Restaurants & Bars

Day 1 in Portugal

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Day 1 in Portugal

Tom Armitage | May 22, 2000 06:55 AM

My wife and I arrived in Lisbon around 6:30 a.m. on rainy Sunday morning, May 21. Because of the early hour, we decided to attempt a short trip outside Lisbon, despite having spent a sleepless trip over on the plane. My choice of destination was Mealhada, Mecca for roast suckling pig. However, my wife gave me “THE LOOK” that I know only too well means “why is it that you think of nothing other than food”—not a question really, but a message carried on strong currents of exasperation and pique. We decided instead to visit the picturesque, though tourist ridden, town of Obidos, about 80 km. north of Lisbon. I didn’t find anyplace to eat in Obidos that looked interesting, although I had several leads from guide books, as well as a suggestion from the concierge at our hotel. The hoards of tourists and tour buses at Obidos were undoubtedly a negative influence on my intuitions about the restaurants there. Instead, we drove a few kilometers further north to Caldas da Rainha, to a restaurant named A Lareira described as follows: “Located in a pine wood, A Lareira offers typical traditional Portuguese food and homemade deserts.” When we arrived, alas, there were more buses, but their occupants were all going into a special wing of the building, not the main dining room. The main dining room was done up with a pastel floral motif, and was obviously making an attempt to be a somewhat “fancy” place to eat. A quick read through the menu resulted in a conclusion that, although it had some traditional Portuguese food to offer, a lot of the menu was French-influenced, with beef fillets served with several different classical French sauces as an example. The menu even offered kangaroo! This wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for my first meal in Portugal, but the hour was growing late, and we were too tired to search for an alternative.

We were served excellent rolls, and ordered a local white wine, Cerejeiras, which was light, fruity, and quaffable. An octopus salad followed that was very tasty, chunks of octopus dressed simply in olive oil, garlic, parsley, and a splash of vinegar. I ordered the traditional potato thickened soup, caldo verde. Although the soup had all the traditional ingredients, including finely chopped filaments of Galician cabbage (couve gallego) and slices of chourico, I had hoped for a lustier version. I think more onion and garlic would have helped. For main courses, my wife and shared Ensopado de Enguis, an eel “soup” made with the slim, snakelike river eel of Northern Portugal. The eels were served in a spicy light tomato broth served over bread. Very, very tasty. The other entrée was Arroz de Cherne com Frutos da Logoa. This was rice and stone bass (cherne), a lean white fish, served in a light broth with clams and shrimp. It was nicely prepared, but no contest for the more intensely flavored eel soup. For desert, I ordered Troxas com Galado de Limao. Troxas is one of the many egg sweets of Portugal compounded primarily of egg yolks and sugar. I believe the translation of troxas de ovos is “bundles of eggs.” It consists of poached tissue-thin sheets of beaten eggs yolk rolled up like little bundles of hay and submerged in sugar syrup. I guess this is an acquired taste. At least I didn’t immediately warm to it.

After lunch, or in my wife’s case during lunch, we began to feel the effects of our sleepless journey, and so we terminated our sightseeing and high-tailed it back to our hotel in Lisbon, where my wife slept straight through until morning, meaning, of course, that we missed the evening meal. Egad.

While my wife was sleeping, I was reading Jean Anderson’s cookbook, The Food of Portugal. Among the many recipes for bacalhau (salt cod), she comments: “The Pousada do Castelo at Obidos, the very first of Portugal’s pousadas to be built inside a historic castle, has an outstanding kitchen. . . . Whenever the menu lists it, I order [the Bacalhau a Moda da Pousada do Castelo, a] delightful dish of salt cod scrambled with eggs and olives. It’s a variation of the classic Bacalhau a Bras, and frankly I prefer it.” So, it looks like a missed a good bet in Obidos. Oh well, next time.

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