Category Archives: Portugal
Monsieur and I had enjoyed our time in the Funchal fish market, watching the workers carving, stripping and gutting fish of all sizes. We were now curious to see what Madeiran fruit and vegetables were like.
This image may look familiar:
My current header was taken from the above image. Look at the produce – the bright green avocadoes, the perfect artichokes, the rosy apples, fat grapes, stumpy bananas, happy orange mandarins.
Some of these things I’m not sure I can identify - like the squashy-looking green balls next to the courgettes at the bottom of the stall or that prickly green vegetable?/fruit? between the cabbages and the beans. Can you help me, anyone?
On the right hand side, the long green fruit are Banana-Ananaz, or Banana Pineapple. Also known as the Monstera Deliciosa, it has the tropical flavour of banana, pineapple and mango, and grows happily in Madeira’s sub-tropical climate.
This shot’s a bit blurry but the baskets. Oh, the baskets. I do so love wicker baskets. If I lived in Funchal I’d buy one of these and fill it up frequently with fat, red tomatoes, snow-white onions and some of those banana ananaz things. (Apparently they’re good in smoothies.)
The florist stands were dazzling – loaded up with anthuriums, birds of paradise and orchids. I swear I’d never before seen such massive anthuriums, not even in Hawaii - some flowers were the size of dinner plates!
I could have wandered about the market for a long, long time, but it was lunch time and the vendors looked hungry. The stall shutters started coming down, so Monsieur and I took this as a sign to leave in search of our own lunch. That’s the downside of being addicted to markets: they make you hungry.
I admit it: I have an OCD. Wherever in the world I am, I MUST visit a market, or at worst, food hall. I even like foreign supermarkets. And UK supermarkets. I can wax lyrical about my fascination with the way supermarkets adapt their merchandise to the ethnic mix of the local community. But I digress. Here is yet another Epicurienne take on a market. For this episode of ‘Market OCD’ we’ll travel to Funchal on the Atlantic island of Madeira.
Monsieur and I were fresh off the plane from Lisbon when we found Funchal Market. It was lunchtime so activity, which had started at daybreak, was starting to wind down, but the fish market was still quite busy. Most of the marble preparation areas were loaded up with long, black, headless fish that looked a bit like eels. I later found out their name: scabbard fish.
Known as Peixe Espada Preta, this is a popular fish in Portugal, known for a mild flavour which allows it to be prepared in hundreds of different ways. Their heads are the stuff of horror films, though:
On a different counter sat limpets. I’ve never eaten them before but they’re supposed to be delicious. Limpets make me nostalgic for childhood visits to the beach, sticking our fingers into anemones in rock pools, teasing hermit crabs and trying to pull limpets off the rocks. Now I just want to eat one!
The tuna counter was a reminder of how big tuna can grow. This is just a small part of one:
The tuna man’s biceps must get their work out from hulking huge hunks of tuna about and carving them with a knife that looks disturbingly like a machete.
Elsewhere, the scabbard fish are stripped down.
The sardine man removes tiny sardine entrails as he waits for a customer.
A buyer gets tips on how to prepare salt cod.
perhaps with some of the cod man’s homemade herb-alicious marinade?
Nothing this vendor says or does can make his buyers crack a smile. Poor chap. They look like hard work.
Before we leave, I’m tempted to weigh myself on the fish scales (not the shiny-on-the-skin fishy variety):
but Monsieur says “No.”
So we go next door to the fresh produce market, instead, and my market OCD is cured, for today.
Last November, when London was cold and grey, Monsieur and I sunned ourselves at lunch in Funchal, Madeira. It was warm enough to take an outdoor table at O Visconde Restaurante, a complete find of an eatery, tucked away down a little alley near the centre of town but far from the cruise ship crowds.
There are but a handful of tables in the dark wooden interior, giving O Visconde the feel of a tapas bar or Venetian bacari, replete with a bunch of regulars glued to the chairs.
Our waitress was friendly and efficient, speaking excellent English through bucked tombstone teeth. She brought us a big bottle of water and a couple of bottles of the local brew, Super Bock as we deliberated over the menu choices.
Monsieur started with a salad which arrived as a beautiful array of fresh produce: a tumble of frisée leaves topped with cucumber and beets, tomatoes and apple, two halves of a boiled egg, melon and kiwi. The grated carrot which had appeared in all Portuguese salads that we’d eaten thus far had not been forgotten. A dollop of prawns drizzled with lime juice sat at the centre and an orange carved like a starburst showed off the knife skills of the kitchen staff. It was certainly the most colourful salad we’d seen in a while. Monsieur demolished it all, exclaiming at the freshness, the crispness, the full flavours.
My starter was a simple plate of melon and ham – one of those dishes which can either be tasteless and ordinary or bursting with flavour Thankfully, this was a case of the latter. The melon was the palest chartreuse with a slight taste of pineapple. The ham tasted strong and smoky, yet retained a delicacy that allowed it to fold softly onto the fork. It was the best cured ham of the trip so far. I was in olfactory heaven.
My main course was a plate of salt cod croquettes – a staple of Portuguese cuisine – served with a touch of Thousand Island dressing and salad. These were far superior to the croquettes I’d tried in Lisbon, which were quite dry, stuck to the palate and cried out for a squeeze of lemon or some sort of sauce to soften them. The O Visconde version were marshmallowy and had kept some necessary moisture, and the Thousand Island dressing was a welcome addition, complementing the strong cod flavour. Even the tomatoes wowed me. They’d been unpretentiously tossed into the salad and were deep red in both colour and flavour, oozing juice in the best possible way. And yes, the salad included (drum roll) grated carrot.
Across the table Monsieur’s steak also impressed. “Cooked to perfection.” he declared, something you don’t necessarily expect to find by accident down a non-descript side street. Given the quality of everything we’d eaten and the cheerful service from our waitress, we might have expected a much larger bill. As it was, the price of this simple yet delicious lunch was almost embarrassingly modest.
Looking back, this, our first Madeiran meal, may well have been our favourite. What we didn’t realise at the time was how steep menu prices could be on this Atlantic Island, so achieving the balance between quality and price isn’t easy. That’s why, if you find yourself on Madeira, I cannot recommend O Visconde enough. It exemplifies top value for money and oh, that pineapple tang in the melon – it really is something else.Restaurante O Visconde, Rua dos Murças 80, Funchal, Madeira 9000-058, Portugal
Tel: + 351 9 6532 5981
Some time back my friend, Razzbuffnik, posted a photo of people touring about Bruges on Segways. Like Razz, I don’t really understand why a Segway might be preferred to simply donning your walking shoes and getting some exercise as you explore a new place, although plenty of people seem to be keen to take a spin on these Jetson-like sets of wheels in the name of tourism, which raises the question: what do you do with the Segway when you reach a museum or other place of interest? Do phrasebooks now contain “where do I park my Segway?” or “would you mind if I leave my Segway at the door while I lunch at your establishment?” or “Are the museum’s corridors wide enough for my Segway?”, or “my Segway’s battery is running low. Do you know where I can charge it?”
It’s not just tourists who are taking to their Segways, however. Last November, Monsieur and I spied a pair of policemen using Segways to get around the Portuguese capital. Stood a good foot taller than anyone else on the street, they stopped at a newsstand, answered the public’s questions, before zooming off at a reasonable pace to the next stop on their beat. I just wondered what would happen, should they take chase to a bag-snatcher, so I visited the Segway site to see if these vehicles are fast enough to catch a thief.
The Segway site tells us that the standard setting is 12.5 miles or 20 kilometers per hour. As they put it, this is “roughly equal to a 5-minute mile, a really fast run.” So I guess a Segway-riding policeman has a reasonable chance at catching the perp.
As they’re a green alternative to other modes of inner-city transport, being charged by electrical sockets, the energy of which causes “fourteen times less greenhouse gas emissions than driving a car,” and as they don’t take up as much space as cars or scooters, the people at Segway must be hoping that interest in their product will steadily increase. A single charge will see you travelling a full 38 kilometers and 15 minutes of charge will allow you to go 1.6km. But if you weigh more than 117kilos, you can forget it. Segways can only carry so much of a person. And if you’re a lightweight at less than 45 kilos, the Segway won’t work effectively so this is an off-limits vehicle for kids and small people.
I admit I’m curious to try one out at some point, but I doubt it will be on an organised Segway tour of, say, Florence. But first I’ll have to make sure my weight doesn’t double and I up my lingo. FYI, an outing on a Segway is called a GLIDE. Sounds a bit odd, no? “I’m just going for a glide.” or “how about you glide on over for coffee?” Hmmm. Not convinced.
So before I sign glide off, have you ever been on a Segway? If so, please do tell. I’m keen to hear whether or not they have fans (apart from the Portuguese police) and why. Did you know there’s even such a thing as Segway Rally Races? Oh yes, people, it’s true. God bless Google; you learn something every day.
Here’s the link to Razzbuffnik’s Segway post.
Isn’t it wonderful to travel somewhere, knowing exactly where you will eat that first bite of something that locals relish just as much as visitors to their neighbourhood surely will? When Monsieur and I travelled for the first time to Lisbon recently, it was with exactly this sort of anticipation that my belly growled en route. Forget Christmas; I no longer count the days to Yuletide, but tell me about a place where chicken drips off the bone in flavoursome mounds, and I will count weeks and hours and minutes to that first taste.
So it was with Bom Jardim, meaning ‘nice’ or ‘fair garden’ in Portuguese, although there is no garden to speak of at this establishment, tucked away carefully down a non-descript alley near Restauradores. But for those in the know, there is the olfactory signpost of wafting chicken-y smells to lure one away from the nearby broad, tourist drag to a slope of outdoor tables wobbling on Lisboan cobbles.
Monsieur and I had barely arrived in Lisbon when we dined at Bom Jardim, so keen we were to sample their signature rotisserie chicken. Following a white-aproned waiter we sniffed our way up well-trodden stairs in pursuit of the perfume of roasting birds. There we found a dining room brightened by strip lighting, the floors more practical than smart, the tables more functional than elegant and the decor understated yet unmistakably Portuguese with traditional tiling halfway up the walls. Chefs sweltered in the heat of the kitchen, open to all passers-by, whilst large family groups tousled over legs and breasts and couples canoodled as chicken juice dripped down their chins.
Monsieur and I sat to concentrate on our menus, which in places had been erased by hungry hands. We didn’t need menus, though. I knew exactly what we’d order: a platter of roast chicken to share, straightforward chips and salad, some ham and a plate of salt cod croquettes to start, and a couple of icy cold Super Bocks – the local brew – to quench post-flight thirst.
“I don’t know why we have to have chicken on our first night.” Monsieur commented. “You cook perfectly good chicken at home.”
“That’s the whole point,” I replied. “I’m not cooking. This will be a real holiday for me – with someone else doing all the hard work.” A grin spread across my face at the thought.
As is the way in Portugal, unsolicited bread and butter was presented to us first, along with a plate of cheese. This would be charged to us if we ate it. The bread stayed, the cheese was sent away, but we were still charged for both. Did this matter? Not a jot, although we’d be firmer about whether or not we accepted such things in future. In any case, the starters had arrived and we were now busy sampling Bom Jardim’s offerings.
The ham was cured and considerably drier than the Italian equivalents to which we are accustomed. It was like eating slivers of dry gammon with a tang of vinegar on the tongue followed by the taste of honey. At €8.00 for the plate, this was well worth the price, but I couldn’t say the same for the salt cod croquettes. They weren’t expensive; not in the least at €0.85 each. We ordered four and I was so looking forward to them, being somewhat of an a-fish-ionada, but they were so akin to cardboard in texture that they stuck to the palate in the most unpalatable of ways. This was disappointing. How would it bode for the chicken?
To its redeeming credit, Bom Jardim is not a salt-cod croquette specialist. It is a rotisserie chicken-lover’s destination. Our chicken duly arrived, already carved into quarters on a large plate. It smelled delightful and tasted the same – juicy, tender, moist (that unavoidable adjective we so love to hate) and filled with flavour. At €9.40 for the entire bird, this has to go down as one of the most worthwhile culinary bargains in Western Europe. The fries were forgettable, the salad very carrot-heavy, as we’d find with so many Portuguese salads during our stay, and you can forget those cardboard croquettes, but the chicken, oh what a bird. Served with a little jar of piri-piri, we brushed the flesh with chilli, taking care not to leave random bristles behind, but I found the piri-piri quite unnecessary. This chicken is perfectly capable of standing on its own succulent merits and is also capable of filling the bellies of a pair of famished travellers following a long day on the hoof. So much so, in fact, that we had no room for dessert, but if the croquettes and side dishes were anything to go by, nothing on the menu could equal the chicken, so skipping dessert could be no bad thing.
Monsieur and I paid thirty something Euros for our Bom Jardim dinner. Including 4 beers, a whole chicken, bottled water, 2 starters and 2 side dishes, that’s pretty competitive and should we ever find ourselves in Lisbon again (and I sincerely hope we do) we’ll definitely return for more of the wonderful Bom Jardim chicken because it was truly BOM BOM BOM! But next time, I think we can forget about those cardboard croquettes.
Travessa de Santo Antão 12
1150 Lisboa, Portugal
213 427 424
How to find it:
Standing on the Avenida da Liberdade with your back to the sea, it is down a little alley by the Santander bank on the right hand side of the avenue as you look up the hill. It’s not far from the big needle-type monument at the Restauradores end of the avenue. Find the alley and follow the scent of roasting chickens to find Bom Jardim.
(Painting by Manuela Gouveia, in Lisbon’s Sofitel Hotel, Room 7-11, just like the convenience stores.)
Until November, Lisbon was uncharted territory for Monsieur and me, yet we’d decided to go and check out both Lisbon and Madeira for various reasons, being: (a) we’d never been to Portugal, (b) the flights and accommodation were insanely cheap as November is low season, (c) it’s not too far from us in London and (d) the weather would be considerably warmer than in England. We also had a bunch of leave to use up before the end of the year.
We’d heard unending positive reviews from those who’d been there before us. One colleague has a holiday home in the Algarve and another goes to Portugal for R&R every year without fail. The Epic Brother had visited friends there earlier in the year and raved about the Portuguese, how helpful and welcoming and warm they are without being flashy or in-your-face. Then others told me that to be in Portugal was like being in a world between worlds; that sometimes it seems modern and at others it’s quite medieval, but nonetheless enchanting. Monsieur and I were now keen to check it out for ourselves.
Our first good impression on arriving in Lisbon was created by the weather: for a Northern Hemisphere November, to find 18 degrees Celsius awaiting us at 7.30pm on a Friday night was an excellent way to start our holiday.
Customs was unusually straightforward, the luggage caroussel quick to produce our suitcases, and, as an added bonus for the traveller disembarking with a growl in their tum – all around baggage claim were opportunities to grab a snack. There were little shops selling food, a well-stocked café, and a woman with a trolley laden with crisps, drinks and plastic containers filled with fresh fruit. Now, that’s what I call civilised.
On a more romantic note, as we waited for our bags, a tall black man walked past us in robes of flowing gold. On his feet were pointy-toed slippers of cream silk and on his head sat a loosely-wound turban. Not only was the man a reminder of Portugal’s colonialist ties, he was the picture of orientalist elegance as he glided on by, a good head or more taller than anyone else in the hall, his robes glistening against the blue-black of his skin.
Once land-side, I noticed something rarer than a two-trunked elephant: a properly-stocked information desk with real maps, not just those freebie maps for tourists that only show one in four streets (never the one you’re actually looking for) and which never, ever show the routes to or from the airport. Here at Lisbon airport there were city maps, regional maps and maps of the entire country, stood on racks alongside guides from various publishers. This is just what’s needed at every airport in the world. I was impressed.
We didn’t wait long for a cab to our hotel on Avenida da Liberdade and our driver was patient with our novice attempts at speaking Portuguese, phonetic phrasebook in hand. The road leading away from the airport was lined with big, square houses, reminiscent of the architecture we’d seen in Melaka, Malaysia, where the Portuguese once ruled the roost. Many sported a deep rusty red colour, also familiar from our Malaysian travels. It struck me that we’d seen the effects of a country out there before understanding it’s background, which was now right here in front of us. It may be a back-to-front way to travel, but it works.
It was also soon apparent that the Lisboetas like their monuments, especially large ones parked at the centre of busy roundabouts. We circled two elaborate examples and spotted a couple more during the 15 minute ride to the hotel, and would see a lot more in the course of the next few days. Lisbon’s stonemasonry rocks.
(I’m terrible at night photography but this is one monument at Restauradores, on Avenida da Liberdade, and this monument is small compared to some of the others we saw!)
A modest €7.00 later, we arrived at the Avenida da Liberdade. It is a long, wide thoroughfare, with dual carriageway through the middle separated from extra lanes at either side by islands planted with mature trees. For November the branches were decorated with weepy drops of twinkling white lights and one corner building was wrapped like a gift box with a gigantic illuminated bow, a hint that Christmas would be upon us within a matter of weeks.
Monsieur and I like the Accor hotel chain when we travel. They always look after us well. This time we were staying at one of their Sofitels. The lobby was decorated in reds and blacks and golds in what would have been quite an asiatic style but for the pair of golden angels clinging to the wall behind reception. The concierge treated us to free welcome drink vouchers and a room upgrade as we checked in – another positive to travelling out of season, no doubt - and a few minutes later we were walking into our room overlooking the Avenida. Once again the décor had the hint of asia with dark wooden furniture of Japanese style and the walls hung with striking paintings of silhouettes on a red background – by Manuela Gouveia.
(a Sofitel bed. See how SOFT it looks? And it’s even better when you lie down on it. If you never go to Sofitel for any other reason, do at least go to try out their beds.)
There was also an unexpected surprise waiting for us: on the desk sat a cellophane-wrapped plate of half a dozen pasteis da nata, or the special custard-filled tarts for which Lisbon is famous. But best of all was that Sofitel bed. All you have to do is look at one to know that when you slip into it, the linens will be cool and their trademark mattress topper will support you in such luxurious comfort that you will dream of sleeping on marshmallow beds in a land constructed entirely of clouds. Monsieur and I are not the only ones who feel this way, either; next to the bed was a brochure outlining Sofitel beds and Sofitel pillows and the Sofitel bed linens and mattress toppers and everything you could possibly wish for when trying to recreate the Sofitel bed experience at home. Alas, the prices are steep. You’ll have to be an exceptionally good girl or boy for Santa to put Sofitel bed things in your stocking at Christmas. Either that or exceptionally rich.
(I’m not even into custard but these cunning little pastries foxed me into enjoying their sweet creamy wickedness. Note that there are only 5 on the plate in this photo. One has already been wolfed. I won’t say by whom.)
Before we could even think about sleeping, however, Monsieur and I had a date with a rotisserie chicken at the nearby Bom Jardim restaurant. It was time to see whether this bastion of Portuguese chicken was all it was cracked up to be.