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.
Estremoz is a village in Alentejo built on a hill by king Dom Afonso III in 1258. It was once an important citadel that guarded the Portuguese kingdom from potential aggressors.
In 1360, king Dom Dinis built a royal palace in Estremoz for his wife Isabel of Aragon. It was in this palace that king Dom Manuel appointed Vasco da Gama as the commander of the fleet that sailed to India, beginning a new chapter in world history.
The palace, converted into an historical hotel, is sumptuously decorated with antique paintings and furniture. Corridors and stairs are covered with the famous white marble excavated from local quarries.
The war trophies that hang in the dining room reminded us of the momentous decisions made in this palace. And they made us appreciate even more the tranquil days we spent with only one difficult decision to make: which of the 22 wineries in Estremoz to visit.
Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.
Until the middle of the 20th century, street fish sellers called “varinas” were a common sight in Lisbon. They carried a basket of fresh fish on their heads and attracted customers with their catchy slogans and charismatic personalities.
Varinas are a relic of the past, but some of the best fish in Lisbon is still sold by a charismatic woman. Many restaurants in the capital city order their fish from Açucena Veloso.
Visiting Açucena at Mercado 31 de Janeiro is a fascinating experience. It was in a stall in this market that she started selling fish at nine years of age. Today, she owns 23 stalls.
The quality and variety of Açucena’s fish would astonish the patrons of Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market. But it is not easy to gather these marine treasures. Açucena wakes up every weekday at 2:00 am to make sure she buys the best fish the sea has to offer. Despite her long work hours, she’s always in a good mood. “Look at these ocean jewels” she says with pride pointing to fish that go by quaint names like rascasso, cantaril, and emperador.
When Albert Einstein visited Lisbon in 1925, he wrote in his diary about a fascinating varina with a proud, mischievous look. We think he would have loved meeting Açucena Veloso.
Açucena Veloso’s fish stalls are at Mercado 31 de Janeiro, Rua Engenheiro Vieira da Silva, 31, tel. 91 721 8169
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.
When lunch time comes, some Lisbon residents dream about being magically transported to the plains of Alentejo. “O Magano,” a restaurant in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood, is a place where these dreams come true. Open for more than a decade, it brings to the capital untranslatable Alentejo delights such as “pézinhos de coentrada” and “carne de alguidar.”
We told our waiter that we wanted to try a little of everything. “I can bring you the menu or you can leave it up to me,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. We agreed to put him in charge and soon the table was covered with small plates of codfish with chickpeas, grilled peppers, favas with chouriço, miniature pies, green bean tempura, and marinated partridge with razor-thin fried potatoes.
“This was a wonderful lunch,” we said, complimenting our waiter on his choices “It’s not a problem if you want to skip it,” he said “but I had something else for you to try.” He went to the kitchen and brought back a steaming terrine of tomato broth. He carefully placed a piece of bread on each soup plate. Then, he poured the tomato broth and toped each piece of bread with a slice of grouper. The result was pure culinary satisfaction.
We made it clear that we didn’t have room for dessert. “I understand,” our waiter said with an enigmatic smile. He then brought us a plate with “queijadas,” “lérias,” “fidalgo,” and a Portuguese version of “îles flottantes.” “Just in case you change your mind and decide to end the meal on a sweet note,” he said. It was a pleasure to succumb to these temptations.
Magano means mischievous boy in the slang of Alentejo. Our waiter is a magano who knows that no one can resist the brilliant simplicity of the food of Alentejo.
O Magano is located at Rua Tomás da Anunciacão 52 in Lisbon, tel. 21 395 4522. Reservations are a must.
We have a major weakness for a Portuguese pastry called “jesuita.” Its shape and color resemble the habits of Jesuit monks, hence the name.
The “jesuita” was invented more than a century ago by a Spanish pastry chef who worked in Santo Tirso, a town in the north of Portugal. It combines puff pastry with two egg-based creams. The whites and the yolks are separated. The yolks are used to make a cream that is layered inside the puff pastry. The whites are used for the frosting.
The quality of “jesuitas” varies from satisfying to divine, depending on the excellence of the ingredients and the exactness of the execution. One of the best “jesuitas” we ever tried came from a wonderful pastry store near Chiado called Tartine. We bit into this delight, and the yolks and whites reunited into a mystical explosion of flavor!
Tartine is located on Rua Serpa Pinto, 15-A, tel 21-342-9108. Click here for their web site.
We have a friend who’s always there for us when we need wise advice, a word of encouragement or someone to intercede for us. As if these prodigious gifts were not enough, every time he visits us, he brings wonderful wines. His latest present was a bottle of Syrah 24.
The wine is produced by José Bento dos Santos in a magical 17th century farm near Lisbon called Quinta do Monte d’Oiro (golden hill farm). The wine is a result of the friendship between Bento dos Santos and famed Rhone Valley producer Michel Chapoutier.
Chapoutier offered Bento dos Santos an extraordinary gift: a large collection of cuttings from Chapoutier’s old Syrah vines in Hermitage. These precious vines were planted in parcel 24 at Quinta do Monte d’Oiro.
In an estate that produces noble wines with meticulous care, the Syrah made with the fruit from parcel 24 is treated like royalty. And it shows. Syrah 24 is a graceful, elegant wine, perfect to celebrate the gift friendship.
Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.