Great products from small producers at Comida Independente

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We fell in love with Comida Independente at first sight.  It is a new gourmet grocery store in Lisbon that has a selection of food and wines curated by its owner, Rita Santos. The shelfs of the elegant shop are filled with the best of Portugal: wines, olive oil, sausages, canned fish, salt, herbs, spices and much, much more. The store’s fitting motto is “great products from small producers.”

There are regular tastings of wines and foods that turn into exuberant gourmet parties. When we visited, Mário Sérgio from Quinta das Bageiras had everybody under the spell of his wonderful Bairrada wines. Lugrade, a famed producer of codfish, had sent their own chef to prepare tantalizing codfish cakes and other delights.

Rita hired two great collaborators: Inês Ruivo and Olavo Rosa, who graciously posed for us behind the store counter. Inês is an enologist who advises custumers on wines, food pairings and much more. Olavo has been involved in many gourmet projects in Lisbon. “I love the products we sell and the people that come to the store, we are connecting great producers with appreciative consumers,” he told us. “I am so committed to this project that I changed my name. From now on, please call me Evaristo.” This is the name of the grocery-store owner in the 1942 hit movie O Pátio das Cantigas (the courtyard of songs). The movie is about a courtyard with such a wonderful atmosphere that it creates a community. It is a fitting metaphor for Comida Independent, a grocery store destined to become a magnet for the gourmet community.

Comida independente is located at Rua Cais do Tojo 28, Lisbon, tel. 21 395 1762. To ask about upcoming events, send a message through their Facebook page located here.

 

 

Scarfs inspired by Portugal

Composite Scarves

VIDA combines the best of the old–beautiful textiles produced in developing countries–and the best of the new–digital fabric printing technology. Founded by Umaimah Mendhro, the company allows artists to turn their art into fashion articles. The platform has allowed artists from all over the world to collaborate with textile workers in ways that were previously impossible. Some of the company’s proceeds fund literacy and education programs in the factories where the products are made.

When VIDA invited our photographer, Maria Rebelo, to design a collection, she used the beautiful tiles of Portugal as inspiration. The result is a set of scarfs produced in a soft botanic silk fabric called modal with the shapes and colors that grace the facades of old Portuguese buildings. Click here to see the collection.

Extraordinary Portuguese tea

CháCamélia Composit

Camellias reign supreme in the gardens of the north of Portugal. They love the rainy, temperate climate and the slightly acidic soil. The first camellias were probably brought from China by Portuguese merchants five centuries ago. These merchants also brought back some leaves that, when infused in hot water, produced an extraordinary drink called tea.

Tea is made from the leaves of a camellia shrub called sinensis. If camellias grow so well in the north of Portugal, how come no one has tried to produce tea there in the last five centuries? The answer is that tea production requires great patience, there’s a five-year lag between the plantation and the first harvest. It also demands knowledge, dedication, and the humility to accept the whims of nature. These are the same traits necessary to produce port wine. Perhaps that is why Dirk Niepoort, whose family has traded port since 1842, and his wife Nina Gruntkowski had the courage to venture into tea production.

Knowing that Dirk and Nina share a passion for tea, a friend offered them a small tea shrub. They planted it in a cold corner of their garden in Oporto and made each other a promise. If the plant survived, they would try to produce tea in the north of Portugal. The plant thrived, so in 2011 Dirk and Nina imported 200 shrubs and planted them first in their garden in Oporto and then in one of the Niepoort properties, close to sea. This year they harvested the first leaves.

Nina took us on a tour of the lush plantation. She talks about her plants with great affection. “These are my babies,” she said with pride “they will have a very happy life.” The production process is entirely organic and the leaves are harvested manually. Haruyo san and Shigeru Marimoto, a couple who produces premium organic tea in Japan, offered Dirk and Nina technical assistance. Producing tea is as complex as producing wine. But while enologists have plenty of time to make adjustments to their wines, tea leaves are processed in just four nerve-wrecking hours right after the harvest.

We tasted several premium green teas produced by the Marimotos. Some are mixed with herbs and flowers produced in Portugal, such as lemongrass, rose petals, elder flowers, and lemon verbena. They offer a wide palate of floral, grassy and nutty flavors.

We then sampled one of Dirk and Nina’s experiments: oolong tea aged in port-wine barrels. It is a blend of east and west that is enticing and new.

Finally, Nina brought out a small can, took out some leaves and brewed one more cup of tea for us. “Try it,” she said, her eyes shining with excitement. “It is the first tea made in continental Portugal.”

We closed our eyes to sip the precious liquid. It does not taste like Chinese or Japanese tea. It has the understated elegance of a great port. And it marries the exuberance of the Douro valley with the melancholic aroma of the sea. Why did we have to wait five centuries to drink this Portuguese tea? Perhaps it was the time required to wait for someone like Dirk and Nina, someone with the audacity to forsake the ordinary to strive for the extraordinary.

Click here for the Chá Camélia web site.

The wonder of photography

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In the 19th century, photographers were sorcerers who could conjure life-like images that were exhilarating. Today, photos are so common that much of the wonder of the early days of photography is lost.

We were curious when we heard about Silverbox, a studio in Lisbon that specializes in portraits taken with an old photographic process. The studio is located in an elegant early 20th-century building. We entered the ornate iron elevator and pressed the key of the 4th floor to embark on our trip to the past of photography. Rute Magalhães, who runs the studio with Filipe Alves, was waiting for us.

Rute and Filipe are architects who fell in love with alternative photographic processes. After trying different methods, they specialized in wet collodium. This technique, invented in 1851 by a sculptor called Frederick Archer, was widely used between 1855 and 1880. Rute and Filipe mastered this difficult process after years of experimentation under the tutelage of Quiin Jacobson, an American authority on early photographic processes.

To take a photo, Rute and Filipe coat a glass plate with collodium and then immerse it in a silver nitrate solution that makes the plate sensitive to light. Before the collodium dries, they place the glass plate in a view camera and take the exposure. The plate is then bathed in a fixing agent and washed with water. The result is a precious image that is exhilarating.

Silverbox is located on Rua Braamcamp, nº88 4 esq. in Lisbon, email info@silverbox.pt, tel. 915074612 /218057735. Click here for their web site.

 

Saffron from the Azores

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“There’s something special about this seafood rice.” We’ve been hearing similar comments all Summer long; about soups, stews, and other preparations. It’s all because we’ve been cooking with açaflor.  It is a saffron-like spice produced in the Azores islands. The flowers of the Carthamus tinctorius are dried and crushed to produce beautiful yellow and red strands that add a delicate flavor to everything they touch.

If you’re looking for an original gift for a friend who likes to cook, get a bag of açaflor. In a world where almost everything is known, açaflor is a wonderful new spice waiting to be discovered.

You can find açaflor in stores that sell products from the Azores. Our favorite one is Merçearia dos Açores on Rua da Madalena, 115 Lisbon, tel. 218-880-070. Their email is loja@merceariadosacores.pt. Click here for their website. 

Mizette’s rugs

Composit Tapetes Mizette

Mizette Nielsen moved from Holland to Portugal and got into the production of textiles.  In 1976, she received a large order and started looking for a factory to execute it.

She traveled to Reguengos de Monsaraz to visit the Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios (Wool Factory of Alentejo). Entering the factory was like stepping into the 19th century. Inside, she found the last manual looms of the Iberian peninsula. Old weavers operated these looms with confidence and grace to make wool blankets traditionally used by shepherds to keep warm during Winter.

In the early 20th century, these blankets were often included in the trousseaux of Alentejo brides. But they had since fallen out of fashion.

Realizing that the factory might close soon, Mizette decided to buy it. “I could not stand the idea that the knowledge of these master weavers would be lost forever,” she said with quiet intensity. “I got them to teach the next generation of weavers. And this generation will teach the next, so that this chain that goes back centuries will be unbroken.”

The blankets produced in the factory are too heavy to be used in houses with modern heating and insulation. But they are sturdy, so they became popular as rugs. Mizette started by producing the traditional designs inspired by the colors of the Alentejo landscape. Then, in collaboration with Gil Kalisvaart, she added new designs that combine well with contemporary furniture.

Mizette’s rugs are one of the most beautiful thing you can buy in Portugal. They are works of art that link past, present, and future.

Mizette has a store in Monsaraz at Rua do Celeiro, tel. 266-557-159, email mizettenielsen@yahoo.com. You can also buy her rugs at A Vida Portuguesa. Click here for their website.

Artistic pots and pans

 

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Silampos (“seelumpoos”) is a Portuguese brand of cookware that has produced great pots and pans since 1951. Joana Vasconcelos, a Portuguese contemporary artist, used these pans to build giant high-heel shoes. These sculptures were given pride of place in the Room of the Throne when Vasconcelos showed her work at the Ajuda Palace in Lisbon.

What would D. Maria Pia, the queen who lived in this palace, think about Vasconcelos’ work? We like it. And we always liked Silampos pots and pans, even before they mingled with artists in the royal court.