Archive for April, 2012

The 10 Strangest Foods in Portugal

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Every culture has them: Foods that only a local could love. In case you’re brave and curious enough to try new things, or prefer to be informed of what can be avoided, here are the ten strangest foods in Portugal.

Arroz de Cabidela
Recently a tourist reported an experience at a restaurant in a Portugal Pousada where a waiter explained what the “arroz the cabidela” listed on the menu was like. He correctly described it as rice soaked in chicken’s blood, and the facial expression of the tourists reacting to that description must have surprised the waiter because he quickly added “with chicken!” as if that made it sound any better. Yes, it’s a bloody good delicacy if you’re familiar with it, but for anyone hearing about it for the first time, it’s understandably disgusting. And the cooking process is even more disturbing: After the chicken is killed, it hangs upside-down for the blood to be drained out. It’s then added to the meat when it’s cooking, giving the dish a brownish color.

Arroz de Sarrabulho
If “arroz de cabidela” sounds good to you, perhaps you’ll also want to try “arroz de sarrabulho.” Instead of chicken, the meat is now pork, but it’s also soaked in its own blood. It’s a specialty from the north of Portugal and the blood also gives the rice a greyish-brown color. You may be surprised to know that it was one of the 21 finalists in the vote for the “7 gastronomic wonders of Portugal.”

At this point you’re probably thinking there’s something vampirish about Portuguese cuisine, but here’s one more bloody food: Morcela, a sausage made with blood! This type of sausage actually exists in several cultures in almost every continent, and the Portuguese version is mostly meat-free. It varies from region to region, but is always filled with rice and pig’s blood. In some cases, pieces of pork are added.

The French call them escargots and have turned them into something of “haute cuisine.” In Portugal they’re “caracois,” also meaning snails and are eaten mostly in the south of the country. For whatever reason the people in the north are not fans, but it’s a favorite dish on a sunny summer afternoon in Lisbon’s cafés and restaurants. In reality, what its devotees really like is the stew they’re cooked in, and not exactly the tiny wormy shelled mollusks that you can barely taste.

Coelho à Caçador
There are some who say that a rabbit’s flesh is the closest to that of a human. Many may agree and may wish to avoid eating what in some cultures is a beloved family pet. In other countries it’s a wonderful meal, including in Portugal. It’s made popular by hunters, and is most often accompanied by rice or potatoes in a dark sauce.

Quail is definitely not unique to Portuguese cuisine but it’s another favorite of Portuguese hunters. While mostly served at home, you can find them listed on menus of restaurants in the interior of the country. They’re usually cooked and served whole, leaving the job of cutting the wings and legs for you on the plate.

Tripas à Moda do Porto
It’s one of Portugal’s most historic dishes but also one of its least appetizing. When Prince Henry the Navigator asked the people of the city of Porto to provide food for the men going into the sea, they gave all their meat and ended up with only the animals’ stomachs. Out of necessity they had to create meals out of them, and so was “Porto-Style Tripe” born. Tripe is also present in French, Italian and Eastern European cuisines, and Portugal’s version includes pieces of sausage and beans.

This cholesterol-filling delicacy is made of pig skin and fat. It’s cut into small pieces and fried until it becomes crunchy. The Portuguese took this tradition to Brazil, becoming quite popular in the northeast of that country, often served with beans.

Cozido à Portuguesa
At the risk of receiving hate mail from the most patriotic Portuguese, we’re going to include one of the most emblematic dishes of the country on this list. This national specialty mixes a variety of vegetables, sausages and meats, and it’s the choices of meats that may be a problem for some. It seems that no single part of a pig goes to waste in Portugal, and this dish often includes a nice crunchy ear with tiny hairs. If there’s no ear, you just may find a foot.

The Portuguese don’t eat snakes but they do enjoy the snakelike eels. Popular in the coastal areas of the north of the country, they are often bought alive. No matter how many spices or delicious condiments may be added, the very sight of them will make many people lose their appetite.

Your Daily Bread in Lisbon

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The current business trend in Lisbon seems to be bakeries. Not ordinary bakeries but French-inspired or traditionally-Portuguese-inspired bakeries. Here are the five newest ones, especially perfect if you’re staying at an apartment and want to have bread for breakfast when you wake up:

La Boulangerie, Lisbon

Perfectly located around the corner from the famous Brasileira café, this is a bakery by the entrance and a café upstairs. You can grab the bread to go or stay at a table enjoying a light meal (we recommend the pancakes) at any time of the day.

The most attractive bakery-café downtown (Rua da Madalena, 57) opened recently and is already known for the quality of its French-style bread. The consensus is that the service could be a little friendlier and more welcoming, and that has also been our experience, but hopefully the attractive space and the quality of the products will make up for it in the long run.

Not far from La Boulangerie downtown (on Rua do Ouro, 175) is this new branch of Portuguese bakeries adapted to modern times. It has an attractive contemporary interior but serves the bread and pastries the Portuguese have been traditionally making for decades.

Found across the street from the Amoreiras shopping mall, this is Lisbon’s branch of the now-international French bakery. It has a rather spacious interior but also a few tables outside for you to enjoy a baguette in the sun.

This is not a bakery but a pastry shop. And we warn you that if you’re counting calories, this is not a place for you. Incredibly mouth-watering pastries will tempt you into getting more sugar than you should, but once in a while it’s actually a healthy stress-reliever to give in to temptation. So after a visit to the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, continue up the hill to this French patisserie and relax with a tea and something sweet. And you may take some croissants with you as well.

10 Places for the Health-Conscious to Eat in Lisbon

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Being on vacation doesn’t have to mean taking a break from your diet. Here are ten places in Lisbon serving veggie, organic, or simply healthy meals:

Bake the Difference
This vegan bakery/café is a convenient stop on weekdays for breakfast, brunch, lunch or afternoon snacks. It’s found on a street parallel to Avenida da Liberdade close to Restauradores Square and has soups, salads and even desserts free of animal products.

Go NaturalGo Natural
This is a fast food restaurant found in almost all shopping malls, but also independently in the center of the city, facing Marquês de Pombal Square. Pastas, salads, wraps, soups and fruit juices are pre-packaged to grab and eat. Many are vegetarian options, but there are also chicken and salmon dishes.

Jardim dos Sentidos
Up the hill from Avenida da Liberdade is the best vegetarian lunch buffet in the city. It mixes world cuisines and even the biggest meat lovers will enjoy the vast selection of dishes available. For dinner it has an a la carte service.

Everything served at this restaurant grows from the ground. It’s all available in a varied buffet and can be enjoyed in the open air on a backyard terrace.

Open Brasserie
Sharing the building of the Inspira Santa Marta Hotel, this eco-friendly restaurant is also health-friendly, using organic products in its Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

This tiny café is mostly a juice bar. Although it also has a couple of things to eat, its specialty is immunity-boosting smoothies made of fresh fruits in front of you.

Centrally-located in a Chiado courtyard, this café has healthy snacks and light meals throughout the day, but also a vegetarian lunch buffet every day. The only thing that will ruin your diet are the cakes but those can be avoided if you just concentrate on the rest of the menu.

Pimenta Laranja
Found not far from Jeronimos Monastery, this all-organic café has wraps, salads, and hamburgers. It also has pastries but you’ll likely skip those, especially if you can’t resist trying the famous custard tarts (“pasteis de Belém”) nearby.

The main attraction for locals is the organic bread but you may also sit for tea or for weekend brunch. It consists of all-natural juice, fresh fruit, granola with yogurt, eggs, croissants and more.

Found next to an organic supermarket in Chiado, this cafeteria has a pleasant terrace where you can enjoy a light lunch or snack of salads, quiches and sandwiches.

Ancient Art in the Shopping Mall

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Arte no ColomboTo some this sounds like cultural blasphemy, to others it’s a smart way to bring culture to the masses: The Ancient Art Museum has taken part of its collection to the Colombo mega-mall. Until the end of June a group of 31 pieces will be on display as a “mini museum” in an exhibition related to the art of medieval Portugal. A second group of pieces from the same museum will then be shown in July until October, this time relating to Portugal’s exploration of the world.
It’s free and open every day, making it a perfect excuse to go spend some money or to combine art and shopping on a rainy spring day.
If you can’t make it to the Ancient Art Museum to see its entire collection when you’re in town and prefer to go shopping instead, this is also a good way to get a sense of Portuguese culture for free.