The vibe is smooth and the people are genuine. It’s a short drive to Spain, beautiful beaches, and Portugal’s only National Park, Peneda-Gerês. But there’s so much to see in this more than 2000-year-old city, the third-largest in Portugal, that you could spend a lifetime, as Rui has, exploring the history, architecture, and romance of Braga.
He wants us to pick up a cavaquinho (yes, the ukulele is from Braga), attend one of the many festivals throughout the year, spot sensational street art, and immerse ourselves in Braga’s culture.
Then there’s gastronomy. It’s Rui’s absolute belief that to understand a country, a person must try the local food and wine, the soul of its people. That’s why it seemed odd to him that visitors to Braga were often spotted eating fast food. Famous for its Braga-style Bacalhau, Braga-style Duck Rice, Frigideiras do Cantinho, Papas de Sarrabulho, and Pudim Abade de Priscos, it was a shame they were missing out. Perhaps, he thought, it was because Portuguese gastronomy, wines, and products were undervalued around the world, despite their quality and extremely fair price. Sure, for many (especially Americans), a fish at the market or on the plate—head, skin, bones, and all—is unusual but, with some guidance, soon he found they were living like locals and enjoying the generous flavors of Portugal.
After the financial crisis of 2008, this former financial consultant formally pivoted, offering his deep knowledge of Portugal to expat wannabes via his consultancy, How To Portugal. As a natural result of sharing the food and wine he is passionate about, Rui also opened the aptly named Food & Wine Experiences (https://foodwineexperiences.com/) to introduce regional delights. He helps his clients “taste and relish the best things we have in the Minho region and Portugal.” Rui offers his customers four different “experiences.” These include Portuguese product gift boxes chock full of olive oil, jams, wine, canned goods, cheese, and other Portuguese taste sensations to be purchased in person or sent to any address around the world; fully-guided, personalized walking and tasting tours; authentic, hands-on cooking classes and workshops for groups and individuals; and event planning including weddings, birthdays, reunions, a small private dinner for that special moment, or other occasions as requested.
As we’re known to do, Relish Portugal asked Rui to share with us how he spends his time in his town. He kindly spilled the Braga beans!
Relax with a beverage: Sit a spell and people watch at the historic Café Vianna, a local hotspot since 1858, enjoy a craft beer at Mal Amado, dance the night away at Disco Dona Rosa.
Ogle Architecture: Explore the architectural landscape of the iconic Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, take in a show or at least a guided tour at Theatro Circo, marvel at the rebuilt ruins of Mosteiro de Sao Martinho de Tibaes
Have a Proper Portuguese Meal: Enjoy a fine and fancy lunch or dinner in one of their unique spaces at Dona Júlia, have a bite at a traditional tasca, Tasquinha Dom Ferreira, or go for always amazing Italian at Ristorante Pizzeria Mamma Mia
And in a decidedly Bracarenses nod to Portugal’s Christmas Eve bacalhau dinner tradition, Rui suggests you serve this delicious salted cod dish after strolling the beautifully decorated city, taking in all the joy, goodwill, and merriment.
Braga-Style Bacalhau (Salted Cod)
2 bacalhau loins, presoaked and dried
olive oil (depending on the size of the pan, use at least 0.5L)
2 onions, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, 2 roughly chopped, 2 whole
4 (or more) potatoes, thickly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp of vinegar
1 tbsp (or more, to taste) sweet paprika (pimentão doce)
salt to taste
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan and cook the onions until soft. Add two cloves of garlic and cook until fragrant. Spoon out of the pan, using a slotted spoon, into a serving dish and set aside (place it in the oven to keep it warm).
Using the same large sauté pan and the same olive oil fry the potatoes. Remove them to another serving dish, again with a slotted spoon, and place it in the oven to keep it warm.
In the same large sauté pan, add the bay leaves and two whole cloves of garlic. When the olive oil is hot again, add the bacalhau and let it sauté. Remove the cooked cod to a platter. Spoon the potatoes around the cod. Top the fish with the onion mix and then vinegar. Drizzle the olive oil (6 or more tablespoons, if you like) you just used over the entire platter.
Sprinkle a tablespoon (or more if you like) of sweet paprika (pimentão doce) atop the onions and bacalhau. Serve with a crisp green salad and a cold bottle of quality vinho verde (green wine).
Relish Portugal in all its spectacular food and culture glory! In our latest issue, number 8(!), 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. Perfect reading for holiday gatherings. Sign up and relish the bounty of riches that is Portugal: relishportugal.com.
Plus, festive and fun, sometimes sweet and occasionally rocking, enjoy Relish Portugal’s contributor-curated happy holiday Spotify playlist from the Relish Portugal family to yours. Listen here: https://spoti.fi/3xJvK1Q. Very merry everyone!!