The Portuguese Tea Company

Composit Companhia do Chá.jpg

Portugal played a leading role in the trade with the Far East after Vasco da Gama discovered the sea way to India in 1498. One of the commodities brought from the orient by the caravels were the dried leaves of a plant called Caméllia sinensis. The Portuguese called these leaves and their infusion chá, after the Cantonese word chàh. Their Dutch rivals preferred a word from China’s Fujian province: tea.

When Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II of England in 1662, her trousseau included a basket of tea leaves. She used them to throw tea parties at court. These parties were such a success that drinking tea became a fashion that endures.

Two centuries later, Wenceslaus de Moraes, a Portuguese diplomat who lived in the orient, wrote a poetic book called The Cult of Tea. His goal was to introduce Europeans to the ancient art of serving tea.

Despite these historical connections, Portugal didn’t have a purveyor of fine teas until an Argentinian called Sebastian Filgueiros came to live in Lisbon. Trained as a tea sommelier, he decided to create the Companhia Portugueza de Chá (the Portuguese tea company). The company’s logo combines the profile of Catherine of Braganza with the word Lisbon handwritten by Wenceslaus de Moraes.

Sebastian travels often to the Far East in search of new producers. His favorite teas are the Darjeelings from India and the old black teas from China. But he is very proud of the teas made in Portugal. He’s been able to source two wonderful teas from Azores. The first is a delicate white tea made in cooperation with a research institute. The second is a rare Oolong from the Gorreana plantation. Sebastian sells a fragrant earl grey produced with bergamot oil from Alentejo and his own tea blend called Lisbon breakfast.

When he talks about tea, Sebastian has all the time in the world. And there’s a lot to talk about, from the harvest and oxidization of the leaves, to the way each tea is prepared and served. He speaks softly, as if the secrets of tea are for our ears only. It is worth listening because on the shelves of his store lies a world of tantalizing aromas and flavors waiting to be discovered.

The Companhia Portugueza de Chá operates in Rua do Poço dos Negros, 105, near Chiado, tel. 21-395-1614.

 

Dona Luisa’s famous codfish recipe

composit-solar-dos-amigos-2

A year ago we had a memorable meal at Solar dos Amigos, a restaurant in the small village of Guisado near Caldas da Rainha. We returned this year for another great experience. Our lunch started with succulent lamb chops, grilled to perfection. They were followed by a wispy, tasty “Bacalhau à Campino” (peasant style codfish) served inside the hearty country bread that is baked at the restaurant.

Dona Luisa Nunes, the restaurant’s owner and chef, is in great form and so is her octogenarian father who continues to produce a delightful wine that pairs perfectly with the food served at the Solar.

When we praised her famous codfish Campino style, dona Luisa offered to give us the recipe so we could share it with you, dear reader. Follow the instructions and you’ll have a delicious codfish meal. But, will it taste as good as when dona Luisa prepares it?  Not a chance!

Codfish Campino style

Soak 4 slices of salted codfish for two days, changing the water periodically to remove the salt.

Boil the cod for 15 minutes. Reserve the water, remove the skin and the bones, and shred the fish by hand. Boil a green cabbage and drain the water (dona Luisa favors a pusa-drum-head cabbage, known in Portugal as “repolho coração de boi”).  Open the top of a country bread, remove the inside of the bread and soak it for 5 minutes in the water used to boil the codfish. Carefully drain the water from the bread.

Combine olive oil and sliced garlic in a frying pan. Add the soaked bread, the shredded codfish, the cabbage and 2 pounds of cooked red beans. Season with salt and pepper and let the mixture simmer gently for a few minutes. Place the mixture inside the country bread, cover with the bread lid, season with olive oil and place in the oven for a few minutes, until the bread turns golden. Decorate with parsley sprigs and serve.

Solar dos Amigos is located on a small village called Guisado, 100 km north of Lisbon. The restaurant’s address is Rua Principal, 49, Guisado, Caldas da Rainha. Even though the restaurant is large, it is a good idea to make reservations. Their telephone number is 262-877-135. Click here for their website.

The blessing of the breeze

Pousada de Palmela.jpg

When you look out the window from your room at the Pamela pousada, you understand why the medieval king Sancho I built a castle on this location. You see mountains and valleys and the sea in the distance. Who would not want to conquer this piece of paradise? A castle was needed to ward off invaders.

The pousada and the surrounding castle are a spectacular wedding venue. There is a terrace called Pátio do Pessegueiro with a fabulous view of Troia and Setúbal and an indoor courtyard that is perfect for a banquet.

The restaurant staff told us how much they look forward to the wedding services. “It’s hard work but it is very rewarding to see two people start a happy life together.” How do you know the marriage will be blissful?, we asked. “There’s an old belief that when the wedding is blessed by the breeze the marriage is happy. And there’s always a breeze in Palmela.”

Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.

Extraordinary food in Estremoz

Composit Gadanha Mercerearia.jpg

As soon as we entered, we felt that there was something special about Gadanha, a small restaurant in downtown Estremoz. The back wall is decorated with a chocolate cake recipe hand written by Michele Marques, the Brazilian chef who runs the restaurant. The dining room is furnished with old chairs and tables that give the place a cozy feeling.

We asked our waitress whether it was possible to sample a few items from the menu. Our culinary feast began with a plate of goat cheese, pears, walnuts and honey, accompanied by a thyme ice cream. This ethereal combination of flavors from Greece made us feel like gods dining on Mount Olympus.

A plate of delicious lamb croquettes paired with a roasted garlic aioli brought us back to earth. They were followed by one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: an ingenious “mille feuilles” constructed with thin slices of Alentejo bread, codfish and black pork prosciutto. The flavors of Alentejo shined on the next plate: a sausage called “farinheira” toped with fried quail eggs and accompanied by apple purée. The savory part of the meal ended with another signature dish: a delicious slow-cooked codfish topped with a crust made from cornbread, rosemary and thyme.

An extravagant combination of hazelnut and chocolate brought us to the realm of sweetness. It was followed by graceful “îles flottantes” covered with an orange crust, served with strawberries and a basil-infused crème anglaise.

We asked our waitress whether we could compliment the chef on our extraordinary meal. Michele came to our table with a radiant smile. We asked her an indiscreet question: “How does a Brazilian chef open a restaurant in the middle of Alentejo? “I fell in love with someone from Alentejo,” she told us. “That love waned but I liked Alentejo so much that I stayed.” We asked Michele where she gets her inspiration. “I did not grow up with the traditional recipes of Alentejo, I have a different culinary background.” she answered. “But I am inspired by the amazing products that the region has to offer.”

Michele introduced us to her business partner, Mário Vieira, her close collaborators, sous chef Alberto Muralha and pastry chef Gonçalo Carvalho, and all the dining room staff. “The restaurant is a team effort,” she stressed. “We’re all essential to the quality of the food and service. I have to pick the right people to make sure that everything we do, we do with love.“

It is clear that someday soon stars will shine on this restaurant in Alentejo. But we don’t need official accolades to know that Gadanha serves extraordinary food prepared with love.

Gadanha is located at Largo Dragões de Olivença, 84 A in Estremoz, tel. 268 333 262. Click here for their website.

 

The setting of the sun

sunset-at-areia-branca

Yesterday the elements were tired after so many performances. The wind stayed at home but the waves came, dressed in white linen. The sun was in an orange garb brought from the far east. Seagulls danced to the roar of the waves while the sun kneeled in reverent prayer until the blue curtains were drawn.

Today a new season begins. We wish you a blissful New Year and we hope you’ll come see the spectacle of the sun setting on the Portuguese sea.

Tasting moscatel in Setúbal

composit-jmf

No one knows for sure how moscatel, a white grape from Egypt, arrived in the Setúbal peninsula, near Lisbon. What we know is that moscatel took to the region producing wines that are perfect to start or end a meal. Over the years, the grape mutated into a new varietal—purple moscatel—that only exists in Setúbal. It is sweeter and more aromatic than its white cousin.

Moscatel wines are produced in the same way as port wine. The grapes are fermented for 4 or 5 days. The fermentation is then arrested before the yeast turns all the sugar into alcohol by adding “aguardente vínica” (brandy) to kill the yeast. The result is a fortified wine that is sweet and has 17 to 18 degrees of alcohol.

A great way to learn about moscatel is to visit José Maria da Fonseca’s winery in Azeitão. Founded in 1834 by a mathematician turned wine maker, it is one of the oldest wine companies in Portugal.

After one of his moscatel wines won a prestigious prize in Paris in 1855, Fonseca decided to export his wines to Brazil. A ship loaded with barrels of moscatel crossed the Atlantic. But the wine did not sell in Brazil and the ship returned with most of its original cargo. The sea voyage did wonders for the wine: in nine months the wine seemed to have aged 15 years, gaining complexity and depth. This moscatel, known as “torna viagem” (round trip), continues to be produced today with barrels carried by Sagres, a beautiful sailboat owned by the Portuguese navy.

José Maria da Fonseca ’s moscatel cellar contains bottles from every vintage since 1880 except for 1936-37 and 1939-40 when production was disrupted by the Spanish civil war and the Second World War, respectively.

It is great fun to do a blind tasting of moscatel wines at José Maria da Fonseca’s. Everybody has preconceptions about which wine will be their favorite. Some are sure they will favor the rarer purple moscatel or the older vintages. Others think that they will prefer the newer wines. Surprises abound. You will learn a lot about moscatel and a little about yourself.

Click here for information about visits to José Maria da Fonseca’s winery.