Before moving to Portugal, I did not know much about it apart from its colonial prowess and Vasco de Gama. I did not know what to expect for food – which is my first go-to in experiencing other cultures – I didn’t know “piri-piri” has Portuguese roots despite it being everywhere in Asia these days (I thought piri-piri chicken dishes were from Mexico lmao)!
Shame on me, and on you, too if you don’t know anything about it apart from Nando’s because Portuguese food is such a treat.
Similar to Spanish cuisine, Portuguese cuisine relies heavily on olive oil, seafood, and grilling. In Spain if they have paella, in Portugal they have mariscada. In Spain if they have asadors, they have churrasqueiras here (and lechonan in the Philippines). Same, same, but oh lord to paraphrase Mang Tomas, a Filipino sauce brand, “Sarsa pa lang, ulam na!”
Roughly translated, it means: Just the sauce is a dish itself!
Ha, English doesn’t match its original enthusiasm, but anyway, back to Portuguese food.
Seafood here is amazing. As a coastal country, the Portuguese definitely made use of the Atlantic for their gustatory pleasure. Even canned (!) sardines is wonderful! The fresh ones are nice and ginormous, too, so it’s easier to eat. In our little town, there is this eatery (like a carinderia pero European) created by the fire brigade and they serve sardines grilled on the spot. Damn delicious it was. We went there for a meal, and had some Portuguese sausages and some salad, too. Served in humble plastic plates, the food portions were generous, and we went home nicely fed.
Then for my birthday, my family went to Luz de Tavira in the Algarve to meet up with our friends Siz and Son in their massive rented villa. It was a truly an unforgettable experience but for me, one of the best memories of that trip was when my husband took me for a lovely meal in this low-key, roadside restaurant called Marisqueira Fialho.
It was actually a house, and the al fresco bit was the garage. Packed with tables and chairs, the restaurant proved to be quite popular among the locals – we couldn’t get a reservation for Siz and Son. There were a lot of staff, and they were English-speaking, too. It was so simple, it reminded me of Tatoy’s in Iloilo back in the 90’s when it was small. There’s a grill by the gate with a dude manning it, putting fresh sea bream (dourado) and sardines on the coals, there were cats on the floor waiting for scraps from tables, the people were loud and happy, it was a nice atmosphere to be in (testament to how nice it is, the next table gave us some of their dish to try because they knew we’re not locals hehe). They gave us some olives and fresh cheese with bread for appetizers. OMG the cheese is spreadable and Chiz Whiz is nothing compared to it, my friend. I had to exercise self-control to enjoy this special meal.
The pricing there was different, you have to order food by kilo (the servers know the weight by determining how many people are going to eat it, so you’ll be fine). My husband was craving for clams so he had ameijoas a bulhao de patob (clams with garlic and butter sauce) and for me CRAB. A huge edible crab that I have been hankering for months on by this point. And boy, oh boy, we were in for a treat!
Despite the fact that we were not in a Michelin-star restaurant, I felt super lucky and luxurious. It was one of the happiest moments of my life: with my husband, enjoying a nice glass of wine and fresh food lovingly cooked by the locals. That, for me, is bliss.
Then the other day, we discovered this new restaurant relatively close to our apartment called Carvoieras. It was lunchtime and they had this sensible lunch menu: A dish (can be a meat dish, fish, salad, pizza or pasta) plus salad, drink and coffee at the end of your meal, all for €9. My husband, abiding by the rules (that’s the Roast Chicken Will Never Let You Down rule), had the roast chicken and I had Pataniscas de Bacalhau. The owner (we think) explained the menu to us in English which was nice, because we originally came to that place for burgers, not Portuguese food.
When the food came, again, we were in for a treat! The portions were unreal. Mine came with arroz de feijão (beans and rice) as well and it was delightful. My husband, not as big of a rice eater as me, even raved about the rice too! It was nice, garlicky, moist pero not sticky. I don’t know what magic they put in it but it is so good.
In the end, I think I just want to say, I am glad to be here, live here (and eat here). It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I am really enjoying experiencing their culture by eating my way through it. I am not an expert on Portuguese food and I have to eat more, but hey, there’s time for that – and thanks for everything so far.