June 10 is a holiday dedicated to the great 15th century poet Luis de Camões, whose epic poem Lusíadas helped forge the identity of Portugal as a nation.
One of Portugal’s most revered contemporary writers, António Lobo Antunes, said that “To know how to make codfish cakes is as important as to have read the Lusíadas.”
Lobo Antunes meant his words as a compliment to the genius of Camões. Try codfish cakes accompanied with tomato rice and a great glass of red wine and you’ll see that they are pure poetry!
President Charles de Gaulle asked how could people expect him to run a country with 246 kinds of cheese. Judged by this metric, Portugal is easier to govern than France. We have fewer cheese varieties. But there are still many regions, types of milk, producers, and styles.
Many interesting Portuguese cheeses are hard to find. They are made in small quantities by artisanal producers and sold in local markets. Queijaria, a new store in Lisbon, makes it easy to sample these local specialties.
The store is run by people who are passionate about cheese and wine, so they are uniquely qualified to serve as your guide. They prepare a degustacion of different cheeses, perfectly sequenced and paired with great wines. In one sitting, your palate can travel from North to South, to the island of Azores and back to continental Portugal. It’s a gastronomical journey you will not forget!
Queijaria is at Rua das Flores, 64, Lisbon. Click here for their web site.
At the end of a wonderful meal at Flor de Rosa, a great historical hotel in Crato, Alentejo, the maître d’ brought us two slices of a dessert called Tecolameco. In our quest to eat fewer sweets, we decided to have only a small bite to be polite. But once we tasted this marvelous dessert, our will power vanished.
Tecolameco is made of sugar, eggs, almond, pork lard, butter, and cinnamon. There are many other Portuguese desserts made with these ingredients, but none tastes like Tecolameco.
It is said that an old chef found in the Crato castle an ancient book that revealed the meaning of life. All the pages were blank, except for the one with the recipe for Tecolameco.
Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.
The Portuguese like to eat their fish by the sea. Since Lisbon is located on the Tagus river, its residents have to drive to a nearby beach whenever they want to enjoy a serious fish meal. The Bugio lighthouse conveniently marks the place where the Tagus meets the sea. It is not a coincidence that Paço d’Arcos, the beach town that overlooks the Bugio, has several fish restaurants.
Os Arcos (which means “the arches”) serves some of the best fish we have ever had. The restaurant occupies an ancient building constructed shortly after the 1755 earthquake. The dining room features old wood beams and the brick and mortar arches that inspired the restaurant’s name.
The specialty of Os Arcos is “robalo no capote” (fish baked in bread). The fish is covered with a thin layer of bread and baked in the oven for about 30 minutes. That is just the right amount of time to enjoy some clams from Algarve and shrimp from Cascais.
When the fish-shaped bread arrives at the table, the experienced waiter gives the guests a couple of minutes to say their oohs and ahs. He then divides the fish, removing all the bones. Everybody eats in silence, for there are no words to describe the taste of the succulent robalo and the delicious bread that envelops it.
Any serious fish lover who visits Lisbon should drive, hike, bike, swim or run to Paço d’Arcos because eating “robalo” baked in bread at Os Arcos is simply unforgettable.
Os Arcos is located on Rua Costa Pinto, 47 in Paço de Arcos, tel. 214-433-374. Click here for their website.
One of the joys of living on the coast of Portugal is to wake up and go for a walk on the pristine beach sand, letting the waves bathe our feet. We always thought of these moments as pure indulgence until we read Pablo Casal’s memoir “Joys and Sorrows.”
The great cellist continued to play in his 90s, maintaining a youthful spirit and an amazing creative energy. As we searched his memoir for clues to the source of his longevity, here’s what we found:
“I have always especially loved the sea. Whenever possible, I have lived by the sea… It has long been a custom of mine to walk along the beach each morning before I start to work. True, my walks are shorter than they used to be, but that does not lessen the wonder of the sea. How mysterious and beautiful is the sea! How infinitely variable! It is never the same, never, not from one moment to the next, always in the process of change, always becoming something different and new.”