Friday, 13 June 2014

The Food Diaries: Portugal

I've been to Portugal a lot and there are always the standard things I like to eat: pasteis de nata (custard tarts), bacalhau a bras (cod fish and potato dish) and regiões a moda do Minho (fried cubes of pork).  All of these things are pretty easy to come by and are standard on a lot of menus, but my favourite things can only be found in some pretty specific places and I'm ready to share them with you.  Imitators beware. 

You don't hear of too many people venturing north of Porto, but I've got two good reasons why you should check out the Povoa de Varzim area.  First, it's by the beach and there's a really long boardwalk for you to get your stroll on.  Second, it's got two of my regionally favourite treats.  

You'll crave Francesinhas after a long day at the beach, but don't settle for just any Francesa because they're not all created equal.  So listen close because I'm about to unveil the best place to get these: O Manjar das Francesas in Terroso, Povoa de Varzim. Bam! Ok, so it's a little out of the way, but I promise you that it's worth the drive.  You're probably wondering what it is.  Well, it's the best ham and cheese sandwich of your life.  Start off with the original handheld sandwich before your branch out into their plated remixes.  The sandwich is a perfect balance of ham, cheese, sausage, mustard and their secret sauce which has just the right amount of spiciness to it.  Wash that bad boy down with a draft beer and you are in snack time heaven.  Now, a lot of other restaurants have started serving up their own Francesinhas so you're welcome to give those a try, but for me these are the only ones I'm interested in.  

And now that you've had your fix of savoury, you might be looking for something sweet.  Well, you're going to have to get in your car and head over to Fão for the best Clarinhas de Fão.  The preferred place to get them is a small bakery called Pastelaria Pã Pã located just across the street from the hospital. Clarinhas de Fão are a light flaky pastry covered with powdered sugar.  When you first bite into your Clarinha be ready for pastry and powdered sugar to go flying everywhere.  That's how you know the pastry is done right.  Inside you discover a a sweet filling made from the local spaghetti squash they call Chila.  Enjoy one with an espresso and feel like a local. 

If you're lucky enough to be around during festival time (which is almost every weekend in the summer), you've got to try a fartura.  A fartura is like a churro; an airy fried dough covered in powdered sugar.  It's also available with less traditional toppings like chocolate or caramel, but I'm a traditionalist when it comes to these things. Personally, I prefer them to churros because of their light and fluffy texture and crispy exterior. 

On this last trip to Portugal I wasn't able to make it to Madeira, but Madeira found it's way to me when my cousin told me she'd be in Covilhã at the same time.  As an extra bonus she surprised me with Bolo do Caco, which to many of you will just mean bread.  But not all bread is created equal and for me this one is special.  Especially when it's warm and smothered in  a mixture of butter, garlic and parsley.  The flavour pools in the air pockets of this otherwise dense bread and it's magic.  If you're in Madeira you can find it in most bakeries, but one of the best ways to enjoy it is in the market with a pork sandwich.  

I shouldn't have written this post before lunch.  I'm starving now.  Bom apetite!