Delight your palate with some authentic Algarve food and drink.
Eating out in Algarve restaurants will add another delightful facet to your holiday experience.
Ask any visitor to the region for instant confirmation that Algarve restaurants are an utter pleasure. And Algarve food and drink are varied and delicious, as you'll discover.
So, why is it that friends find it hugely amusing that Algarve cuisine is not my favourite part of holidaying here?
Not because I don't like food -- I do! (My husband, Nev, likes to claim that about 100 pounds of my 115 weight is actually my daily food intake).
The reason is that I chose some years ago to follow a vegetarian diet, whereas in most Algarve restaurants the cuisine is very definitely based on fish and meat!
Of course, I do manage to eat while I'm there. My choices just aren't as varied as they are for the majority (probably including you) whose eating habits are not so self-restricted.
But I won't be a spoilsport, so I'm going to tell you about the Algarve food and drink that others enthuse about when we eat out in the region. (Just remember that these are not all my own
opinions I'm reporting).
I am, however, going to be awkward and 'start at the finish', because the dessert choices in most Algarve restaurants certainly are to my taste! (The slight downside being I have to clean
my teeth more scrupulously to fight off dental decay).
You get a hint of Algarve's history when it's time to choose a dessert. Most Algarve restaurants offer temptingly sweet speciality choices. I blame the Moors, who introduced the fig and almond crops, which heavily influence the region's confectionery.
Massa de Doce Regional is virtually exclusive to the Algarve. These 'tidbits' are formed into hand-decorated designs suggesting fruits or animals. They're
almondy-sugary (i.e. delicious).
Quiejo de Figo is a cake formed from stuffed figs flavoured with almond and cinnamon.
Tarte de Amêndoa - easy to guess, even if your Portuguese is basic. This is almond tart with a caramel glaze.
Torta de Laranja - a deliciously orangey sponge roll.
Dom Rodrigos - a very rich Algarvean concoction of egg yolk, almond paste and sugared water served in silver paper wrappings.
If you're sweet-toothed, you should try some Morgado de Figos (marzipan and fig). But, if you prefer to 'play safe', many Algarve restaurants offer Arroz Doze (sweet
rice pudding with a tang of lemon and cinnamon)
Wow; that's set me hankering after something sweet... Now I'll tell you more about the sort of meals that you'll be enjoying when you try eating out in the Algarve.
Safe choices for me are Caldo Verde, which is made from shredded cabbage, or Sopa de Agriões which is based on potatoes and watercress.
If you're not averse to meat and fish, then your choices are much more varied.
Canja is a chicken broth, often garnished with rice and ham.
Açorda de Pão has a stock made from vegetable, meat or fish stock, thickened with eggs and stale bread and seasoned with coriander and garlic
Sopa de Peixe is a thick viscous fish soup, generally based on cod.
It's not hard to find well-prepared and nourishing food in virtually any village that boasts
an Algarve restaurant. Even the most basic coastal inn offers a varied choice of meals, though most will be fish-based, because of the local fishing communities.
Cataplana is the local speciality dish, named after the brazen pan in which it's traditionally served. It's a wine-sauteed mix of clams, ham, sausage, onion, tomatoes, chilli, garlic
and spices. A great favourite with many of our friends who like eating out in the Algarve (but note that ingredients can differ between restaurants).
Marine dishes that you'll find in many Algarve restaurants are: Atum Grelhado (grilled tuna); Bacalhau á Bras (fried salt cod with potatoes, olives, and egg);
Caldeirada (fish stew) and Lulas Recheadas (stuffed squid) which, to my surprise, many people recommend!
Shellfish (marisco) dishes are also extremely varied, and are based mainly on crab, prawns and shrimp. A popular example is Arroz de Marisco, which resembles paella,
and contains clams, prawns and fish, with rice, onions, tomatoes and peppers.
Inland Algarve Restaurants
Away from the coast, it's no surprise to discover that marine life forms feature less on the menu.
Chicken and pork seem to be the staple meats throughout Portugal.
Monchique's regional speciality is Piri-Piri chicken (which means that even Bournemouth can boast of its own 'Algarve restaurant')! The spicy tang comes from the chilli in the
cooking oil. Popular with exploring holidaymakers, a piri-piri meal (with some local wine) in a 'basic' restaurant should not cost more than 10 Euros per head.
But you will also find casseroles based on lamb or kid, and seasonal game dishes with partridge, pheasant, quail... even wild boar(!).
And, if the exotic side of Algarve restaurant fare doesn't tempt you, there's usually something more familiar on the menu like Portugal's version of sirloin steak, bifa á
Arroz de Pato is a basic dish with a roasted mix of rice and strips of duck.
Carne de Porco à Alentejana has cubes of fried pork and cockles cooked in a sauce of tomato and onion.
Faisão Estufado is stuffed pheasant marinated in wine and brandy.
Febras de Porco (pork fillets)
Leitão Assado (roast suckling pig)
Another regional dish is Caldo Verde (literally 'green broth') made from potatoes, shredded cabbage and onions - and spicy chouriço sausage (which of
course I leave out when I cook it for my own consumption).
...And if you really are missing a taste of home among all those foreign delicacies, then you could always drive to Albufeira, where, at Fat Frank´s, you could gorge yourself on the
familiar, with a meal of fish and chips! (Your secret's safe with me, honest).
I know lots of wine snobs turn up their noses at the lack of 'quality' Portuguese wines, but hey - I always enjoy them!
When it's really hot, I go for vinho verde, which isn't actually green, you'll be relieved to hear. It's light and tangy and a good swig 'resets' my palate between courses.
While not to my taste, the white port (porto branco) is a popular choice served chilled as an aperitif. A simple way to add something 'extra unusual' to a holiday
By the bye, I've never spotted a Portuguese citizen drinking the famous Mateus Rosé, so if you ask for that when ordering in an Algarve restaurant, you might as well wear a
sign that reads "Tourist". (Of course, if you're like me, your limited Portuguese and 'dodgy' accent may already have given you away).
Algarve restaurants tend to be unpretentious, and your first impression might even be that they're rather too plain.
But, I think it would be a shame if the nature of eating out in the
Algarve were to be 'shoehorned' into a blander, slicker and more cosmopolitan style. And visitors would be the poorer if the region's natural charm succumbed to the one-size-fits-all approach
of many other popular holiday spots around the world.
After all, the whole point of getting away from it all is that you're not at home, isn't it?
I hope you'll join me in trying to enjoy the Algarve for what it is.
And, do let me know of any favourite dishes you come across during your own explorations of Algarve restaurants and I'll mention the best ones here (with suitable attribution, naturally). Just
send me the details using the Your Algarve Best form.
Meantime, if you want to know about my current favourite eating places in the Algarve, see my top choices on the Fave Restaurants page.
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