When friends who visit Portugal tell us they tasted some amazing mushrooms, we always worry they are mistaken. During hard times, Portuguese cooks found ways to make tasty dishes out of many animal parts to make sure nothing went to waste. So those delicious “mushrooms” were probably pig ears in coriander sauce or sautéed veal kidneys.
But Portugal does have amazing wild mushrooms. They’re called “míscaros” (pronounced “meescaros”) and grow in the pine forests of the Beira region. You can stew them, cook them with meat, or combine them with rice. Míscaros are one of the crown jewels of Portuguese cuisine.
One of our grandfathers loved eating míscaros. He was always happy when it rained in August because that meant that míscaros would be abundant in the Fall. We remember him very fondly for many things, big and small. And we always like it when it rains in August.
You can often find míscaros in the Fall at Salsa & Coentros, one of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon. Click here for more information about the restaurant.
One of the most captivating beaches in Portugal is the Pessegueiro (peach tree) beach near Porto Covo in Alentejo. It is wonderful to seat on the sand feeling the sea breeze and enjoying the view of the Pessegueiro island. The island looks so mysterious that it is impossible to resist the temptation to plunge in the emerald waters and swim a shore. It is great fun to explore the 15th century fort and the ruins that date from Roman times.
In the afternoon, it is fantastic to go horseback ridding along the coast. Claudia Castanheira and Paulo Rosa of Herdade do Pessegueiro provide all you need: well-trained, intelligent horses, horse-riding instruction, and a picnic. Riding a horse through trails and sand dunes, feeling one with nature is an unforgettable adventure.
Click here for the Herdade do Pessegueiro web site.
In 1786 a Spanish galleon, San Pedro de Alcantara, departed from Peru loaded with a fortune in silver and gold and a precious botanical collection of tropical specimens. The galleon also carried a famous passenger: Fernando Tupac Amaru, an inca whose father had started the most successful uprising against Spanish rule in Peru.
The ship’s captain used a French map that omitted the position of the Berlenga islands. This error had tragic consequences: on the night of February 2, 1786 San Pedro de Alcantara shipwrecked near Papoa, a small peninsula on the coast of Peniche. Almost everybody died but Tupac Amaru managed to swim ashore.
The Spaniards hired divers from all over Europe to come to Peniche help salvage the galleon’s treasures. They also succeeded in recapturing Tupac Amaru.
Today, Peniche’s perfect tubular waves attracts surfers from all over the world. How many of them know that beneath those waves once lied a fortune in silver and gold?
The best place to eat grilled sardines in Lisbon is Casa do Peixe, a modest restaurant on the second floor of the Saldanha food market. This eatery dates back to the first part of the 20th century, when a cook from Galicia came to Lisbon and set up a few tables in the market to serve poached fish. The restaurant quickly became a destination for food lovers.
The current owner, Aníbal Sousa, bought the restaurant 30 years ago. When the Saldanha market moved from its graceful old building to its current unremarkable location, he added a charcoal grill and started to grill sardines and other fish.
The restaurant is noisy and there is no ambience. But it is always full of locals who love to eat fresh fish, everyone from clerks and shopkeepers to government officials and business executives.
Three cooks work nonstop to produce a constant flow of perfectly cooked treasures from the sea. All the fish is great but the sardines are extraordinary; moist and flavorful, grilled to perfection. We asked Aníbal Sousa what makes his sardines so exceptional. He smiled and said: we have been grilling them for many years and we only serve sardines when they are at the peak of their quality.
If you’re a foodie in search of the perfect grilled sardine, Casa do Peixe is the place for you.
Casa do Peixe is located on Mercado 31 de Janeiro, Rua Engenheiro Vieira da Silva, 135, Saldanha, Lisboa, tel. 213544233.
The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo. The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.
Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!
Eels were highly-prized culinary delicacies in ancient Greece. The eels from Lake Copais, a lake near Athens that is now extinct, were famous in the ancient world and sold for exorbitant prices. In the plays of Aristophanes these eels are the symbol of a luxurious life.
In Portugal, the most famous eels come from Murtosa, a town near Aveiro. They taste great fried, accompanied by escabeche sauce (a combination of olive oil, garlic, laurel, and vinegar).
A great place to try this delicacy is a neighborhood restaurant in Aveiro called Marinhas. The eels come perfectly fried accompanied by a delicious seafood rice and the indispensable escabeche sauce.
At Marinhas you can, for a modest price, enjoy a meal that would have cost a fortune in ancient Greece!
The Marinhas restaurant is located on Rua Cavalaria Cinco, 4, Aveiro, tel. 234197679..