The terrain is varied, each region offering different experiences in the landscape, flavours and recipes, wine, and even dialects. Finally, after a series of global delays, my wife Phyllis and I have returned to where we left our hearts and souls in early 2020, our beloved Portugal. We missed this country of delights for so many reasons, both tangible and intangible. Here are some of them.
Deep, delicious dive
Walkable villages, where we prefer to live in Portugal, are a delight. We’ve always loved European culture, especially what we call café life. We happily walk the colourful cobblestone streets, observing locals at the cafés and bars that are so prevalent in any central square or along coastal walkways. It is remarkable how much fun it can be to enjoy a small snack or an entire meal outside.
Ultimately, we get scent-induced hunger pangs. The intoxicating aromas distract us from the beautiful hand-painted historic tiles or intricate calçadas. They beckon us to explore deep into neighbourhoods and villages. This is always our preference. Instead of remaining in tourist-trampled zones, we dig deeper, seeking the small bar restaurants (tascas). We amble down unknown avenues following our noses, seeking out those tascas offering family-tried-and-true dishes, allowing us to taste grandma's cooking, nestling into an authentic experience.
Turf or surf?
Visiting Portugal since the 1980’s, most of our time has been spent in waterfront cities and villages, enjoying a mainstay of Portuguese cuisine—seafood. Plentiful and fresh daily, our earliest exposure to the tasty seafood of the Algarve was on our honeymoon in 1981-82 where we lived for six months in Quarteira and Villamoura.
In Quarteira, down the main road within walking distance of our small inn, was a tiny thatch-roofed shanty housing a dirt-floored restaurant run by a young couple. As you would find at that time, the oldest son, who was about 12 years old, was our waiter.
We’d order their specialty, frango piri-piri, and an ice-cold Sagres, the Portuguese national beer (cerveja), and enjoy connecting with this lovely Portuguese family. There was a hole in the roof, which allowed most of the smoke to escape from the wood-fired, open-pit style churrasco (bbq). The frango was delicious. The entire meal was a deal at 120 escudos each ($4 US total), including dessert and coffee.
In Albufeira, our second primary haunt, moored amongst the gentle waves of the inky dark Atlantic nighttime and until the wee hours of the mornings, at least 50 dim lights were bobbing in the distance, squid boats and their masters plying their trade.
We could find lulas (small squid) first thing at dawn, caught overnight, as well as varied and abundant varieties of right-off-the-boat fish. From those balmy mornings, we discovered a forever-favorite dish, stuffed lulas. This perfectly cooked succulent dish is unforgettable. It’s what delicious dreams are made of. To this day, when we return to Portugal, stuffed lulas are what we immediately search for in those small tascas.
The tasty stuffing is made using many ingredients (chefs’ choice) as well as the usual garlic and abundant olive oil. Into those small body pockets go diced tentacles, seasoned by experienced hands, knowledge passed down by moms, dads, and grandparents who take great pride in fabulous family recipes.
We feel we owe our respect and admiration to the Portuguese people in return for their ever-helpful and accommodating ways. In our travels, we’ve found that learning basic, polite phrases in the local language and/or dialect is appreciated. When possible, we respectfully greet locals and order meals in Portuguese. Even when we struggle with the pronunciation (aside from natives, who doesn’t), the Portuguese smile and work toward understanding our communication.
During the crazy times we’ve recently lived through, we missed Portugal and our international community of accepting friends more than ever. This sweet, deeply lasting feeling brings about constant reminisce. We are thrilled to return, be enveloped in that cultural hug, and return the love and admiration.
Portugal beckons us, never lets us go, and we eagerly return to her charming embrace. Saudade saturates us all the way down to our toes. We love Portugal and relish our return.
*Saudade: a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone distant, or that has been loved and then lost; “the love that remains.”
Lulas Recheadas (Stuffed Squid)
1 lb (.5 kg) fresh baby squid
1 chouriço sausage, finely chopped
2 onions, chopped and divided in half
2 cloves of garlic, minced and divided in half
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 bay leaf
small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
generous drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Clean the squid. Remove and coarsely chop the tentacles and set aside.
Prepare the stuffing in a large bowl by adding one onion, one clove of garlic, chouriço, and the chopped tentacles. Mix well. Add the egg and mix to bind. Stuff the squid with the mixture. Close them with a toothpick and place in a large baking dish.
In a medium frying pan, sauté the remaining onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until fragrant. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, a few pinches of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes on low heat.
Cover the stuffed squid with the tomato mixture and bake at 255°C for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining parsley, and serve.
The latest issue of Relish Portugal is out! In it, Rick Steves remembers Portugal, we explore the daily ritual of coffee and pastry, and readers learn European Portuguese language tips for eating out from our friends at Practice Portuguese. This free-with-subscription English-language food and culture magazine for Portugal lovers everywhere is a gorgeous award-winning, quarterly, online publication. Get it while it’s hot. Sign up and relish the bounty of riches that is Portugal: relishportugal.com.