Portuguese fast food

H3

Portuguese cuisine is definitely slow food. You have to wait for the fish to grill, the clams to open, the meat to roast, or the shrimp to cook. If you’re in a hurry, Portuguese cafés offer a wide array of finger foods to eat on the go: tasty codfish cakes (bolos de bacalhau), delicious small pies (empadas), crunchy paninis (tostas mistas), and much more.

But, if you’re in need of something quick and more substantial, try a Portuguese hamburger chain called H3. They cook to order delicious hamburgers made with great ingredients. Start with the wonderful “croquetes de alheira” as a appetizer. Then, choose one of the many burger configurations, with toppings ranging from mushrooms to foie gras. You’ll see why this fast-food chain is growing so fast.

Click here for the H3 website (choose “onde” to see a list of locations). 

A supreme chicken

One of the simple pleasures of Portuguese cuisine is roasted chicken with piri-piri, a spicy sauce made with peppers that came originally from Africa.

Frango da Guia, a small roasted chicken, is very popular in the Algarve. But the best roasted chicken we have ever had is from Frango Saloio, a tiny take-out place in the municipal market of the town of Lourinhã, 70 km north of Lisbon. You see no tourists there, only locals who wait while their chicken is cooked to perfection over red-hot coals. Lines can be long during the Summer, so please don’t tell anyone about this place!

Frango Saloio is located in Mercado Municipal, Loja 2, Lourinhã, tel. 917 272 385.

Great traditional cuisine in Oporto

Looks can be deceiving. Adega S. Nicolau, a restaurant in the Ribeira area of Oporto, has no celebrity chef or design furniture. But it serves amazing food: grilled fish, fried sardines, roasted codfish, fried octopus, and much more. The star of the menu is the “posta de vitela arouquesa” a steak of veal from Arouca seared to perfection, the best we have ever had.

Everything on the menu follows traditional recipes, but the food is hard to imitate. It takes enormous confidence to trust the quality of the ingredients and let them shine through simple preparations. It is this confidence that Adega S. Nicolau has been building since 1930.

Adega S. Nicolau, R. São Nicolau, 1, Ribeira, Oporto. Tel. 222-008-232.

Everybody knows Aleixo in Oporto

Casa Aleixo, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2012.

Casa Aleixo’s granite walls have welcomed diners for over one hundred years. This restaurant was first a “tasca,” a place that serves cheap wine and snacks. When it changed hands, in the 1950s, the new owners perfected a small menu of dishes prepared with the best ingredients they could find in the Póvoa do Varzim market. The quality and consistency of the food quickly attracted a loyal following.

Aleixo’s owners use whimsical names to describe different parts of the restaurant: lab for the kitchen, surgery room for the dining room, pharmacy for the wine cellar, and torture chamber for the cashier.

At Aleixo you can eat perfect laminated octopus, tender whitefish fillets, and succulent roasted veal. And, since prices are reasonable, you can go through the torture chamber without enduring much pain.

Casa Aleixo, Rua Estação 216,  Oporto, Tel.  225 370 462.


Lamprey is in season!

Lampreia (lamprey) is a very strange fish that, somehow, gained favor with emperors and kings. The Romans included it in banquets prepared for Julius Caesar. The oldest known Portuguese cookbook, a 16th century collection of recipes attributed to Infanta D. Maria, has a single fish recipe that describes how to prepare and cook lamprey.

You don’t have to conquer Gaul or marry royalty to eat lamprey. Many Portuguese restaurants offer this delicacy between January and April. It is usually served stewed, accompanied with rice. You find excellent lamprey at Solar dos Presuntos, a traditional Lisbon restaurant where you can dine like a king.

Restaurante Solar dos Presuntos, Rua das Portas de Stº Antão, 150, Lisbon. Tel. 21 342 42 53, GPS coordinates: 38º43’07″N and 9º08’51″O. Click here for their website. 

The world’s best chocolate cake

Who created the world’s best chocolate cake?  Gaston Lenôtre? Pierre Hermé? Jacques Torres? Guess again. The cake is made with French chocolate but the name of the chef is Portuguese: Carlos Braz Lopes.

His cake has three chocolate merengue disks layered with chocolate mousse and toped with a chocolate ganache. He started selling it in a tiny store located in an obscure corner of Lisbon’s Campo d’Ourique neighborhood. But the cake is so good that word of mouth attracted chocolate lovers from all over the world.

The French gourmet Brillat-Savarin wrote that the discovery of a new recipe brings more happiness than the discovery of a new star. There is no better way to savor the truth in this aphorism than to taste a slice of Carlos Braz Lopes’ wondrous cake.

O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo by Carlos Braz Lopes, Rua Coelho da Rocha 99, Campo de Ourique, Lisboa, tel. 21 396 53 72, email: geral@omelhorbolodechocolatedomundobycbl.com. Click here for the website.

O Cantinho do Avillez

This small restaurant near Chiado has a funky, bohemian décor that makes it look like a theater set. The servers, all implausibly good looking and articulate, are clearly trained actors.

Chef José Avillez directs this food theater. He has great credentials, having apprenticed with Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià. Here he cooks traditional fare with original variations that create new layers of taste.

It is difficult to choose from the menu because everything is so delicious. There is vegetable tempura that is crunchy and crisp, savory partridge turnovers with an intense, gamey flavor, homemade canned tuna with a pungent mayonnaise of ginger and lime, sautéed chicken liver and grapes perfumed with Port wine, and so much more.

When you leave O Cantinho you feel like you’ve just seen a wonderful play that you would love to see again.

Rua dos Duques de Bragança, 7, Lisboa, tel. 21-199-2369. Click here for the restaurant’s website. Reservations are a must.

Pasteis de Belém

When you land in the Lisbon airport, there’s a heightened anticipation for what comes next. There’s the usual ritual of waiting in line, searching for your luggage, going through customs, all transforming you from in transit to landed. But here, arriving isn’t the best part. You drive out of the airport towards the river Tagus. As you get close, you first see the seagulls. Then, you see the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery, monuments to the many “caravelas” that departed from a nearby dock. A marble Henry the Navigator leads a pack of explorers, pointing the way to the new world. But that’s not why you came here. You came here for a small pastry shop just down the road.

In 1834, the government closed down all Portuguese convents and monasteries. The friars of the Jerónimos Monastery needed a source of income. So, like other religious orders in Portugal, they used their ancient recipes to make pastries for sale. The Jerónimos monks made little cups of flaky pastry dough filled with custard and topped with cinnamon. All monastery pastries are delicious, but these “pasteis de Belém” are a piece of heaven. The recipe hasn’t changed since the pastry shop opened in 1837, and everything about it is shrouded in mystery. Only three master patissiers, who prepare the cream and dough in the “Oficina do Segredo” (secret workshop), know the recipe.

These pastries are ephemeral bites of cinnamon and warmth. They must be eaten right away, never saved for later. Every coffee shop in Portugal produces an imitation, but none quite captures the lightness of the dough, the creaminess of the filling. These imitations even bear a different name: “pasteis de nata.” Because there is only one place in the world where you can get “pasteis de Belém.”

Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Rua de Belém, 84-92, Lisbon. Tel. 21-363-7423. Email: pasteisdebelem@pasteisdebelem.pt. Click here for website.

António Tá Certo

It is always pleasant to have lunch at a beach side restaurant, with sea and sky as backdrop and the sound of waves as soundtrack. And, when you find a restaurant like António Tá Certo that serves freshly caught fish, just off the boat, the experience can be idyllic.

Tá Certo is located on the beach of Vale do Garrão, close to Faro in the Algarve. It offers an impressive assortment of robalos (sea bass), douradas (sea bream), garoupas (grouper), and pargos (red snapper). If you ask the staff why their fish tastes so great, they smile and answer: our fish slept in the sea.

There is only one problem with enjoying these simple moments on the seashore: you might never want to leave.

Praia do Garrão Nascente, Vale do Lobo. 8135, Almancil, tel. (289) 396-456. GPS: N’ 37.03815 / W’ 8.04699.

Beer and seafood in Lisbon

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When Portuguese chefs are not working, they like to gather at Cervejaria Ramiro to enjoy some beer and seafood.

The restaurant is located in an unglamorous part of Lisbon and looks like an ordinary place. What makes it unique is its extraordinary seafood.

Ramiro does not serve farmed shrimp that arrives, tired and frozen, from far away lands. Instead, they offer you precious fresh shrimp from the Algarve. They prepare exquisite “carabineiros,” large shrimps once abundant in Spain but now available only in Portugal. They cook tender clams, a wonderful crab called “santola,” and salty percebes brought warm to the table.

Even though Ramiro is in business since 1956, it is excluded from tourist guides for national security reasons. If the Spaniards learned about Ramiro’s seafood, they might invade Portugal.

Av. Almirante Reis, nº1 – H, 1150-007 Lisboa, tel. 21 885 10 24, email geral@cervejariaramiro.pt, click here for website.