Where: The Algarve region, Portugal (We spent our time in Faro, Tavira and Lagos)
Plate of food: We stayed in a former fishermen’s village that they converted into a hotel complex. Nearby were the salt pans where they harvest (duh) salt from the sea water. So you have fish and you have salt; it makes sense to put them together. It was common to see salt-baked fish on the menus there.
This is a technique where a whole fish is covered in a thick crust of salt before baking. The result is a very tender, moist dish without a strong salty flavour. I decided to order this at a restaurant nestled on a spit of land, surrounded by water and swaying palm trees.
I was anticipating fresh, flavourful, delicate fish.
I got salt, salt, salt. Blerg.
Unfortunately, in this circumstance, the fish had had a life of abusing salts before he came to rest on my plate (I’m only guessing here). The result was a dish that was so salty that I drank the water from the vase of flowers on our table.
I was particularly concerned about dehydrating my unborn baby with all of the salt coursing through my veins that evening. Whatever. I was a nervous pregnant woman.
That meal aside, we had a wonderful lunch at a small, open-air bar where plates of tapas offered up aged cheese, spicy sausage, cod fritters, cured ham, and other delights. Each item had a toothpick in it, and at the end you were charged by the number of toothpicks piled on your plate. I could have built a log cabin with my toothpicks, but let me remind you, I WAS EATING FOR TWO.
If we are going to be really nit-picky, this lunch spot was technically juuuust across the Spanish border. But if you could drive across a bridge and have lunch in a different country, wouldn’t you do it?
Sheesh, I have wholeheartedly under-sold Portuguese cuisine with these stories. Let me say that I ate very well in Portugal and my baby turned out just fine. She just has a penchant for salty food.
The best: It has to be a top three, really.
- The incredible tiles that completely covered nearly every house in Santa Luzia, a village near Tavira. We never saw two houses with the same pattern. Just beautiful. They make me mull over which pattern I would choose for my Algarve holiday home (if I had one…).
- The beaches. Dramatic. Clean. Stunning. The Algarve sometimes gets a bad rap for being full of British holiday makers watching Manchester United matches at sports bars, but the truth is that it has a natural beauty, and off-season it feels quiet and remote. Who wants to watch Man United when you have views like this?
- Cork trees. Thank you to my brother-in-law for recently reminding me about the marvel of a cork tree (amazing what you discuss over a
glassbottle of wine). We drove through groves of these short, gnarled trees and were awe-struck to see the enormous piles of “sleeves” of bark on the side of the road.
Story that needs to be told: Our trip was full of charming, peculiar quirks. They are part of what made The Algarve so enjoyable and so memorable.
It started with warm temperatures in Faro, and us walking beneath trees heavy with oranges, with storks nesting on every rooftop. So Mediterranean! But, wait, there is the distinct sound of traditional Christmas carols coming from the cleverly hidden speakers in town. “Let it snow” becomes slightly laughable in this climate.
The Portuguese seemed determined to enjoy a traditionally wintery Christmas, no matter what. This was obvious from the huge ice skating rink at the outdoor shopping centre where we saw skaters teetering around, trying to avoid the palm trees in the middle of the rink. Huh?
Later we found ourselves at one of the beautiful beaches where some rules had been posted on a colourfully painted board. There were the obvious ones: no littering, obey the lifeguard flags, and so on. The rule I loved the most? Don’t act crazy. You’re talkin’ to the wrong girl….
The quirkiest of all sights was this little fellow who we found in a shop window:
I know you have many questions. I can only answer a few.
Yes, that’s a real stuffed rabbit. Yes, he is wearing custom-made hunting gear. No, I don’t know why. And, yes, it still haunts me to this very day.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher