In Portugal, the church clock chiming one means it’s time for the main meal of the day; the roads suddenly fall silent and everyone sits down to eat. No matter what you have been doing that morning there are table cloths, wine, napkins and a hot cooked meal to fortify workers. If you are in a restaurant you may well start with a grilled fish, Robalo is a favourite or Truta, there is a restaurant about twenty minutes’ drive from the writing retreat whose specialist is trout. The main dining area is al fresco perched just above a river. Water flows down the roof and falls like rain by the side of the diners, a romantic sight but a pragmatic one also as it keep the flies at bay.
Often food has a smokiness derived from the countless wood fires which people still use to cook in both restaurants and cafes and also at home. So much of the food is extremely traditional and menus don’t change much from one year to the next. The Portuguese like to believe their cuisine is the best in the world. In Central Portugal it is difficult to source anything particularly ethnic and the diet relies quite heavily on one pot cooking. Not that it isn’t delicious, you understand, but if you come from the multi-cultural menus of London it is a shock to the system.
Fried liver, home-made sausages, chorizo are staples, so are soups which range from mackerel and potatoes boiled together to caldo verde a potato soup with chorizo and finely chopped cabbage. Households in the country still produce goat and sheep milk cheese, dry figs and make quince and pumpkin jellies as accompaniments.
Accompanied by a glass of local red wine and a few local olives and bread, who would want anything more?
Close to the writing retreat are a number of restaurants, O Pastor about ten minutes by car serves wonderful skewers of tiger prawns and pork, the local restaurant at Santa Amaro will fill you every lunch time with a fixed price meal for around 7.50 euros a head. Everything is home cooked and the menu is reassuringly the same, so every day of the week you know exactly what treat is in store. In Penela itself Dona Seznando is probably the best appointed but there are lots of places dotted all around the town to try out.
Cozida or Portuguese Boiled Dinner is one of my favourites and various pieces of pig (don’t ask) different types of chorizo, potatoes, carrots and large chunks of cabbage make this a real rib sticker and I try to eat it once a week. This has to be followed by Pudim Flan which is the equivalent to crème caramel although not many people would agree with me. Another favourite is rice pudding with a hint of lemon and topped by cinnamon powder but it’s always cold!
Certainly Portugal is known for its roast suckling pig which is always a dish of celebration and comes with a sauce of garlic and black pepper which is an acquired taste but washed down with wine and sandwiched between fresh bread, it’s the very best.
There is much to see at lunchtime and the ceremonies and traditions are alive here in Central Portugal, don’t even mention a sandwich for lunch. No matter how much you want to return to the chapter or poem you might be writing at the retreat everything and everyone stops for lunch and you will soon catch the habit.Tags: writing retreat