Mister leitão

Mr. Leitão

A completely reliable source told us that the best roasted suckling pig sandwich came not from Bairrada, the region famous for this culinary delicacy, but from a small café in Fátima called Mister Leitão. We couldn’t ignore this tantalizing tip, so we got on the road to Fátima to investigate.

We were advised to call in advance to reserve our sandwiches and we duly contacted José Miguel Vitório, the restaurant owner. He confirmed that they always run out of roasted suckling pig at some point in the early afternoon and that a reservation is indeed wise.

Mister Leitão has no place to sit, just a few counters where the sandwiches can be enjoyed. There’s always a line because the sandwiches are made to order. The air is filed with the smell of the roasted suckling pig and the bread baked in the premises. These appetizing aromas make the few minutes we waited seem like hours.

But the wait was well worth it. The sandwiches are amazing: the warm, crispy bread enfolds the succulent meat that is lean and has a deep taste reminiscent of prosciutto.

José Miguel is the heir to a tradition that started with his father in 1956. It takes a lifetime to learn how to roast a suckling pig. There are many details, seasoning the meat, sowing the animal, choosing the right fire wood, learning how to read and adjust the temperature of the oven. “But all the technique in the world will not matter if the ingredients are not great,” says José. He uses only fresh ingredients bought directly from selected farmers. “We peel by hand large quantities of fresh garlic. But that is what it takes to get the flavor we strive for,” he says. José carefully selects all the suckling pigs he uses, making sure that they were not fed with grain but were breastfed by their mothers.

After talking to José we felt hungry again. So we went back in line for another dose of suckling pig perfection.

Mister Leitão is located at Estrada da Batalha, 6, 2495 Fátima, tel. 249-538-120.

 

 

A Portuguese chair

Composit Chairs

Late in the afternoon, groups of friends gather in cafés and esplanades all over Portugal to enjoy the last rays of sun and talk about their lives. They seat on metal chairs painted in bright colors that create a festive atmosphere.

These chairs were designed half a century ago by a craftsman called Gonçalo Rodrigues dos Santos. They are elegant but sturdy and can be stacked for storage. These virtues make them perfect pieces of urban furniture for enjoying leisure and celebrating friendships. If you visit Portugal be sure to try them!

The Gonçalo chair is produced by Arcalo. Click here for their web site.

Fairy tales

Composit Fairy Tales

In October 1956, the Duke of Edinburgh embarked on a long tour of the Southern Hemisphere without his wife, Queen Elizabeth II. There were rumors that the couple was going to separate.

When the Duke arrived in Portugal in February 1957, the Queen flew from England to meet him. For four days the royal couple did what so many other tourists do in Portugal. They ate canned sardines, sailed on the Tagus river, toured the Jeronimos monastery,  visited Mafra and the Nazaré beach. Then, they flew back to England and lived happily ever after.

Portugal is a place where fairy tales can come true.

Missing Portugal

Baleal.JPG

When we’re away from Portugal, we miss the taste of the fruits of our land and sea.

We miss the golden light that guilds castles and palaces, valleys and hills.

We miss the touch of the breeze, the perfume of the ocean, the sound of the waves rehearsing their steps on the seashore.

Our solace is a glass of port wine shared with friends. Every sip is a reminder of the sweetness of Portugal.

A fish club

composit-casa-janeiro

Casa Janeiro is an unusual restaurant. Located in the small village of Brejos de Azeitão, 30 km south of Lisbon, it functions as a club for the appreciation of fine grilled fish. To be considered as a member, you need to be patient and love eating fish. Patience is a must because the restaurant does not take reservations and there’s always a long line

Most customers are regulars. Some are locals, others are hard-core fans that drive to Brejos de Azeitão just to eat at Casa Janeiro. Over the years, the customers get to know each other, so the restaurant feels like a club.

While we waited in line, a group of regulars came to chat with us, eager to talk about their favorite restaurant: “You’re going to love it!” “We no longer grill fish at home, this quality is impossible to replicate,” “No one grills fish like Mr. António.”  “And the prices, unbeatable!”

Ana Cristina overseas the dining room and her husband, António Janeiro is in charge of the colossal grill.  António was working as a car mechanic when he became fascinated by the art of grilling fish. He started hanging out with fishermen and cooks so he could learn their secrets. When his repair shop closed, he took the plunge and, together with his wife, opened Casa Janeiro.

His day starts with a trip to the fish market in the port of Setúbal. He comes back to the restaurant to make the “brasas,” the layers of red-hot charcoal that produce intense heat. He compresses these layers, reducing the airflow to make the charcoal last longer. Then, he covers the charcoal with ash to reduce the heat. “I stir the charcoal when I want more heat and apply more ash when I want less,” he explained to us.

We watched Janeiro prepare the fish with speed and precision and then pause for a brief moment, perhaps to give thanks for the bounty of the sea. Janeiro salted the fish and placed it on the grill. He didn’t take his eyes of the grill, constantly adjusting the coals to make sure the fish was perfectly cooked.

“Which fish do you recommend?”  we asked Ana Cristina. “Chicharro,” she answered without hesitation. We expressed surprise. After all, this is an unglamorous fish, the cheapest on the modestly priced menu. “But it is the best fish on the menu,” she insisted. “This month the chicharro is fat and delicious. If you don’t like it, you don’t need to pay.”  “Ok,” we said accepting the bargain.

As soon as we sat at the table, we regretted our decision—we saw amazing sea bass and grouper go by our table. But, when our chicharro arrived, succulent and delicious, we realized we had made the right choice. “What else should we try?” we asked Ana Cristina. She recommended the squid, which was the best we have ever had, tender and full of flavor.

When we returned the next day for more grilled chicharro and squid, Ana Cristina gave us a big smile. And that’s when we knew that we had been accepted as members of the club.

 

Casa Janeiro is located on Rua da Serração 57, Brejos de Azeitão, tel. 21 218 8124. If you don’t like to wait, you need to arrive at around 11:30 am for lunch and 6:30 pm for dinner. At lunch, the restaurant serves grilled fish. At dinner, it serves light seafood such as clams, crab and shrimp. 

 

Two geniuses

Fernando Pessoa

We often celebrate rulers and conquerers, but a country without artists is just a mount of dust. Artists are the tellers of tales, the architects of meaning. During the 20th century, Portugal was recreated by the writing of Fernando Pessoa and reshaped by the painting of José de Almada Negreiros. They left us a country with a richer identity and a deeper imagination.

The paintings in the photo bring together these two great Portuguese artists. The first painting (on the left) was commissioned in 1954 by the owner of a restaurant where Orpheus, a modernist group that included Almada and Pessoa, used to gather. The second painting (on the right), commissioned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in 1964, is a mirror image of the original.

Pessoa visited Almada’s first exhibition and declared that the painter was not a genius. Out of respect, Almada did not paint Pessoa while the poet was alive. Because the exuberant portrait that the painter carried in his mind and later transferred to canvas shows that Almada was a genius.

If you’re in Lisbon, do not miss the exhibition of the works of Almada Negreiros on display at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum until June 7, 2017.

 

 

The rain in Portugal

rainy-day

Billy Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate, has a new book called The Rain in Portugal. He says that the title is an admission of his difficulties in constructing rhymes.

The rhyming possibilities of “Portugal” are much more limited than those of “Spain.” Yet, Collins finds a way capture the poetry of life in Portugal. Here’s an excerpt of the poem that contains the title of the book.

On Rhyme

“[…] instead of recalling today where it pours mostly in Spain I’m going to picture the rain in Portugal.

How it falls on the hillside vineyards, on the surface of the deep harbors where fishing boats are swaying.

And in the narrow alleys of the cities where three boys in t-shirts are kicking a soccer ball in the rain ignoring the window cries of their mothers.”