Ambrosia from Azores

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The ancient gods of Greece and Rome satiated their hunger with ambrosia, a food with exuberant colors, an elegant aroma and a taste that has the perfect combination of sweetness and acidity.

No one knows what this divine food looks like except the people from the island of São Miguel in Azores.  It is an open secret that ambrosia grows in the island in the form of a small pineapple.

While other places produce ordinary pineapples meant for human consumption, São Miguel produces extraordinary pineapples meant for the gods.

If you visit the island, don’t miss the chance to try this transcendent food. Just make sure the gods are not looking.

 

 

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. 

Eating by the sea in Azores

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Beira Mar, a family-owned restaurant in the Azores island of Terceira, has been a favorite dinning destination for four decades. It is always busy so, if you don’t have a reservation, you’ll probably have to wait for a table.

The service is orchestrated by a small troupe of waiters who move with elegance and speak with eloquence about fish and seafood. We could not tell whether they had trained as ballet dancers or as marine biologists.

Our meal started with “cracas,” a local type of seafood that has a delicate crab-like meat and a wonderful salty juice. We then sampled some orange delicacies called “lapas” that were briny and full of flavor.

Next, we had some amazing boca negra (black mouth), a fish that in continental Portugal we call cantaril. We also tried some wonderful species that were new to us: cântaro, bicudas, and lírio. They were all incredibly fresh and arrived at the table grilled to perfection. Terras de Lava, a white wine from the nearby Pico island, was the perfect complement to all this bounty from the sea.

Beira Mar is a simple place; no money was wasted on decoration or fancy silverware. And yet, the restaurant feels luxurious because we can enjoy the sunset over the harbor while feasting on the precious flavors of the sea. It is the kind of luxury we love.

Beira Mar’s address is Canada do Porto, number 46, São Mateus, Terceira, Azores, tel.  295 642 392. Reservations are highly recommended.

Wedding by the sea

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If you can, get married by the sea. You’ll see boats sailing trough the waves without a care in the world. And you’ll realize that boats have keels that keep them stable during storms.

That is what marriage is. Two people who are each other’s keels so they can remain steady in the face of storms and sail joyfully through the waves of life.

The photo is from the Pousada de Angra do Heroísmo, located in the beautiful São Sebastião fort in Azores. Click here for the Pousada’s web site.

A monarchic cake

Dona AméliaIn 1901, the Portuguese royal family embarked on a visit to the island of Madeira and Azores. The event was a great honor for the local populations but presented them with a difficult problem: how do you choose a gift for monarchs who have everything?

The Azores Terceira island offered queen Dona Amélia a new cake made with local ingredients: corn flower, raisins, sugar cane molasses, and cinnamon. The queen enjoyed it so much that the new creation became known as the Dona Amélia cake.

More than a century later, the cake continues to be popular in the Terceira island and for a good reason. We loved the Donas Amélias we tried at O Forno, a great pastry store in downtown Angra do Heroism.

The ability of royalty to inspire the delicious Donas Amélias makes us wonder whether we should restore the monarchy.

O Forno is located on Rua São João in Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores, tel. 295 213 729.

The third island

Açores 47 - cropedThis year we visited Terceira, an island in Azores. After Madeira and the Canary islands, Azores was the third group of islands discovered by Portuguese navigators. Initially, the Portuguese called the whole archipelago Terceiras (the Portuguese word for thirds), but later they renamed it Azores and reserved the name Terceira for the largest island.

Terceira is a perfect destination for a relaxing vacation. There are many beaches to enjoy and hiking trails to explore. Restaurants serve great food for modest prices. And the traditional architecture makes us feel as if we are in a time gone by, when life was simpler and time was not a luxury.

Vitorino Nemésio, a great poet from Terceira, wrote that here you are “at the very bosom and infinitude of the sea, like the medusas and the fish.”

The green valleys of Terceira compete with the beauty of the sea. For Nemésio, this competition is futile because “The islands are ephemeral and dispensable. Only the sea is eternal and essential.”

Ancient tea

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When Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II of England in 1662, her fabulous dowry included the city of Bombay. But her most enduring gift to the British people was the habit of drinking tea. This drink, once reserved for Buddhist monks, was quickly adopted by the royal court. Later, tea houses became popular, serving as gathering places that helped disseminate the ideas of the age of enlightenment.

Most tea consumed around the world comes from large industrial plantations. One of the last surviving artisanal tea estates is Gorreana, in the island of S. Miguel in the Azores. Their tea plants were brought from China in 1874.  They pick, select, and dry the leaves by hand to produce wonderfully fragrant organic green and black tea.

If you’re seeking the inner peace of a buddhist monk, the wisdom of the age of enlightenment, or a unique gift for a friend, give this delicious tea a try.

You can order Gorreana tea from A Vida Portuguesa, an online store that sells many other great Portuguese products. Click here for their web site.