Traditional Cooking

Discover the Algarvian cuisine

The Algarve - a landscape of rolling hills and valleys, dotted with olive, carob, almond, fig, and orange trees - a vast coastline overlooking the endless waters of the Atlantic. It comes as no surprise then that the Algarve’s cuisine has developed in two directions. An impressive variety of dishes using fish and shellfish on the one side, and a varied assortment of meat and game dishes on the other.

Outside culinary influences are few and so traditional home cooking has taken on a vital significance, with recipes passed down through families and the ages. Odd really, as it was Portugal who first brought ingredients like pepper, coriander, ginger, curry, saffron and paprika to Europe, not to mention tea, rice, coffee, peanuts, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.

Those foreign influences that did manage to leave their mark on the dinner table include the Goths who introduced stews to the nation – which today constitute a major part of the local diet. More importantly the Moorish occupation of the Algarve was to give the area it own regional flavour – not only in the interesting variety of cakes and sweetmeats, but also with “Xarém”, a dish made with maize meal and shellfish.

As in the rest of the country Algarvios enjoy their drink. The Algarve’s wines are certainly worth a try but for a more distinguished tipple you should try something produced outside the region. In the summer a cool glass of “vinho verde” – a fresh slightly sparkling wine – is hard to beat.

After tucking into a warming “feijoada”(bean stew) or “caldeirada” (fish stew), or sitting down to a plate of freshly grilled fish or meat, locals like to wash it all down with a glass or two of locally produced “aguardente”. This potent spirit comes is many forms, but the most famous regional brew is known as “medronho”, and is made from fruit of the arbutus tree growing in the Monchique hills. Other treats awaiting you include the ubiquitous port wine, excellent coffee, tasty meat and fish snacks, and some truly delicious cheeses.


Soups

Caldo Verde

Possibly Portugal’s signature dish this tasty soup can be found in both fancy restaurants and humble family kitchens. Made with finely shredded “couve portuguesa”, better known as curly kale, this thick and filling soup also contains plenty of potato, garlic and “chouriço” sausage.

Canja de Galinha

Seen by many as a remedy to all ills, this chicken and rice broth makes a good start to any meal.

Gaspacho

Served primarily in the summer months in the Algarve and to the north in the Alentejo, this cold soup of tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, onions and plenty of garlic differs from the better-known Spanish version in that half of the vegetables are left chopped and not pureed, giving the soup an a crunchier texture.


Fish

Caldereida

The theme of excellent fish and shellfish stews continues with the tasty “caldeirada”. This traditional “fisherman” style stew often contains several sorts of fish and shellfish, and when well prepared is a veritable joy to fish lovers.

Carapaus - Horse mackerels

“Carapaus alimados” is a versatile and simple yet tasty way of preparing horse mackerels. After salting the gutted and beheaded fish over night they are quickly boiled and then skinned. Served with potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tomatoes depending on the season, they make a simple yet delicious meal.

Chocos - Cuttle fish

“Chocos” (cuttle fish) or in their smaller form “choquinhos” make an interesting dish when fried in their own ink with garlic, or even as part of a salad, and certainly shed a different light on what we normally consider a treat for our pet budgie.

Estupeta

“Estupeta” is a particularly interesting local speciality of raw tuna, thinly sliced and served with salad. The best choice of tuna dishes is available in restaurants in Vila Real de Santo António and Monte Gordo and especially in August when the annual “Rota de Atum”or tuna route gastronomic festival celebrates the region’s much-loved fish.

Lulas grelhadas - Stuffed squid

The common squid, has a conical body and an astronomically high price tag, a fact that corresponds to its out-standing taste. This is the best of all edible squid, stuffed with its own ten finely chopped tentacles or served simply poached. A transparent, feathery sort of thing that experts would call a gladium – though it resembles anything but a sword – stabilizes these boneless deep-sea dwellers from within, thus contributing to their torpedo-like propulsion. Their tender flesh has a distinctive, slightly sweet flavor, reminiscent of crab.

Peixe do dia - Catch of the day

The catch of the day, grilled on hot charcoals, seasoned with little more than a sprinkling of sea salt and a squirt of lemon and served with a fresh salad and rice can satisfy the most demanding of palates. Local fishermen come ashore with nets bursting with snapper, scabbard fish, swordfish, sea bass, red mullet, bream, sole, grey bream and many other local fish breeds.

Polvo - Squid

Another popular salad is octopus salad “salada de polvo”. Squid is equally appreciated and like the “chocos” can be fried in their ink with garlic or simply grilled.

Sardinas

During the summer there is one fish that figures on restaurant menus and local dinner tables more than any other, and that is the humble sardine. This unsuspecting little fish has become something of an emblem for Algarve cuisine, and although it is agreed that they are best eaten in the summer months when fully mature, they are available at most times of the year and best sampled fresh off the grill with salad and bread. Many restaurants serve sardines but the city of Portimão has cashed in the most on tourist demand and at the “sardine dock” next to the old bridge you’ll find several restaurants specialising in grilled sardines. The town even boasts a Sardine Festival, which is held each year in August.

Tuna

Tuna" is usually served as a grilled steak with either onion or tomato sauce, but the region’s long tuna fishing history has meant that many recipes using all parts of this huge fish still exist. Tuna can be prepared in various ways, being baked, boiled, and served in soups and stews. The best choice of tuna dishes is available in restaurants in Vila Real de Santo António and Monte Gordo and especially in August when the annual “Rota de Atum”or tuna route gastronomic festival celebrates the region’s much-loved fish.


Seafood

Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato - Clams Bulhão Pato

This regional favourite, and the most common method of cooking clams, can be sampled in most restaurants. The clams are simply cooked with onions, garlic, coriander, olive oil and white wine. This classic dish is normally served with a generous helping of crusty white bread.

Arroz de mariscos - Seafood rice

“Arroz de mariscos”, a succulent dish of rice, tomatoes and shellfish, is surely a highlight. This risotto style dish also comes in octopus or even conger eel varieties. Shellfish, in their many forms, figure greatly in the Algarve’s cuisine.

Caldereida

The theme of excellent fish and shellfish stews continues with the tasty “caldeirada”. This traditional “fisherman” style stew often contains several sorts of fish and shellfish, and when well prepared is a veritable joy to fish lovers.

Camarao etc - Prawn varieties

Let’s not forget the Algarve’s prawn varieties. “Gambas”, “Carabinheiros” and “Camarão Vermelho” can all be boiled, fried or when large enough even grilled.

Cataplana

The dish that really represents the gastronomic art of the region is “Cataplana”, an aromatic dish of clams (or other shellfish), bacon and sausage cooked in a “cataplana” pan, a copper pan with a fixed lid of Moorish origin that is peculiar to the region. This simple method of steam cooking results in one of the region’s tastiest dishes.

Lagosta - Crawfish

"Lagosta” or crawfish is surely the gem of Algarve waters and so you should be ready to pay as such. Simple to prepare by boiling live, it can be eaten hot or cold, as to your preference.
To be completed: where they come from (Sagres?)

Ostras - Oysters

Ostra (Ostrea edulis), the flat or plate oyster, is rarer than its Lusitanian counterpart, the cupped oyster or Portugaise (Crassostrea angulata), but feels nevertheless at home in the Algarve. Compared to all the French and British varieties of the Ostrea species, their Portuguese cousin is longer, deeper, and has a smoother exterior. Contrary to popular belief, all oysters are most delicious during months without an ‘R’ in them, in other words from May to August, when the water temperatures are above 21° C - at this time, the oysters are ready to spawn, and like fish at this stage, are fat and succulent. According to American food writer and Brillat-Savarin-translator M. F. K. Fisher, the idea of the R’s as a gastronomic rule was created by oyster-farmers, who are reluctant to see oysters removed from circulation just when they are ready to birth some twenty million eggs.

Perceves - Goose barnacles

“Perceves” or goose barnacles are the strangest looking of molluscs, but looks can be deceiving, and these West Coast delicacies, certainly merit a try, especially when served with their traditional companion, sweet potatoes. Fishermen collect the barnacles from hard-to-reach rocks, risking much more than just a wet pair of trousers in the process. The town of Aljezur is particularly known for this delicacy and celebrates its Goose Barnacle Festival each November.

Porco com amêijoas à Alentejana - Pork loin with clams

“Porco com amêijoas à Alentejana” is a very popular dish combining pork loin and clams, which may originate from the Alentejo, the province immediately to the north of the Algarve, but has since been embraced by the whole nation.

Santola - Spider crab

"Santola” or spider crab is a tasty alternative to crawfish and should also be boiled in salted water and in the Algarve is usually served hot.

Xarém

The Algarve also offers some slightly more exotic dishes. Xarém, a dish made from maize-meal, fish, shellfish and herbs, is a delicious reminder of the region’s Moorish past.


Meat

Bife à portuguesa

The classic beefsteak dish covered with slices of raw ham, served with chipped potatoes and optional with a fried egg. Good solid food!

Cabrito - Kid

Often more likely to appear on the menu than lamb, kid is prepared in a range of recipes including the Algarve speciality of “cabrito estufado” – braised with onions, tomatoes and herbs – and roast kid.

Espetada mista

Served on a dangerous looking skewer this extravagant mixed meat kebab (beef, pork and lamb) is brought to your table where it precariously sways, threatening to impale more than just succulent meat!

Feijoda

This traditional heavy stew is a popular Brazilian dish but has its origins in northern Portugal. Made primarily of dried beans and smoked meats, the dish often contains ingredients not suitable for a delicate palate - black pudding, pig’s ears, trotters, and snout! But even if you have to look the other way while you eat it “feijoada” has a rightful place on any visitor’s “must-eats”. Interestingly the Algarve has moulded this dish to it own needs and instead of pork there is also a variety of shellfish variations (whelks, octopus, or cuttle fish).

Leitão

For an authentic experience of traditional cooking at its best a spit-roasted suckling pig takes a lot of beating.

Porco com amêijoas à Alentejana

“Porco com amêijoas à Alentejana” is a very popular dish combining pork loin and clams, which may originate from the Alentejo, the province immediately to the north of the Algarve, but has since been embraced by the whole nation.

Presunto

The “serra” or upland parts of the Algarve are renowned for their smoked hams (“presunto”) and fine spicy sausages (“chouriço”), and places like Monchique and Querença even have annual festivals to prove this.


Poultry

Frango Piri-Piri

The Algarve’s tribute to former Portuguese colony Mozambique chicken piri-piri is a spiced-up version of barbecued chicken. Prior to cooking the chicken is basted in a highly addictive spicy chilli oil, left to marinate, and then charcoal grilled to perfection

Galinha de Cabidela

This chicken dish stands out for a good reason – one of its main ingredients is chicken blood! Normally served with rice the Algarve version comes with potatoes. Something for an inquiring mind perhaps.


Caça - Game

The scrubland and forests of the Algarve’s hinterland are a great source for local hunters providing restaurants and households with the prime ingredients for some of the region’s most memorable dishes. Depending on availability and the hunting season you can enjoy dishes featuring partridge, pigeons, rabbit, hare, and wild boar.


Vegetarian Dishes

Cozido à portuguesa

Another classic but equally heavy dish, which is best eaten at lunchtime (to give you time to digest it!). A family favourite this dish contains a variety of meats, sausages, vegetables, rice, and beans, all cooked in a pressure cooker. A “cozido à algarvia” resembles its Portuguese cousin with one variation - sweet potatoes.

Ervilhas com ovos

A signature side dish for the region, the eggs are poached on top of the peas in the final stages of cooking.


And besides

Caracois - Snails

Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps but for connoisseurs a rare treat. Eaten between the months of May and July the snails are usually boiled and then flavoured with garlic and oregano. The best snails, it is said, are those picked from fennel plants. Look for a sign reading “Há caracois”, meaning snails are on the menu.

Chouriço - Spicy sausages

The “serra” or upland parts of the Algarve are renowned for their fine spicy sausages (“chouriço”) and smoked hams “presunto” and places like Monchique and Querença even have annual festivals to prove this.

Petiscos de taberna

Not quite up to Spanish “tapas” standards but Portuguese cafés and bars do offer their own variety of small portion snacks. Alongside the common “rissóis” (meat or fish rissoles), “bifanas” (pork steak sandwich), “pregos” (steak sandwich), “pastéis de bacalhau”(codfish fritters), and “empadas” (meat pasties), local varieties include “sandes de moreia frita” (fried eel sandwich), “salada de polvo” (octopus salad), snails and of course olives.

Queijo - Cheese

Portugal produces some excellent and quite distinctive cheeses. Renowned for its ewe’s milk cheese, its goat’s cheese (including the “Queijo de Cabra do Algarve”), and cheeses made from a mixture of the two milks, like “Queijo Rabaçal”, the country can be equally proud of its cow’s milk cheeses. Especially those produced in the Azores, which bare a striking resemblance to their Dutch cousins, due in fact to emigrants from Flanders who colonised the islands in the 14th and 15th century.


Sweets, Deserts, Cakes

Thanks to a Moorish past and some enterprising nuns Portugal has a rich heritage of sweets and desserts. At times “too sweet”, the choice of desserts often reflect their convent beginnings with interesting names such as “papos-de-anjo” (angels’ cheeks), “toucinho do céu” (heaven’s bacon), and “barriga de feira” (nun’s belly).

Moorish influences can be seen in the use of almonds and honey in many recipes including the regions famous marzipan fruits filled with sugared egg yolk.

Other popular local confections include “morgados” (iced balls filled with sugared egg yolks), “quiejo de figo” (figs, ground almonds and chocolate), “filhós” (deep-fried sugared pastries) and Dom Rodrigos (egg and almond sweets).

National favourites include “arroz doce” (rice pudding), “patéis de nata” (amazing custard tarts) and pão-de-ló (sponge cake).


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