to my mother-in-law for letting my camera nose in on her time-honoured traditional Portuguese cooking!


Good grief, the first post of this series was just over a year ago — November 14, 2013! It’s high time I continued, though I’ve mentioned before that the major reason I haven’t been able to shoot more of these installments is because we’re sloths on the weekends and by the time we arrive the food is already in the oven. Yesterday we weren’t the last ones to arrive (for once), and I was able to capture my mother-in-law early in her preparation process of bola de carne, a savoury dish translated as “meat cake” which naturally has variations in the dough and the type of meats used. Typically it is made with cured meats such as bacon and salpicão, a kind of Portuguese salami. There are probably versions with cheese, too, but not in this case.

The part of the process I missed yesterday was the making of the dough. I did a little search online and the closest I can find to my mother-in-law’s bola de carne is this recipe, which has a different name but the ingredients and the result are quite similar. I think for this part you should go with your preference of cake dough: dry or moist? Personally, I prefer the cake part on the moist side and for this reason I enjoy my mother-in-law’s bola de carne straight out of the oven because once it gets cold it dries out rather quickly. If you like a less crumbly cake, use your dough recipe of choice and then continue on from here. You can make the cake with one layer of meat or more, but do put oil on both the top and bottom. Don’t forget to poke some holes! Happy eating!

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (1)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (2)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (3)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (4)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (5)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (6)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (7)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (8)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (9)

making bola de carne (Portuguese meat cake) (10)

family Sunday lunch (6)

November 23, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

Family Sunday, aka Day of Eating

bacalhau (codfish)

bacalhau (codfish)

Sunday lunch with the extended Portuguese family is really a euphemism for “we’re going to eat all day and there’ll still be leftovers sent home with you”. After several helpings of feijoada (there’s a picture of it further down the page), I fell immediately into a deep, deep food coma and didn’t resurface until dinnertime, which explains why so many of the photos in this post were taken by Paulo.

I think we’re rehearsing for Christmas.

where there is food, there is Ice the dog (photo by Paulo)

where there is food, there is Ice the dog (photo by Paulo)

family Sunday lunch (1)

family Sunday lunch

family Sunday lunch (2)

Ice on food alert

feijoada (Portuguese stew with pork and beans)

feijoada (Portuguese stew with pork and beans)

Fogaça da Feira (sweet bread from Santa Maria da Feira, shaped like a castle tower)

Fogaça da Feira (sweet bread from Santa Maria da Feira, shaped like a castle tower; photo by Paulo)

family Sunday lunch (5)

lanche (snack/tea time; photo by Paulo)

bolo de carne (Portuguese meat cake)

bolo de carne (Portuguese meat cake; photo by Paulo)

Ice, ferocious for food

Ice, ferocious for food

family Sunday lunch (8)

por favor? (photo by Paulo)

November 23, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

Ichiban Japanese Restaurant, Porto

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (1)

My friend who shares my love for sushi recommended Ichiban Restaurante Japonês in Porto months ago. After more than a year without going to a single Japanese restaurant, cravings hit critical mass after seeing photos of sushi scroll by in Instagram, pics posted by my friends living on the sushi-centric West Coast (California and BC in particular). I couldn’t watch any longer — it was time to break my Japanese food drought!

This is not a restaurant review by any means, because I was too distracted by the food to take better pictures and too busy eating it to critique it properly. Although I can say there was a consensus amongst the four of us that we enjoyed every bite of our food.  We will be back, Ichiban!

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (2)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (3)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (4)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (5)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (6)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (7)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (8)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (9)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (10)

Ichiban Restaurante Japonês, Porto (11)

November 22, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]

Lenços dos Namorados, Sweetheart Handkerchiefs in Portugal

Lenços dos Namorados, Sweetheart Handkerchiefs

I took this photo last month at lunch in Porto because the tablecloth reminded me to tell you about this charming Portuguese tradition relegated to history but preserved in fabric.

The tablecloth is a reproduction of the love messages embroidered into handkerchiefs which were popular in the north of Portugal up until a generation ago when people stopped using handkerchiefs and declaring their love publicly this way. These days public declarations of love or engagement are far less personalized, usually expressed in the form of hardware jewellery, which probably lasts longer but who makes jewellery to show you’re smitten? Have a look at the cursive handwriting, the hearts, the birds… they’re hand-embroidered Valentines. You’ll see these tablecloths and handkerchief reproductions sold as souvenirs, spelling mistakes and all, authentic to the era when girls of marrying age were very young (by modern-day standards), naïve, and less educated.

Sandra of Pocket Cultures has examples of these love messages here: A Portuguese Lovers’ Tradition

From Visit Portugal and North:

Sweetheart Handkerchiefs or Fiancé Handkerchief are handkerchiefs made of linen or cotton and embroidered with several love patterns and amorous phrases. These pieces are typical clothing accessories from Minho and were used by young single women who would embroider sweet messages to their boyfriends who were sent off to sea or war to the former colonies.

Young women would embroider the handkerchiefs in code using symbols like a rose; meaning woman; a heart for love; a lily meaning virginity; a red carnation expressed flirtation and provocation and doves were the symbol of a couple in love.

Also known as “Lenços de Pedidos”, “Lenços dos Namorados” are closely related with the 17th and 18th centuries Nobility handkerchiefs. Later, they were adapted by the general female population becoming more widely used. Common folks would write like they spoke which would produce charming spelling mistakes.

This year I’ve been to quite a few local festivals and seen ranchos perform traditional dances where handkerchiefs played a part. Catarina of Positively Portugal mentions it here:

Lovers’ handkerchiefs – Lenços dos namorados

The girls would also wear handkerchiefs tucked into their waistbands, which at dances and festivals were often stolen by the young men who would play at being matched to the girls at the event.

I tried to find a video on YouTube that showed the handkerchiefs in the dances, but I haven’t come across one yet. So this is a placeholder until I find it — a video of traditional folk dancers from Minho (the kids are so adorable!):

A Month Of Ice

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (1)

Tomorrow will mark four weeks since Ice the pooch joined Casa Aguiar, and he has adjusted very well to domestic life. He’s a much more confident puppy now that he knows he has a home — including food, shelter, a doggy bed, lots of lovin’ — and has transitioned from fearful survival mode to being playful and even mischievous. Ice is still a bit skittish around trucks and large dogs, but overall he’s relaxed and his tail is wagging much more than it did at the beginning (when it seemed to be permanently down). He’s made doggy friends and loves to race around the back fields at full tilt, which is hilarious to watch — at times like an unpredictable white streak that will stop to dig furiously, at times like a jackrabbit that pounces on holes. Ice is on a continual hunt for the Perfect Stick, and occasionally steals my socks to chew them like beef jerky throughout the day.

I’m also happy to report that Ice’s wounds have healed over and the fur has grown back:

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar

On Tuesday I took him one stop on the metro to Maia centre to see how he’d do… officially, dogs aren’t allowed on the metro unless they’re in a basket, but I wanted to see how he’d react to the metro if I were to try and sneak him to Porto. Ice was petrified when the train came to a stop, and I had to practically drag him inside. When he’s scared he sits on my feet and during that one-stop ride he was so nervous I was concerned he might pee. Thankfully he didn’t, but he was scared to walk out of the metro and he was even more scared when it moved past him. After that little episode I debated whether to take Ice on the metro home after lunch, but then it started to rain and I decided to try again. This time I picked him up and carried him the whole time so he would find the train less threatening, and he seemed much more comfortable on my lap. Ice is such a cuddly dog he doesn’t mind being carried anywhere, which means I could probably carry him to Porto on the metro until he gets too big for my lap. It sure would make it a lot easier if I could bring him with me since I travel by public transit all the time.

One thing the other dog owners remark on is how well-behaved Ice is — he’s pretty obedient for a puppy, and generally doesn’t wander out of sight. If he sees me running, he’ll catch up and run beside me, so that’s my tactic if he wanders too far away. Ice doesn’t growl or bark except only when he sees “threat” from a distance, but when that perceived threat is close it’s as if he forgets how to bark. I’m still figuring out how he considers a threat, though. When we were in Penela picking chestnuts he viewed cars along a road 500m away as aggressors and he would run the length of the field, barking, until they disappeared. Over and over. Last weekend we were in Porto and there were people around, but he decided to bark a couple of times at two ladies crossing the street. Who knows why! Is he protecting us from their handbags? Only Ice knows.

For now, we are all getting better acquainted in our dog-human relations and he is learning from the neighbourhood dogs. We are also getting a lot more exercise! If you haven’t got Ice overload yet, you can find more pictures of him in my Instagram.

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (2)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (3)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (4)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (5)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (6)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (7)

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar

Ice the Dog @ Casa Aguiar (8)

November 20, 2014
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2014]