Portuguese melon

August 18, 2014 § 2 Comments


Fatia de Melão-2

One of the pleasures of the Portuguese Summer is eating melon. But melons are like lottery tickets. You can win the grand prize, a perfectly ripe melon bursting with sweetness, or strike out and get a tasteless specimen. There’s a coloquial expression that reflects this uncertainty. We say “que melão,”  which means “what a melon,” when we suffer a minor disappointment.

Melon sellers have some curious idiosyncrasies. They like to boast that their melons come from Almeirim, a region that is famous for its melon but has a small production volume.  They also take pride in being able to pick a ripe melon, even though their track record is often spotty.

Restaurant waiters talk about melon with great diplomacy. When they say: “The melon is usually great but I didn’t try it today,” it means that the melon is a dud.

There are restaurants that always serve good melon. No one seems to know how they do it. Perhaps they buy many melons and throw away the bad ones.

According to an old proverb, “por cima de melão, vinho de tostão,” which means “after melon, drink wine that costs a penny.” Since a penny was a lot of money in old times, the proverb recommends drinking good wine after eating melon.

So, here’s our advice. Ask a melon seller to pick a ripe melon from Almeirim for you. If the melon is lousy, just say “que melão” and move on. If the melon is great, celebrate with a great bottle of wine!

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The name of this wine estate near Lisbon means golden hill farm. It is a fitting designation because this is a place where grapes are treated like gold and wines are made with a jeweler’s precision.

The soil of the farm is similar to that of Côtes du Rhône, so José Bento dos Santos, the farm’s owner, planted the same grape varieties that thrive in that French region: Syrah and Viognier.

Graça Gonçalves, the estate’s enologist, talks about each parcel of the farm as if they are old friends. She knows their qualities and shortcomings and choses cultivation methods that help each of them thrive. We ask which is her favorite parcel and quickly realize it is an impolite question. Graça does not answer, but when she talks about parcel 24 her eyes shine more than usual. This parcel is planted with Syrah grapes that came from old vines in Côtes du Rhône. Each plant is different and it is this variety that creates the quinta’s top wines, such as the aptly named Syrah 24.

When harvest time approaches, Graça walks through the vines, taking samples to analyze in the lab, tasting the grapes, imagining the wines that will be produced. When the time is right, the grapes are picked by hand and carefully selected. There are then numerous decision to make, such as how to press the grapes and whether to stage the wine in French oak barrels or stainless steel vats. Why such meticulous care? Graça explains: “Wine is roughly 14 percent alcohol and 85 percent water, so there is only one percent for the fruits of the vine to create emotion.” It is impossible not to feel this emotion when you open a bottle of Quinta do Monte d’Oiro wine.

Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.

Black figs

July 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Figos

When you go to the market buy black figs, recommends the Portuguese writer Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen in her poem The Morning Walk: “but figs are not black, they are blue on the outside and pink on the inside and they all shed a tear made of honey.”

Amazing produce

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Older people often complain that food doesn’t taste as good as it once did. Are they right or it is just that everything tastes better when we’re young? We can answer this question thanks to Herdade do Freixo do Meio, an Alentejo estate.

In 2001, the Herdade adopted organic production methods and planted old varieties of fruits and vegetables that were left behind by the industrialization of agriculture. They also started to raise black pigs, Barrosa cows, Alentejo turkeys, and other animals, letting them roam free. You can see and taste the amazing results by visiting their store in Lisbon’s Ribeira market.

When you try their products, you quickly realize that older people are right: food used to taste much better. The good news is that Herdade do Freixo is bringing that taste back!

Click here for the Herdade do Freixo do Meio web site.

A memorable sandwich

May 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sandes de leitão da Mealhada

The Earl of Sandwich is credited with the idea of placing food inside two slices of bread. But it was Portuguese peasants who turned this aristocratic whim into something sublime.

In ancient times, peasants in Mealhada, a town in the Bairrada region, used to offer their largest pigs to the nobles who owned the land. The peasants were left with small pigs called “leitão” (“laytaoum”).  They roasted them in wood ovens, seasoned with garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, and plenty of white pepper. The meat, cut into slices and served inside country bread, produced amazing sandwiches.

One of our favorite side trips from Lisbon is to drive the 90 km to Mealhada to enjoy a freshly-made “leitão” sandwich, accompanied with local sparkling wine. On the way there, we visit the beautiful Batalha monastery. On the return, we stop by the enchanting Bussaco Palace for coffee and pastry. The delicious food and beautiful scenery always make for memorable trips.

There are many good restaurants in Mealhada serving “leitão à moda da Bairrada” (leitão Bairrada style). Two of our favorites are Meta dos Leitões (IC2, Estrada Nacional 1, Sernadelo, Mealhada, tel. 231 209 540, email: casadesarmento@gmail.com) and Pedro dos Leitões (Rua Alvaro Pedro no 1 Sernadelo, Mealhada, tel. 231 209 950).

Divine sweets from Aveiro

May 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Doce d_ovos Pastelaria Versailles

Aveiro is a picturesque town in the center of Portugal, known for its canals on the delta of the Vouga river. In ancient times, Aveiro lived from the production of salt and the gathering of seaweed that was used to fertilize the land.

Aveiro’s claim to fame is its “ovos moles” (soft eggs). To make this dessert, pastry chefs separate the yolks from the whites. The yolks are combined with sugar to make the filling. The whites are used to make the same wafers that, once blessed, are served in holly communion. The filling is placed inside two wafers, which are then molded into various shapes. And that is how the profane yolk reunites with the sacred white to make divine “ovos moles.”

Bottled Summer

April 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

QuintaMontedOiro

Tasca do Joel, a great restaurant in Peniche, teamed up with a wonderful wine estate, Quinta do Monte d’Oiro, to make wine that celebrates the joys of the Portuguese Summer. They called it “surf wine” and the label reads:

“To those who didn’t go out last night and those who didn’t sleep, to the tourists and the locals, to the crazy ones who plunge ahead and the ones who hesitate, to the ones who like the right and the others who prefer the left, to lovers of the beach break or the reef break, to those who came out of the barrel wave and those who tasted sand, to all of these, and to the surf in Peniche we make a toast!”

We don’t know what magic went into the production of these wines. But it is impossible to drink them without longing to spend the Summer in Portugal!

Click here for the Tasca do Joel web site and here for the Quinta de Monte d’Oiro web site.

The best “pastel de nata” in Lisbon?

March 30, 2014 § 5 Comments

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Pastelaria Aloma, a pastry store in the Campo d’Ourique neighborhood, became famous after winning the competition for the best “pastel de nata” in Lisbon in 2012 and 2013. With so many pastry stores and coffee shops vying for this honor, it is a remarkable achievement.

We set out to investigate, on behalf of our readers, whether Aloma’s pastries are indeed a cut above the rest. Our first two visits were in the afternoon and, by the time we arrived, they had run out of pastries! Why don’t they make more? Were they told by a business guru to use scarcity as a marketing tool?

Our third visit was in the morning. We were so eager to try these little pastries that we ate the first pastel very quickly. By the time we noticed the taste, all that was left was a happy hint of lemony sweetness.

We asked for a second specimen. This time we used a scientific approach, taking small bytes and writing detailed notes. Yes, the dough has the perfect crustiness, flakiness, and flavor. Yes, the sweetness of the filling is perfectly balanced by the taste of lemon and the sprinkle of cinnamon.

It was only when we ordered a third pastel that we realized that these pastries have a major flaw: it is hard to stop eating them!

Pastelaria Aloma is located on Rua Francisco Metrass, 67, Lisbon, tel. 21-396-3797.

The freshest fish

March 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

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Professional cookbooks are full of elaborate fish recipes involving numerous ingredients and complex sauces. In contrast, Portuguese recipes are very simple. There’s a reason for this simplicity. Portugal has fabulous fish that arrives to the market just hours after it is caught. So, local chefs favor preparations that emphasize the natural flavors of the sea’s bounty. 

You can taste the extraordinary quality of our fish in any good Portuguese restaurant. And you can see it for yourself by visiting one of the many fish markets. In Lisbon, our favorite is Rosanamar in Mercado da Ribeira. It offers amazing quality and variety. The fish is so fresh that, given a chance, it will swim back to the sea. 

Mercado da Ribeira is on Avenida 24 de Julho in Lisbon.

Traveling with Julia Kemper

January 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

Julia Kemper

The Dão is one of the oldest Portuguese wine regions. It is a place where granitic soils force vines to work hard for their sustenance, producing small grapes that are full of flavor. We heard wonders about Julia Kemper, a new Dão producer, and we finally got a chance to try her wines.

We first opened a bottle of red wine made with Touriga Nacional, the queen varietal of the Dão region. The taste took us back to hot Summer days in the Dão valleys, when the sky is indescribably blue and everything is at peace.

We then opened a bottle of white made with Encruzado, another emblematic Dão varietal, and Malvasia Fina. The taste reminded us of cool nights in the Dão plateaus, when all the stars come out to worship the beauty of the Estrela mountain.

What a privilege it is to drink wines that take us on a journey to their terroir!

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