Finding perfect codfish cakes

Bacalhoaria composite

When people ask us what to eat in Lisbon, we recommend they try one of the city’s culinary triumphs: the humble, sublime codfish cake. You can order it in many eateries, from simple “tascas” to fancy restaurants. But, unfortunately, codfish cakes vary greatly in the quality of their ingredients and the care used in their preparation.

Luckily, there is a restaurant in Lisbon called Bacalhoaria Moderna (the modern codfish eatery) that serves perfect codfish cakes.  It is headed by Ana Moura, a talented young chef who cooks with intensity and flair. She uses superb codfish, captured in the pristine waters of Iceland and expertly dried and salted by Portuguese fishermen.

As soon as you seat at Bacalhoaria, the waiter brings one gorgeous codfish cake per guest, together with a plate of irresistible brandade. These appetizers are a culinary lesson. A chance to compare a Portuguese and a French codfish recipe. The brandade is elegant and delicious–the best we ever tried. The codfish cakes are light, crisp, warm and flavorful—little pieces of culinary magic.

After this heady start, we can choose from a plethora of other codfish preparations as well as many great alternatives like octopus, roasted pork, and vegetarian options.

An intriguing culinary question is: where will a new classic codfish recipe be created and by whom? Our answer is: at Bacalhoaria Moderna by Ana Moura.

Bacalhoaria Moderna is located at Rua São Sebastião da Pedreira, 150, Lisbon, tel. 21 605 3208, 

Tasquinha da Linda in Viana do Castelo

Tasquinha da Linda

Tasquinha is a word used to refer to small, modest eating places. It is not an apt description of Tasquinha da Linda, an elegant restaurant located in a converted fish warehouse on the bank of the river Lima in Viana do Castelo. The restaurant is run by Deolinda Ferreira, known to everybody as Linda, a word that means beautiful. She was born near the restaurant into a family of fishermen. Her father told her that she was too pretty to sell fish but she ignored his advice and built a successful fish-export business.

When Linda decided to open a restaurant, she followed a recipe that is easy to conceive but hard to imitate: serve the freshest fish and seafood using simple preparations that showcase the quality of the ingredients.

Tasquinha da Linda has a special ambience. The waiters greet customers as friends and there’s a festive atmosphere created by the constant flow of trays heaped with steamed seafood, grilled fish, saucy rices and cataplanas. The wine list offers great choices at modest prices. It all adds up to a beautiful dining experience.

Tasquinha da Linda is located at Doca das Mares A-10, Viana do Castelo, tel. 258 847 900. Click here for the restaurant’s web site.

 

The sea tavern

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A dinner at A Taberna do Mar (the sea tavern) is a culinary plunge into the waters of Sesimbra, Trafaria and Costa da Caparica. These are the beaches near Lisbon where chef Filipe Rodrigues sources his fish.

Filipe was born in the Algarve. His grandparents were cannery workers who taught him some of the secrets of the sea. He discovered other secrets on his own, through years of hard work. After creating the menu for several popular restaurants, Filipe decided to open his own place. It is a cozy tavern with ancient stone walls and a quaint tile floor.

You can order a la carte or choose a menu prepared by the chef. Feeling adventurous, we went for the menu. The feast began with a warm tortilla decorated with cuttlefish ink topped with a cream of lupini beans, mint, and sea fennel, a plant that grows on sandy dunes. Then, we enjoyed a carob bun stuffed with dried horse mackerel accompanied by a miso mayonnaise. It came with a dumpling stuffed with tender veal tongue, seaweed and mushrooms. It was moist and delicious. We went back to the sea with a plate of sarrejão sashimi. Sarrejão is a fish from the bonito family that shines brightly when it is very fresh.

We were still savoring this delight when Filipe brought us his version of muxama. This prosciutto of the sea, made by salting and drying the best parts of the tuna, has been produced in the Algarve since Roman times. Filipe marinated the tuna in a mixture of soy and moscatel wine before he dried it. The muxama came with an exuberant combination of pumpkin pickle, sushi rice and a large shrimp from Algarve called “carabineiro.”

An appetizing bread seasoned with sardine sauce and a tasty mackerel soup came next. They were followed by xerem, an Algarve version of polenta, with berbigão and seaweed. Then the air filled with the aroma of grilled sardines that came from a tray where the sardine nigiri was being prepared. Our taste buds jumped for joy while the sardine melted in our mouth.

Filipe asked us whether we would like to repeat any of the items from the menu. We answered in unison:  yes, we would love some more sardine nigiri!

The meal ended with three desserts: a carob mousse served with tangerine sorbet, a bread pudding and a crème brulée where the milk was replaced with a berry puree.

A Taberna do Mar is a place where East meets West, where Japanese cooking techniques are used to recreate Portuguese flavors with delicious results.

Taberna do Mar is located at Calçada da Graça 20 B, in Lisbon, tel. 21 093 9360.

 

Rooster fish

RBD_Desenho Peixe Galo
Peixe Galo, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, July 2018.

One of Portugal’s most appetizing fish is the Selene Setapinnis, commonly known as “peixe galo” (rooster fish). In Peniche, fishermen call it “alfaquique.” It is a word with an Arab origin, suggesting that this fish was prized centuries ago.

Peixe galo swims with a serious demeanor near the ocean floor where its colors make it almost invisible. It stays slim on a diet of squid, cuttlefish, and shrimp. Perhaps that is why its meat tastes so good.

Fried peixe galo with an açorda made with its fish eggs is a sumptuous meal, one of the simply extraordinary pleasures of the Portuguese cuisine.

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,  

Reading Anna Karenina in Sagres

Composite Restaurant Os Arcos Algarve

Adega dos Arcos (the cellar of the arches) is named after its many arches. It is an old “tasca,” a humble establishment that serves traditional fare. The restaurant changed owners over the years but the recipe for success has remained the same: fresh fish and grilled meats served with no frills at very modest prices.

We recommend the local fish species with names no one can translate into English. We had sargos, bicas, and liça. The sargo has a buttery taste and a wonderful consistency. Bicas have a more complex flavor reminiscent of the posh mullets. The liça has large white filets with a firm texture and delicate taste.

Everything comes with potatoes, boiled or fried and a traditional salad with lettuce, onion and tomato. The choice of wines is very limited and dominated by Caiado, a great inexpensive wine produced by Adega Mayor.

Even in the Winter, Adega dos Arcos is busy with locals and visitors. “In the Summer forget it,” says the waiter, “the lines are huge.” But the food is worth it. You can take a long Russian novel like Anna Karenina to read while you’re waiting. The novel might end badly, but we guarantee that your wait will have a happy ending.

Adega dos Arcos is located on Rua Roca da Veiga, Sagres, tel. 960 294 290.

The most famous fish monger in Lisbon

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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

Post scriptum: Açucena Veloso died tragically in a car accident in January, 2018. Her daughter Susana and the rest of the family continue to run the fish stalls with the same dedication to quality and service as before. Açucena would be proud.