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.

Mãe d’ Água

There is so much about this restaurant that is out of a fairy tale: two brothers, an ancient spring, a magical landscape, food and wine fit for a king.

In 2004 the brothers Artur and Carlos Lopes found a late 19th century barn in Sobral do Parelhão, a small village near Bombarral, 70 km north of Lisbon. There, they built a restaurant perfectly in tune with its surroundings. They called it Mãe d’Água (water source) because water from a nearby spring runs through the building.

They cut the ancient brick walls to open large windows that frame the handsome landscape of Estremadura. They filled elegant wood cabinets with wines from the region. They chose a menu full of delicacies, briny shrimp in garlic sauce, fragrant lingueirão rice, tender lamb chops, and so much more. Mãe d’Água is a fairy tale come true.

Sobral do Parelhão, Bombarral, Rua 13 de Maio 26, 2540-467 Carvalhal, tel.262 605 408, email geral@restaurantemaedagua.com, click here for their website.

Reinventing Portuguese cuisine

You need to study before eating at Pedro Lemos’ wonderful restaurant in Oporto. You have to learn the taste of roasted suckling pig, the smell of codfish and chickpeas, the texture of veal from Miranda, the saltiness of sardines, the sweetness of rocha pears. Only then will you understand that Lemos is reinventing these traditional Portuguese flavors with imagination and soul.

Pedro Lemos, Rua Padre Luis Cabral, 974, Foz do Douro, Porto, Tel. 220115986, email reservas@pedrolemos.net

Tasca da Esquina

“Tasca” means a modest establishment that serves cheap wine and “petiscos” (the Portuguese word for “tapa”). When well-known chef Vitor Sobral opened this restaurant he probably called it tasca to signal its affordable price. But the quality is excellent.

There is a daily menu featuring small dishes, all original, all prepared with great care. There is also a degustation.

Three star food almost at tasca prices, that is what you get at Tasca da Esquina. Reservations are a must.

Rua Domingos Sequeira 41C , Campo de Ourique,  1350-119 Lisboa, Tel. 919 837 255, email info@tascadaesquina.com. Click here for web site.


			

Boia Bar

Boia Bar Composit

At Boia Bar, a restaurant in Salema, near Lagos, Algarve, we always feel we are in a movie set. Everything is too perfect to be real. The restaurant is right on the beach. At dinner time you see the sky drowned in yellow and the sea getting ready for sunset, covering its dark blue color with washes of lighter hues. The warm air and the fresh sea breeze create the perfect temperature. Then, the wine and food arrive.

The best item on the menu is the “robalo” (sea bass) grilled Algarve style. Before grilling, the chef makes diagonal incisions on the fish and fills them with thin slices of garlic and some olive oil. It’s that simple. But simple things are often the hardest. You have to have the freshest fish. You have to know the right temperature for the coal, the right amount of salt to use, the right moment to take the fish from the grill to the table. It’s this perfection of simple things that you can enjoy at Boia Bar.

Rua dos Pescadores 101, 8650-199 Salema, tel. 282 695 382, email: boiabar@mail.telepac.pt, click here for website.