A belly full of fish

Barrigada Restaurant

Right on the Lagos harbor there’s an old shack that houses a restaurant called A Barrigada (a full belly). It is a simple place that serves grilled fish, cataplanas and other seafood delights. Outside the restaurant, you see the fish nets and octopus traps used by some of the fishermen that supply the restaurant.

The wine list is surprisingly good. Our waiter recommended a white wine called Invisivel produced by Ervideira. It is made from the red grape Aragonês and paired perfectly with the fish feast that followed: douradas, carapau and cavalas all perfectly grilled and seasoned. The fish comes with simple accompaniments: boiled potatoes seasoned with garlic and oregano and a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onion.

The waiters look like friendly pirates. Are they descendants of Sir Francis Drake the buccaneer who made Sagres his home base in 1587? All we know is that Barrigada is always full of people from all ages and nationalities enjoying a bounty of fish.

A Barrigada is located at Estrada de São Roque, Cais Sul, MeiaPraia, in Lagos, tel. 282 792 453, email abarrigada@hotmail.com. Click here for the restaurant’s website,  

Imagining new worlds at the Sagres pousada

Pousada de Sagres

Every Portuguese kid learns that Sagres is the place “where land ends and the sea begins.” It was here that Henry the Navigator launched the voyages that led to the discovery of new worlds.

The Sagres pousada has a spectacular location on a cliff that overlooks the fort built by Henry the Navigator in the 15th century. In 1587, the fort was captured by the British pirate Francis Drake who used it as a base of operation for two turbulent months. Rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, the fort stands as a tribute to the golden age of discovery.

There’s a lot to do and see near the pousada: alluring beaches, small fish restaurants, quaint villages, and expansive seascapes. But it is also great to relax in the veranda of our room and contemplate the sea that enticed the Portuguese to leave the safety of their homeland to venture into the unknown.

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

 

 

 

Dom Rodrigo

D. Rodrigos

The most revered noble in the kingdom of Algarve does not own land or royal charters. Dom Rodrigo is a dessert that has been produced since the 18th century. It looks like a gift, wrapped in colored foil and tied with a ribbon.

Alchemists all over the world tried to turn lead into gold. In Algarve, cooks tried to turn eggs, sugar, cinnamon and almonds into joy. And they succeeded!

Salt-water tea

composit-cha-com-agua-salgada

Two architects working in Lisbon, Paulo Esteves and Sandra Gomes, went to the Algarve to visit their family. By happenstance, they heard about a competition for the concession of a restaurant at the entrance of the Manta Rota beach. They were tired of their busy lives in the capital and yearned to be closer to nature, so they decided to apply.

A long time passed until one day, when they had almost forgotten about the competition, they learned they had won!

They called their restaurant Chá com Agua Salgada (salt-water tea). It is a beautiful place with a terrace overlooking the ocean. The food is great and tastes even better because the appetizing aromas are mixed with the ocean breeze.

Our meal started with octopus samosas that were crispy and flavorful, seasoned with a curry mayonnaise. Then came carabineiros, large shrimps from Algarve, paired with spinach wilted in oil and garlic. Next, we enjoyed a luminous corvina cooked with lemon and a delicate algae called sea lettuce. The octopus returned to end the meal, this time seared and adorned with migas, a bread-based accompaniment.

The food looks deceptively simple, but it is prepared with great expertise by chef Marco Jacó. The service is flawless, we felt like we were having lunch at a friend’s house. And the location is heavenly.

Chá com Água Salgada is located at the entrance of the Manta Rota beach, tel. 281 952 856. Click here for their website.

The tavern of the tides

Taberna da Maré - Tavira.JPG

Portimão, a city in the Algarve, is famous for the quality of its sardines. Our favorite place to enjoy the silver of the sea is Taberna da Maré (tavern of the tides), which opened in 1946. The current owner, Zeca Pinhota, restored the restaurant with great sensitivity and care, using the original floor mosaic, vintage furniture, and photos by Julio Bernardo, a photographer born a century ago in nearby Ferragudo.

The food is wonderful. When they are in season, between June and September, the sardines are the main event. But there are many other delicacies. We had a feast composed of razor-clam rice, fried fish with “açorda,” clams Bulhão Pato, and grilled fish eggs.

We told Zeca that his clams are amazing. “That’s because they come from the sea to the restaurant. They do not spend time in tanks, shedding weight and flavor.” Zeca explained. “I call the local fisherman first thing in the morning to ask about the catch of the day. I want to cook the best of what the tide brings.” And that is indeed what you get at the tavern of the tides.

Taberna da Maré is located at Travessa da Barca 9, Portimão, tel. 282 414 614.

A comet called Noélia

Noélia composit

“One good thing about Winter is that it is easier to dine at Noélia” our Algarve friends told us. “In the Summer it is impossible to get in.” Curious, we made reservations a week in advance.

As soon as we sat down in this seaside restaurant in the village of Cabanas, we knew we were in for something special. There was a festive atmosphere and the aromas of the sea filled the air.

The restaurant is noisy but our waiter was a mind reader who guessed what we wanted without the need for much verbal communication. And so a perfectly chilled bottle of sparkling wine arrived, followed by a plate of steamed langoustines. “They were caught this morning” the waiter told us. “I know you’ll like them.” We were so impressed by the crustaceans’ exquisite taste that we vowed never to eat frozen seafood again.

Our main dish was rice with lemon, corvina, and conquilhas, small cockles that only exist in the Algarve. We appreciated in silence the sublime combination of flavors. A Dom Rodrigo, a sweet combination of fios de ovos (egg threads) and almonds, rounded the meal.

Noélia, the chef, seemed to be everywhere: cooking, talking to regulars, giving instructions to the staff, making final adjustments to the plates before they were brought out. She is a culinary comet that brightens everything she touches.

Suddenly, she arrived at our table and asked: “did you like the food?” “We loved it,” we replied. “But we’re sorry we’re too full to try other dishes.” “Next time order oyster risotto and favas with cuttle fish,” she said. “I get up at 6:00 am to make sure I buy the best oysters in Algarve.” And she was gone as quickly as she had arrived.

Outside, the moon was painting the sea with its silver light. But no one in the restaurant paid any attention. The moon cannot compete with a comet called Noélia.

The Restaurante Noélia & Jerónimo is located in the village of Cabanas near Tavira, Algarve at Rua da Fortaleza, Edifício Cabanas-Mar, Loja 6, tel, 281370649. Reservations are a must.

 

The extraordinary salt of Castro Marim

Castro Marin Composit

The Romans loved salt. They used it to cook, to preserve food, and as a form of currency (the practice of paying soldiers in salt is the origin of the word salary). So, it is not surprising that the Romans settled in Castro Marim. This small town on the marshes of the Guadiana river produced great salt.

During the 20th century, this production became industrialized. The salt was harvested with heavy machinery that leaves plenty of chemical residues. It was then washed and processed to turn its grey color into white, striping the salt of magnesium, potassium, and other important minerals.

Artisanal producers abandoned their salt ponds and so did the fish and birds that used them as habitats. Centuries of knowledge about producing great salt was on the verge of being lost.

But then, the tide turned. In the late 1990s, a cooperative called Terras de Sal revived the artisanal salt trade. It invited a French certification body to establish the strictest certification norms to ensure the highest standard of quality. It created the conditions to attract a new generation of producers who left their city jobs and came to Castro Marim to produce the best salt in the world.

These producers harvest the salt manually with wooden tools, a slow process that is essential to avoid chemical contamination. They do not wash the salt, to ensure that it retains all its important minerals. Since rain muddies the water, they only harvest when the weather is dry, between May and September.

One of the cooperative’s producers is called Água Mãe. Their salt is amazingly white and flavorful. Their “fleur de sel,” made of fine crystals created by temperature differentials between water and air, is exquisite. Água Mãe also bottles liquid salt, which is low in sodium and high in magnesium. When we spray it on our salads it gives them layers of delicate flavor.

The Romans were prescient in their love of salt. An amazing fact about our bodies is that, because life began in the sea, the composition of our tissue fluid resembles that of natural sea salt.

The ordinary act of seasoning our food becomes extraordinary when we use salt from Castro Marim. It is a privilege to nourish our body with the same pristine salt prized by the Romans 2000 years ago.

You can find the Água Mãe salt store on Travessa dos 3 Marcos, n.º 11, Castro Marim, Algarve, tel. 961380503, email  aguamae@aguamae.pt . Click here for the Terras de Sal web site. To buy the wondrous salt of Castro Marim in the U.S., click here.