Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So Much Wine, So Little Time

We are embracing Portuguese wine!!  So far, we have tried more than 50 different wines just from the Minho, Douro and Alentejo regions.   The selection at local grocery stores and wine shops is truly mind boggling.  There is an entire wall at a nearby store which features wines under 3.89 € ($5.50)!!!

As temporary residents of the Minho region, we have come to love the local vinho verde or green wine.  We have tried tinto (red) and rosado (pink), but we prefer branco (white).  Vinho verde is crisp, fruity, slightly fizzy and perfect with the rich dishes this region is famous for.  When we're dining out, I get giddy when a server brings a jug of it, pulled fresh from a tap at the bar, and deftly pours it from a nice height to get the bubbles going.  Our favorite (and only) waiter at the Churrasqueira da Sé jokingly calls it champagne! 

The price is right ~
a VERY full glass of vinho verde for 1€
Although the red wines from the Minho are a bit rough around the edges, red wines from the Alentejo region are fruity, smooth and absolutely delicious.  The warmer climate in the lower part of Portugal helps produce some wonderful grapes.  Many of our favorite wines from this region are only 5 or 6 € per bottle.  

The Douro is best known for producing grapes used to make port wine, but non-ports from this region are also very good.  We've tried about 15 different port wines so far and have some favorite producers including Ramos Pinto, Ferreira and Quinta do Infantado.  We are especially fond of white port, which is hard to find in the United States.  It's young, dryish, light, and is heavenly when chilled and served with Romeu e Julieta - aged cheese with quince paste.  It's a perfect combination.  You'll have to come visit us for samples!!

Some things in Portugal are reasonably priced and some are not...
Together, these 3 bottles of delicious wine cost less than
1 bottle of contact lens solution!!
There is a lot we will miss when we leave this quirky country, and we can't help but think about how painful it will be to pay more than $10 for a good bottle of wine when we return home.  My beer loving husband really likes the wine here and he's already moaning about the price we'll have to pay for something similar in Minnesota.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wining and Dining with Ben & Joyell

Neighbors from Minneapolis, Ben & Joyell, spent a few days in Lisbon, Porto and Braga as part of their whirlwind tour of Portugal and Spain.   We were excited to meet them in Porto and share some of the highlights of the city with them.   Our first stop was Caraças where we had dense & flavorful heaps of Feijoada à Transmontana -  a delicious stew of beans and pork parts from the Trás-os-Montes region in the northeast corner of Portugal.  Fully fueled, we headed out into a chilly downpour to taste some port.  We tried 9 different ports and had fun comparing their varying styles and qualities.  Magically, the Portuguese-language tour of Croft's port wine lodge actually made sense after we'd had a few samples.  

Ben & Joyell in the Croft port wine cellars

That evening in Braga we had Valentine's Day dinner at Mar de Sinos (Sea of Bells) near the cathedral.  I've always liked Valentine's Day as an occasion to exchange cards and treats with my students, family and friends, but that's not how things are done in Portugal.  The holiday is just about lovey dovey couples here.   So, we were the only table of 4 at the restaurant, and my friends and family back home got romantic cards in Portuguese this year since that's all I could find.  Oh well...  

On Tuesday we toured the sights in Braga and managed to take advantage of the occasional bursts of sunshine between rain showers.  Frequent stops for food and beverages kept us energized and gave us a chance to dry off a bit.  

Bom Jesus and fun friends

Early Wednesday morning, Ben and Joyell headed to the bus station (trains were on strike - again!) to return to Porto then on to Spain.  It was a very quick visit, but great fun.  It was nice to get caught up on neighborhood news and share stories and laughter.  

~ Peggy

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Feira do porco, não Feira de porco...

Our last two weekends have involved car trips to the countryside for traditional Portuguese food in which pork featured prominently.   So, when I saw the notice for the "Fair of the Pig" in Ponte de Lima it seemed like an obvious destination for our next weekend getaway.

The web link for the event, Fiera do Porco, has an interesting looking schedule and an intriguing YouTube video, so really, how could we not go.

We drove up to Ponte de Lima, about 45 minutes from Braga, on Saturday afternoon and had a nice time with a number of fun and/or interesting events - which might best be described in reverse chronological order.

The 'main' event was held in a very large tent - it contained tables set up by different local restaurants, a stage for the musicians, and booths selling pork products of all kinds, convent sweets, jewelry, ginjinha from Obidos.

Near the end of the evening a group of accordion players walked through, stopping to play some real toe tappers that were bouncing around in our heads for the whole ride home.

They start 'em young on the accordion.

Before this we'd wandered around the various booths and had some traditional convent sweets - these are made using old recipes created by nuns in the many convents in Portugal.  One was a fried curly pastry dough that was served by first slathering it in some thin sugary sauce and then coating it with cinnamon and sugar.  It reminded me of the leftover bits of pie crust that Mom used to dust with cinnamon and sugar and bake after the pie was done.

A local jeweler was selling traditional Coração do Minho jewelry.  These are fine silver pieces in the shape of a lop-sided heart.  Peggy may write about these at some future date - assuming that she likes her Valentines Day gift...

Before strolling though the tent we, of course, had to eat.  We found a table set up by a local restaurant that was serving small plates of all their fair specialties.   We started with one of Peggy's favorites - pig ears.   These were cooked but served at room temperature with garlic and olive oil. They are actually quite tasty, if you can get past the crunch of the cartilage.

We also had the cebola sausage which is traditional sausage with onions on the inside.  When cooked the onions get sweet and the whole thing has an almost BBQ flavor.  The boiled pork fillets with onions were very good, but I was partial to the breaded pork fillets on bread...

We also had the morcela sarrabulho.  This is a specialty of the region.  It is basically a blood sausage with rice and pork.  In this instance it was grilled and served with pineapple.  It was fantastic!

We've reached the point where our younger and more sensitive readers have hopefully gotten tired, quit reading, and perhaps gone off to bed to have pleasant dreams about the joys of living in Portugal.

For the rest of you, well, this is were it all gets a bit less pleasant but a lot more Portuguese ...

The title of this entry is "Feira do porco, não Feira de porco" - which translates to "Fair of the pig, not Fair for the pig".  Maybe "From where does that tasty sausage come?" would have been a good title.  Or maybe "Banned by PETA".  Another option for this one might be Matança do Porco, the title of one of the 4pm events on the fair schedule.  Go ahead and enter this at and pick Portuguese as the language to translate from.  No really - give it a try.

So, now you know.   The pig walked in but was carried out.  It was all handled with dignity and done as well as these things can probably be done.  A reclining pig, a small incision, a collection of blood for the sarrabulho.  If you are going to eat pork you should be aware of how this all works.

After the matança the hair and such is burned off using straw.

It was well attended, with people lining up outside the gates ahead of time before we were let in.  They were, like us, not afraid to take pictures.  Even when the next step began.

Some were quite enthralled and eager to see exactly how a pig is butchered.  Others, clung to the arm of an older brother.

I have more photos, but I'll spare you all of the details.  And actually, it was less of an ordeal than I expected.  The collection of the blood was the least pleasant (and those photos ... oh my).  But there was only one time that I was genuinely concerned about what strangeness might happen next.  This involved the two women dressed in traditional garb that helped out - you can see one of them in one of the photos above.  They had moved the collected blood back to a bench out of the way when one of them began opening a roll of paper Dixie cups.  The last words of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkenss" suddenly came to mind:  "The horror!  The horror!".  (Or was it J. Peterman...)  Luckily the Dixie cups were for the aguardente - a brandy that they poured from a pitcher into the cups for the crowd.  I was initially not sure how this related to the previous events, but then I figured after all this, maybe a belt wasn't a bad idea...

In a few days our neighbors and friends Ben and Joyell will be visiting and we will meet them in Porto to visit some port wine houses.   We are looking forward to this and also to having a port themed event.  This blog has been a bit heavy on the pork side and light on the port side and we are eager to address this imbalance...


Friday, February 4, 2011

On the road again

We're so used to NOT having a car now, that we forgot we still had the keys to João's car and could use it again this past weekend.  Finally on Saturday night, it occurred to us that we could go for another nice drive.

So Sunday morning we headed for the mountains. Once again we zipped past the beautiful Peneda Gerês National Park (we WILL get there someday!) along some very windy roads that brought back memories of long, queasy childhood car trips.  João had mentioned a restaurant in the minuscule town of Bouro that serves homey, hearty Portuguese food and that's exactly what we found at Restaurant Cruzeiro.

The cross for which Restaurant Cruzeiro is named
Eric enjoyed enormous and soul-satisfying portions of papas and rojões and I had the leitão which is roast suckling pig. While waiting for our meal and waiting for my stomach to settle after our twisty car ride, I made the connection between the Portuguese words for milk, leite, and leitão, which is the not-yet-weaned piglet that I was about to enjoy.  Oh dear.  Fortunately, the meat was so tender and delicious that I forgot all about the separation anxiety the piglet and its mother must have experienced. 

Yes, that bowl of brown goo, papas, is actually a
very tasty Portuguese specialty!
The BVM & Jesus watch over Eric
as he eats
We were both pretty full, but the lovely dessert table at the front of the restaurant was calling our names.  We couldn't resist the rabanadas and sonhos.  Sonhos means 'dreams' and these sure were dreamy.  They are soft spherical doughnuts made with shredded pumpkin and rolled in cinnamon & sugar - the perfect sweet treat after our heavy meal.

The cloister at Santa Maria do Bouro

After dessert we were torn between napping in the car and strolling around town.  We opted for strolling.  On the main street, there is a beautiful old church and the 12th century Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria do Bouro.  The monastery is one of many Pousadas which are palaces, castles, monasteries and convents that have been restored by the Portuguese government and converted into luxury hotels.  We couldn't afford to spend the night there ($$$$) but we could afford a drink in cozy chairs in front of the huge fireplace.  

João is still traveling, so we feel that it's our responsibility to take his car out for a spin again this coming weekend.  We'd hate for he battery to go dead or something.  Our next outing is to Feira do Porco - Festival of the Pig in Ponte de Lima.
Stay tuned...

~ Peggy

Maybe Eric will build one of these in our house in Minneapolis?!