We met Valentim, the chef and owner of Taberna Valentim in Viana do Castelo, as soon as we entered the restaurant. He was working hard at the grill but took time to show us the superb mullets that had just been delivered. “The seas are often rough during Winter so at times we have to close the restaurant because we can’t find fresh fish of the quality we seek. These mullets came from Póvoa do Varzim. The sea was rough yet the fishermen still went out. Their fish is gorgeous but the they take too much risk to catch it.”
Taberna do Valentim has offered the same small menu for 40 years: pristine seasonal fish perfectly grilled, fish rice, “ensopado de peixe,” a fish stew prepared with white pepper and served on bread toasts, and caldeirada (bouillabaisse). The quality is high and prices are modest so the place is always packed.
After a very satisfying lunch, we resumed our conversation with Valentim. “I started working when I was 8, serving glasses of wine and codfish cakes in my mother’s tavern,” he told us. “Then, I began to cook, so I’ve been cooking for a long time. But time is not what’s important. Passion is. Unless you have passion for what you do you’ll never be great at it.” This passion is evident in everything that comes to the table at Taberna Valentim.
Taberna Valentim is located at Avenida Campo do Castelo nº45 in Viana do Castelo, tel. 258-827-505.
One of the most original Portuguese recipes is a pudding created in the 19th century by the priest of Priscos, a small parish near Braga. He was called Manuel Rebelo but became known as the Abade de Priscos (Prisco’s abbot). His fame as a cook and gourmet earned him the invitation to prepare banquets for the royal family and the title of Honorary Chaplain of the Royal House.
The pudding combines egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, port wine, and fresh bacon (yes, bacon!). The abbot liked to say that the pudding is easy to make but hard to make perfectly and that when well prepared, it has a unique taste. Paired with a glass of port wine, a slice of this pudding is a culinary delight.
Born in 1834, the abbot lived almost 100 years, dying in 1930. Could the abbot’s pudding be the secret of his longevity? We order it every time we see it on the menu to try to find out!
The scrumptious Pudim Abade de Priscos in the photograph was prepared at the restaurant of the majestic Pousada of Viana do Castelo.
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 bar of the Viana do Castelo Pousada has a beautiful tapestry designed by the great artist Almada Negreiros and produced by the Portalegre Tapestry Manufacture in 1957.
The tapestry depicts the arrival of roman armies, commanded by Decius Junos Brutus, to the left bank of the Lima river in 135 BC. The beauty of the place convinced the romans that they had found Lethes, the mythical river of forgetfulness that erased all the memories of those who crossed it.
The army stood still, no soldier dared to cross the river. Holding the roman banner in his hand, Brutus crossed the river. Once he reached the right margin, he called each soldier by his name to prove that his memory was intact. Reassured, the rest of the army crossed the river.
We arrived to find the Pousada of Viana do Castelo shrouded in fog. The staff apologized profusely, as if it was their duty to control the weather to please the guests. The fog won’t last long and the view is wonderful, they guaranteed.
It was a warm winter night, so we slept with the balcony doors open. The first few rays of orange light woke us up to see the magnificent view of the temple of Santa Luzia, framed by the Lima river and the deep blue sea.
The hotel was conceived by Domingos José de Morais, a successful entrepreneur who dreamed of turning Viana do Castelo into a beach resort like Biarritz. The project was awarded to architect Miguel Ventura Terra, a disciple of the Beaux Arts movement who also designed the temple of Santa Luzia. Sadly, José de Morais didn’t live to see the hotel inaugurated in 1921. In 1946, the state purchased the hotel which later became part of the pousadas, a network of historical hotels in unique locations.
The Viana do Castelo Pousada offers heavenly views, impeccable service and wonderful tranquility. Domingos José de Morais would be proud.
Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.
Minho (“meeño) is a region in the north of Portugal where mountains and valleys, rivers and sea join forces to create lush landscapes. It is a land of ancient traditions, influenced by the celtic tribes that once populated the area and by the roman invaders who thought these were the Elysian fields.
No one understood Minho better than the poet Pedro Homem de Mello. His famous poem, “One day we’ll go to Viana,” describes the allure of visiting Viana do Castelo, one of the gems of the region.
If you’re lucky enough to fulfill the poet’s dream and go to Viana, look for the beautiful LRV pottery. Local artisans paint these elegant pieces with the patience and care of an era gone by, when time flowed slowly and it was hard to travel to Viana.
“Havemos de Ir a Viana” was set to music and became a hit in the voice of the great fado singer Amália Rodrigues. Our version of this song features Cecília Fontes on voice, Evandra Gonçalves and Teresa Mascarenhas on violin, and Sergio Rebelo on guitar. The piece was mixed and produced by Pedro Rebelo. It was recorded in Chicago, at a time when violinist Evandra Gonçalves was missing her hometown, Viana do Castelo.