The food of Portugal’s largest province is fresh, local and hearty. Alentejo is blessed with lots of pasture land and a long seacoast, which translates into substantial foods to fuel a hard-working country lifestyle. For a foodie, it can be a pleasant surprise to learn that Portuguese foods and wines speak the language of the sun hereabouts, even in February. Here are a few impressions, from my winter meander through the land of wheat and cork.
Winter markets—plenty of green
I always enjoy visiting local markets, at home or when traveling. At the Saturday market in Evora, local farmers come to town to soak up sun, chat up their neighbors, and do a brisk trade in cabbages, cabbage flowers, leafy local broccoli, leeks and root vegetables.
The breadbasket is full
Bread figures in every meal, and earns its place at the table. Hearty country loaves are sliced to accompany everything from honey to cheese to olive oil. Açorda is a robust soup of bread and broth, plus seafood or meat and egg. In most restaurants, the bread basket includes dinner rolls, but for my tastes, the local bread is the best.
A land of “surf and turf”
When I arrived in Alentejo, with its rich cuisine, I was happy to taste foods that fit the season, superbly. Pork is the meat of choice here, and the region’s black pork, from pigs fed mostly by foraging for acorns, is especially succulent. The Portuguese are snout-to-tail fond of their specialty porkers, which can be a little overwhelming to a newcomer just wanting to sample a bit of this and that. Much as I enjoyed a taste of black pork, I was delighted to find worthy alternatives.
Soups and stews that stick to your ribs
Soups are hearty, and often ample enough to share. My husband and I quickly learned to order just one, and share, especially if we wanted to leave room for anything else at the meal. For us soup, salad and bread made for a rich and satisfying luncheon option.
Portuguese desserts range from the simple to elaborate and egg-rich desserts from the region’s convents, and many options in between. Alentejo’s unusual convent sweets are almost a meal unto themselves, and deserve their own post!
So, now we’ve done starters and a meal…which leaves us breakfast and cheeses, wines and spirits. Stay tuned.
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