And 2014th’s best custard is….

      Yesterday during the festival “Fish in Lisbon” it was announced the winner of 2014th’s best custard. This year the great winner was the pastry shop “Alcoa”, from Alcobaça, and here at LisbonStories we can’t wait for our next tour to Alcobaça, to try one.

     By now you’re probably confused: “I thought that the best custards could be found in Lisbon, in that famous pastry-shop in Belem?!”

     “Pastéis the Belém” can only be found in that famous pastry shop as it is said that they’re made with a secret recipe, invented by the monks who lived in St Jerome monastery, right by its side. Belém is indeed the name of the district.

     “Pastéis de Nata”, same thing than custards, but different name, are the ones that can be found everywhere else in the world. They taste just like the first ones, with the exception of the name… and the secret.

     Is there such a big difference? Honestly, no. Maybe the ones in Belem are crunchier as they’re served warm, but that’s about it. I love them, but after trying the ones served in Aloma, the 2013 winner, I couldn’t decide which is my favorite.

    Well, let me try Alcoa’s custards and I’ll tell you my final opinion!

Sunday Lunch- Rice with Beans

When Julia , a former client, wrote to me one of these days asking for a recipe of Rice with Beans my mouth immediately grew water! Rice with Beans is actually a case of a long love affair for me.

This is a wonderful yet very simple recipe mainly eaten in Lisbon. Some people say that it were the African emigrants from our former colonies in Africa- Angola,Mozambique,Cape Verde, Guiné Bissau and São Tomé- who first introduced the recipe probably as far as 400 years ago. Both beans and rice were inexpensive items and mainly what there was to eat.

Rice with Beans nowadays is definitely a part of Lisbon’s gastronomy. It is used as a side dish for cod fritters (pataniscas or bolinhos de bacalhau) or for a Portuguese tempura style treat we call Peixinhos da Horta which is just green beans in a batter, deep fried. All of those are possible to find either in any restaurant in Lisbon or at any Portuguese home.

My home is no exception, so when Julia said she would like me to send her my own private recipe, I was so thrilled that besides emailing her the recipe I rushed into the kitchen and started cooking! The result was indeed fantastic and no main dish was needed as Rice with Beans is also quite filling on its own.

Want to try your own version? Here is a basic recipe; you let me know how it goes in your kitchen back home.

     Ingredients:

- 1 half onion chopped

- 1 clove of garlic chopped

- 1 can (250 grams) of boiled butter beans (or any another fleshy type)

- 2 table spoons tomato pulp or 2 ripe tomatoes cut into chunks

- Olive oil

- Handful of fresh coriander (or cilantro) stalks included

- 250g rice – can be risotto type rice (I use the can of the beans as a measurement)

- Some dried cumin (amount depends on taste)

- Water

- Salt to taste

Preparation:

     Fry the onion and the garlic in olive oil (I use a lot, but I love olive oil) in a pan until golden.

Add the tomato pulp or tomatoes, salt and the dried cumin.

Add the rice and let it fry for 5 minutes while stirring.

Add the beans (also add the liquid it comes with in the can) and stir.

Add enough water to cover the mix and let it simmer until it softens, stirring once in a while.

When boiled, turn the heat off and add the chopped coriander and stir just before serving.

Indulge yourself!

Cod fish fritters with Rice with beans

Easter treats

     Apart from Christmas, Easter is probably the most popular family celebration in Portugal.  Catholic traditions go hand in hand with family reunions and most of the time, are just an excuse to get together and, guess what, eat!

     Generally speaking, on holy Friday no meat is eaten. Cod fish- cooked in one of a million ways- is once again, the king of the table. Grilled fish or octopus are also common choices.

      Easter is also a celebration of the relationship between godparents and their godchildren. They exchange some gifts, but mostly sugar coated almonds and chocolate eggs. Another thing that can’t miss is the sweet bread stuffed with boiled eggs (shells still on!) we call Folar.

      Easter Sunday is a family day and no one wants to go anywhere far from the wonderfully laid tables in our family homes. Lamb or Kid either in stew or oven roasted are the most common main dish, but in this point, families definitely rule over tradition and one can find a bit of everything to please everyone’s taste.

      As for me, well I have to tell you: I love them all! No Easter holiday would be complete with some comfort food and family around. Check the “Folar” below:

The good side of a rainy day

     On Saturday the wine course was great. Can’t believe how many things I’ve learned and how useful they’ll be. Vines, casts, and most importantly: how to match (or “marry” as Silvia would say) wine with food.

      On Sunday it rained all day. You know how disappointing it is to have a rainy day when you’re touring: you can’t walk around, sit outside nor take good pictures. On the good side, you don’t need an excuse to do a pub crawling and sample different wines and dishes.

    The cheeses were great and same thing about the smoked ham, the sausages and the roasted kid. However, if I needed to choose a winner, I think I’d pick the “lagartos” – “lizards” in English. Don’t worry, I’m not eating reptiles.

“Lizards” are a pork cut, from the pigs back. It’s very tender and tasty but the pieces actually have the shape of lizards. Check the picture, don’t they look like lizards?

Sorry for the crumbles on the dish but you can’t imagine how good the bread was!

How to order a cup of coffee in Portugal

     Most Portuguese people start their day the same way: with a shot of strong, black coffee, the famous and beloved “café” or “bica”. “Um café se faz favor” (one coffee please) might be the first words of the day, but they’ll be repeated.

      What do we drink? Our regular coffee is what’s generally called expresso: a shot of strong black coffee, normally with sugar. Obviously, we have some variations, the most popular among them being “garoto” (small espresso cup); or even an “italiana” for a really short coffee.

     Bigger sizes? A “meia-de-leite” (is a large cup, half is milk and the other half is coffee); a “galão (3/4 coffee, ¼ of milk); and “abatandado” is for American coffee. Just coffee? No. Normally we have a little pastry to go with it, but that’s a subject big enough for another post.

      Besides the energy boost, there’s also the social side. “Hey, do you want to have a coffee?” might be the easiest way to break the ice with a new work colleague or to catch up with a friend. Are you staying for a few days in the same place and want to meet someone? Go for coffee at the same place everyday: by day 4 the waiter will serve you without even asking what you want.

      What about coffee to go? There’s no such thing. Even if you’re having a quick cup of coffee on your way to work, it’s very likely that you’ll have a quick chat with the waiter or with the person standing next to you. Weather, soccer and breaking news are normally the topics.

Évora with picnic lunch and wine tasting

    Yesterday I had the most amazing day with Carol and her family. They are a happy family of 6 composed by her parents, her and her husband and two kids, aged 8 and 14. They all wanted to visit Évora but while her husband wanted to visit a winery and try some wines, her parents wanted to see the country-side and her kids wanted to do something fun.

    In order to please everyone we visited Évora in the morning and once they were feeling hungry we drove towards a vineyard where between cork-oak trees and endless vineyards there was a wooden table set with regional products. Cheeses, hams, chicken pies, regional sweets and liqueurs, bread and jams, as well as fruit composed the menu. While parents could eat and taste some regional wines and liqueurs, the kids could run around vineyards and scratch pieces of cork from the trees.

    The picnic was provided by a local company of wine experts, so, all the products were fresh and we didn’t need to worry about cleaning the table or so. Once we finished eating we visited the winery where everyone could learn about the wine production and its complicated process. Since the kids were very interested in cork, we also visited a cork-factory in a really small town, far from everything, where they could learn more about the cork process and see how things are made.

By the way, here’s the tour link. If you’re looking for a romantic tour this can be an idea.  Imagine you and your partner having a picnic lunch on your own, tasting great wines in an idyllic landscape on the shade of cork-oak trees and vineyards…

Have you heard of Linguiça? I’m sure you did!

    Yesterday I was watching the news when I was surprised by this commercial! Who would have thought that Apple, John Malkovich and “linguiça” would be all together in a TV commercial?!  The word “linguiça” has generated buzz thanks to this ad, but after all what is it?

    Linguiça is a Portuguese sausage prepared with minced meat, usually pork meat, seasoned with salt, garlic, onion and pepper. Then it is embedded in natural casings, and by that I mean the small intestine’s thin skin, which must be totally dry and clean. In the end this is a horseshoe-shaped sausage cooked and smoked until it reaches a reddish appearance and a semi-stiff consistency, without casing breakage.

    This sausage is one of the oldest forms of processed meat, being mentioned in the “Odyssey” of Homer written in the ninth century BC and Linguiça was actually one of the first sausages to be invented and the word. Here in Portugal we usually eat it with bread as a starter and I ensure you that this is the best way to start a barbeque! You just need to grill it a little bit, catch a slice of bread and it’s perfectly good to be eaten.

   I hope that Malkovich had the opportunity to try it either after or before the commercial. And what about you, ready to try some during your stay in Portugal? You won’t regret!

Don’t forget: share your thoughts with me and this article with your friends!

5 dishes that you should try

    We all know that one of the best ways to get to know a country is taste its traditional dishes and flavors. Portugal is not an exception and despite its small dimension, traditional dishes vary a lot from the south to the north. While the south prefers lighter meals, the coast has mostly fish and the north eats mostly meat.

    Bacalhau: codfish is considered our most famous and traditionaldish and can be served in 365 different ways, one per each day of the year. Bacalhau com Natas (with milk cream), Bacalhau à Brás (smashed with smashed french fries and onions) and Bacalhau com Broa (roasted with corn bread on top) are the best choices.

    Grilled fish: a great option for those summer lunches when you don’t want to feel stuffed and too lazy to walk around. Normally is grilled on the coal, which gives it a special flavor, and comes with boiled potatoes and vegetables. May sound too simple but together with some green wine will be unforgettable.

    Carne de Porco à alentejana: is a traditional dish from the south. Consists of fried pork cubes accompanied with fried potatoes and clams. The combination may look strange but definitely tastes good. Lemon and persely are perfect to add more flavours.

    Alheira: a sort of sausage invented by the Jews to pretend they were eating pork, includes different meats, bread and herbs. Comes with french fries and an egg on top.

    Arroz de marisco: a rice stew with lots of different sea food, clams and crab. In a good one you should have a bad time to find some rice on it. Normally one portion is enough to feed one family.

 

Vinho Verde – Green wine

After my last article about grilled sardines, I definitely have to talk about the wine that should be drunk with them: the green wine. “Vinho Verde” is produced in “Minho” region, a DOC region in the north of Portugal, known for its cold, rainy weather and fertile lands with granite soils. Due to the scarcity of the land and the frozen rime that falls during the night, these vines are cultivated in height, in tunnels or being used as fences.

Green wine is known for being be light, crisp, aromatic, with a light prickle of fizz and sometimes with a touch of sweetness. Should be served chilly and accompanies grilled fish, salads, chicken dishes and seafood. It’s perfect for those warm days when you just feel good when sitting outside, chatting with friends, when you’d normally have a beer.

 Despite its lightness, don’t let it trick you: this wine doesn’t go down, goes straight up to your head and you’ll only feel its effect when you try to stand up. Don’t worry though: it just makes you feel happy and alive, with no headaches nor hangovers. «

This wine is called “green” because the grapes are harvested before they’re done. Though everyone associates Green wine with a white wine, in the north the most popular is the red one, made of red grapes from Green wine casts. It’s confusing, I know. Personally, I like the white “Vinho Verde” better.

Regarding the prices, it’s very reasonable. In a normal restaurant a bottle costs from 10 to 18 euros, and can be bought for a lot cheaper in a supermarket. Since it’s not a “noble” wine no wine expert would ever say that its favorite wine is a green. Glad I’m not an expert: I simply LOVE it!

The stamp that all Green Wine bottles must have to proof its qualityShare your thoughts with me and this post with your friends!

 

Here are the famous sardines!

Today I was doing this tour with Julia and Todd, a happy couple from the USA. Though they just had one day in Lisbon, they really wanted to seize it. We started with a tram ride towards Lisbon’s castle, visited the castle, walked trough the labyrinthine streets of Alfama, tried some port wine, bought some hand-painted tiles and sat for lunch before going to Belém area.

Right, lunch! As you may know, one of Lisbon’s most famous dishes is the sardines. They can be eaten from May until August (the months without an “R”), grilled, preferably accompanied by boiled potatoes, grilled green peppers, salad and some green wine as well. The funny thing is that since sardines used to be a poor’s people dish and hey must be grilled on the coal, you can’t find them in elegant restaurants. To eat sardines you can either follow your nose (the smell of grilled sardines can’t pass unnoticed) or look for a “normal” restaurant, preferably outside, preferably one of those with the special dishes written in a paper-towel, hanged on the wall. These are the best ones and of course that we visited one of these.

While Todd had grilled squids and I had “Frango no churrasco” (roasted chicken, I’ll write about it soon), Julian made me proud and ordered sardines, with Green wine. I’ll write about green wine soon, I promise, but by looking at Julian’s happy face, you can see that it was very good! :)

Share your thoughts with me and this post with your friends!

5 things that are different (on the table)

After all these posts about food I decided to clear some doubts and talk about 5 things that are different, on the table.

Appetizers: When you sit at a restaurant they’ll bring you immediately some bread, olives and butter. After you’ve order they may also bring you wonderful small appetizers to eat while you wait. Though they may seem a courtesy, they may cost you almost as much as the meal itself… and they also fill you almost as much as the meal itself!

If you don’t want any of those, just don’t touch them or tell the waiter that you don’t want them right away.

My fish wasn’t clean: in Portugal you can eat excellent fresh fish everywhere. The only thing that may look weird for you is that the fish never comes clean. Why? Portuguese people love to eat fish and also to know which kind of fish it is, and how fresh it is as well. This way, we like to clean it ourselves and refuse to eat just a fillet. At pricey restaurants they may clean it for you, but they’ll bring the cooked fish first, show it to you, and then clean it in front of you.

Eat without rushing: for us eating out is meeting with friends and talking about everything. We like to take our time during the meal and restaurant owners understand this. Don’t get surprised if the service isn’t really quick or if they don’t bring the check just after you finished to eat. If they would rush us out of the place no one would go back there.

Tipping: for us, tips are a reward for a good service and not part of the waiter’s wage. There’s no rule but we tip about 10% of the check, which may double when the service is outstanding. Since it’s not mandatory it’s never included in the bill.

Taxes included: In Portugal all prices MUST include taxes (vat, for instance) and when they don’t, they have to state that.

Read more about Eating habbits here.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me and this article with your friends!

And the oscar for the best custard goes to…

Remember that entry about Lisbon’s Fish Festival?

It’s still going on and yesterday there was a very special moment of it: the election of the best custard of the year.

All pastry shops claim to have the best one, so, it has been three years that a remarkable jury gathers, during this festival, and choose the best one of the year. This year there were 9 different pastry shops on the contest and after trying the 9 different custards (tough job) they chose “Pastelaria Aloma” in Campo de Ourique.

Curious about it? Book your tour today and ask our guide to take you there, to see if they deserve the prize.

Can’t understand what’s the big thing about the custards? I’ll explain that on my next post!