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!

Horseback riding in Portugal

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

CaLezirias

Portugal is a paradise for horseback riders. Many stud farms offer affordable riding lessons and organize rides through the countryside.

One of these stud farms is Companhia das Lezírias. It provides lodging and instruction for both beginners and advanced riders. Once you master the basics, you can ride through the company’s vast tracts of unspoiled marshes and meadowlands on one of their purebred Lusitano horses.

Lusitanos (“looseetanos”) descend from the horses ridden by the Romans. They’re prized for their agility, courage, and empathy with the rider.

When you’re riding a beautiful lusitano, all you think about is the thrill of the ride. That is why horseback-ridding vacations are a perfect way to get away from it all.

Click here to see the Companhia das Lezírias web site.

Our favorite restaurant in Évora

August 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

BotequimdaMouraria-Edit©

Our favorite restaurant in Évora, Botequim da Mouraria, seats only eight people and takes no reservations. There are no tables, everybody eats at the counter. Domingos Canelas, the restaurant’s owner, recites the menu, an endless list of delicacies that includes wild asparagus, eggs from blissful chicken, incredible prosciutto from Alentejo, luscious figs, briny clams, succulent fish and meat. In the kitchen, his wife Florbela cooks these ingredients with great skill and refinement. When Domingos brings the food he smiles, anticipating our enjoyment.

We asked him to select a wine from the restaurant’s amazing list. Instead of choosing an expensive bottle, he decided to impress us with a perfectly chilled white wine from Herdade Grande. “In Portugal,” he said, “you don’t need to spend much money to drink great wine.” And we agreed, marveling at the perfect harmony between the wine and the food.

During our leisurely lunch, many customers came to the door and left because there were no seats available. And yet, Domingos didn’t  try to rush us. “You need time to enjoy the food of Alentejo,” he said.

We asked whether he planed to expand the size of the restaurant. He answered without hesitation: “I can only maintain this quality if I stay small.” At Botequim da Mouraria small is wonderful.

Botequim da Mouraria is at Rua da Mouraria, 16-A in Evora, tel. 266-746-775, email: botequim.mouraria@sapo.pt.

Viseu turned upside down

July 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Mesas

Roman cities are generally organized around two perpendicular streets, the “cardo” and the “documanus.” In Viseu, an elegant city in the interior of Portugal, the cardo is called Rua Direita. This ancient street has been turned upside down by an installation called Mesas (the Portuguese word for tables). Artists Pedro Rebelo and Ricardo Jacinto suspended in the air tables once used by jewelers, tailors, office workers, school children, card and ping-pong players. These tables project sounds recorded while they were in use, inviting us to celebrate the people who study, work, and play in this city.

Mesas is part of Ephemeral Gardens, a great annual event which fills the streets of Viseu with art, music, dance, theater, and gastronomy. Click here for more information.

The place to be in Lisbon

July 21, 2014 § 5 Comments

Palácio Valle Flôr compositF©For the price of ordinary accommodations in London or Paris, you can stay in an extraordinary palace in Lisbon. It’s all thanks to José Dias, an entrepreneur who made a fortune producing cocoa to feed Europe’s insatiable appetite for chocolate. After many years of hard work on the island of São Tomé, Dias returned to Lisbon. He received the title of Marquis of Valle Flor and began the construction of a magnificent palace.

The Marquis bought land with breathtaking views of the Tagus river and hired architects to design a building with perfect proportions. He then decorated it with great refinement, commissioning elegant furniture, beautiful paintings, graceful sculptures, and radiant stained-glass windows. After its inauguration in 1915, the palace became a fashionable gathering place for the royal family, celebrities, and nobility.

With the death of the Marquis in 1932, the edifice entered a period of slow decay. To save this work of art from oblivion, Dionísio Pestana, a successful hotelier, bought the building in 1992 to convert it into a luxury hotel.

It took almost ten years to restore the edifice and equip it with modern comforts. The result is the Pestana Palace, a hotel favored by a long list of celebrities that includes Bill Clinton and Madonna. The Marquis of Valle Flor would surely love to see that his palace is, once again, the place to be in Lisbon.

The Pestana Palace is located at Rua Jau, 54, tel. 210401711 , email: guest@pestana.com. Click here for the hotel’s web site and here to see more photos of the palace.

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

DCIM101GOPRO
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.”

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