PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Gastro-Endurance
The bifana hunt was as illuminating as the chicken hunt. We hit three places, all referred to by resident foodies we had met.
Searching for Bifana, Lisbon
The bread seemed to be the only commonality between all of the sandwiches. It had a light, textured crust with an uber-white, fluffy interior. The pork, or more specifically, its texture and flavouring, were the elements that varied considerably.
I am assuming the cut used was out of the haunch, sliced thinly and marinated in various combinations of white wine, sweet paprika, tomato, garlic, olive oil and a whole lot of salt.
One place had the super-thin cutlets simmering in the marinade, long enough to really break down the tightened texture, giving the sandwich a really tender overall feel.
Another favourite was this place that had a set-up similar to the carousel peameal place at St. Lawrence Market. It was a great bakery, selling its famous sweet pastries and bread as well as pumping out mounds of bifana. Their bifana was significantly spicier, the meat cut thicker and cooked for less time. It was delicious, but very different. The taste was superior, but the meat was laborious to chew which took away from the whole package (note to self!).
Join Chef Anthony next week as he wraps up his series with a thoughtful conclusion (that means no swearing). - J.K.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Hamburgers, Shrimp and Tableside Petting Zoos
In between the amazing swimming and surfing in Sagres
, we spent most of our time searching and sampling some of the iconic dishes suggested by Mario back at La Paradis in Ferragudo. For the most part, the piri piri frangos
were different in each place as were the other benchmark dishes.
The same went for the varied cataplanas as well as the bifana. The quality of ingredients made the biggest difference to me. The difference to the consumer came from the ability of the cook behind the stove, as the lion’s share of restaurants and cafés were on an even playing field with the proteins, fruits and vegetables.
We left Mario, Mara and the branzino’s talent agent, Tony, and hit Lisbon via train. But not before I dropped off our six-speed Opel station wagon, which handled like a living room. I did, however, manage to get it on two wheels at one point. Four out of five of us were impressed; I’ll leave it at that.
Pastry Shop, Lisbon
I was amazed with the Goan element of Lisbon. The cultural ties were very much front and centre, all via the restaurants in this amazing, ancient city. There were small, bustling places with familiar spice-laden aromas, tea houses with incredible looking cakes and pastries on display in their windows and crazy shawarma joints with an array of preserves, salads and pickles that would make any serious smorgåsbörd fan blush. It was like curry house meets tea emporium meets quaint sidewalk café-bordello.
Breakfast Pastries, Lisbon
As we were in the capital for such a short time, understanding piri piri and bifana were at the top of our list. It’s unfortunate that there are only three meal periods in a day. It also didn’t help that the previous two weeks of eating, eating, eating were slowly becoming apparent. Our gastro-endurance had been challenged and for the first time, the kids lagged behind yours truly.
Lisbon Street Eats, Lisbon
That said, they still wanted to sample absolutely everything. The finishing was the challenging part.
Piri Piri Chicken, Lisbon
in Lisbon’s most famous chicken house, Bonjardim
, was a complete 180° from what we’d had on the coast. The chicken in Lisbon was larger, seasoned simply and done over coals on a rotisserie. It was presented cut in quarters with their fiery, salty, red-hot piri piri
sauce on the side. The spicing was up to you. The whole experience was great – creamed spinach and braised, garlicky potatoes were served with the chicken, followed by their caramel flan for dessert.
Join Chef Anthony next week as he continues his eternal search for the perfect Bifana. - J.K.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Walsh Abroad: Farmers - The Authorities on Flavour
The beach restaurant we hit regularly for lunch (usually for their fantastic iced glasses of rosé and olive-oily, yellow-fleshed French fries) had been earmarked on Albino’s advice. He said that this should be the place to have our big night out in Ferragudo before we started moving back for home.
Beach Eats, Ferragudo, The Algarve
They had some work to do according to my daughter, Cecilia. They had the go-to items like grilled cuttlefish and sardines down, but the other stuff was a tad suspect.
“A hamburger should have some… umm… universality to it,” she said. “We should agree that there is a bun and some sort of ketchup element at the very least!” Wise words coming from a 12-year-old.
Her first foray into Portuguese hamburger-land was bun-less, sans ketchup and the crowning glory was a partly cooked whopper of a fried, sunny side up egg.
“Por favor,” she thought. Cecilia dug in and finished off the bun-less wonder with no problem.
Ferragudo, The Algarve
We made a 10PM reservation at the Michelin-starred restaurant on “our beach” and showed up at 10:15PM (whoops) at the tail-end of some Franco-Italian banking company’s booze-fest that had been going on since 11AM. Apparently, they were all celebrating some big financial score that the rest of Southern Europe didn’t know about….
Fucking lovely. Their hoots and hollers (along with their insistence on high-fiving each of us) led us into the glassed-in, oceanfront patio section of the small restaurant.
Having developed a tie with some of the staff from ordering our beach food throughout the week, I used my resto spidey sense and arranged the evening.
The kids and I, on one of our earlier beach-nibble runs, spotted the iced fish case in the middle of the dining room that was suspended above “our beach”. With that knowledge, we let them know what we would love for dinner. Amongst the sea creatures, we had spotted the largest branzino I had ever seen as well as some mammoth red shrimp (pound-and-a-halfer’s!).
Mammoth Shrimp, Ferragudo, The Algarve
I was not sold on the shrimp, but was assured by our server Tony that if I didn’t love it, he would pay for it. A free meal in a Michelin restaurant? Nice. Service like that kicks the shit out of Yelp, Urbanspoon and Toronto Life in one solid statement.
When the shrimp came, I was met with five glorious, butterflied monsters with a thin brushing of a piri piri type dressing, as well as a sprinkle of this amazing, local, mild, crunchy, moist sea salt. Alongside were some weird, floral, green-skinned oranges for squeezing.
Shell on, guts in, the flesh smelled and tasted of charred shell and smoky fruit wood. It was pristine and tender, as well as sweet. I would be the one paying tonight.
Tony with Mr. Branzino, Ferragudo, The Algarve
Our server Tony appeared at our table, cradling Mr. Branzino before its final journey to the grill. It was stiff, shiny and had a look of horror in its eyes. Tony the salesman/server made sure that all of the kids (including me) gave it a farewell pat on the head.
Tony seemed to be this fish’s biggest fan.
The look of pride on this guy, in his white Oxford and black crested vest, was really something. It was as though he was the fish’s talent agent – as though he had some sort of contractual agreement with the fish to make sure we all knew how lucky we were to be part of this.
I’m not sure whether the pre-main course “tableside petting zoo” had anything to do with the calibre of the meal we consumed. In retrospect, it simply added another layer to the evening.
Again, it showed me how people who are passionate about their work and about giving their guests an experience can cause a meal to go from fantastic to phenomenal.
The fish, grilled and butterflied over olive and rosemary embers, was absolutely ridiculous. I pressed the skin-on filet with my fish knife and the natural oils pumped out of the succulent beast. Tiny, peanut sized potatoes roasted in olive oil, stewed chicory and charred tomatoes dressed in a tapenade-type sauce accompanied the fish.
Flan and sweet crêpes rounded out the event.
The kids were ushered into the kitchen to check it out and thank the team. They, in turn, were more impressed with the kids’ interest and enjoyment of their food than they were in us adults.
Next week: piri piri, multicultural Lisbon and Chef Anthony pops a wheelie with his station wagon. - J.K.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Paradiso in Portugal
I was lucky enough, along with the gang, to accompany Mario into Portimao
early on a Tuesday morning to do his shopping for the next two days. The market was not so different from any of the better markets I’ve been to in Toronto. It was totally packed and full of the frantic activity, sounds, colours and smells that would inspire any foodie. Mario led the five of us through his regular spots.
Visiting the butcher for his piri piri, he selected some very small (1 kg) chickens. Mario explained that chickens of this size take on his marinade better, cook more quickly over the wood and therefore retain lots of moisture. He also selected some amazing looking shell steaks, entraña from some great looking Uruguayan beef, young lamb saddles and a couple of beautiful baby goats for the weekend’s business.
His vegetable and fruit lady picked his lot all according to his order; however, she changed it appropriately as she knew better what was fresher that week. Mario said she does this all the time and that was how all of his suppliers were. After all, he explained, “They are the authority on flavour.”
He explained to me that his type of cooking was “simpler once on the fire, but more challenging to get it there”, which is why, more often than not, he gives way to the authorities.
I hear comments regarding “simple” cuisine from all parts of the industry and sometimes I wonder whether any of us truly understand the definition.
When you see it in action in this very true form, it goes a long way. I think we can, in our own little all-consuming food worlds, adapt many of these techniques (or lack of technique, for that matter) and apply it to our own culinary philosophies.
Fish Market with Mario, Portimao, The Algarve
After the vegetables, fruits and meats were nailed down, we headed to the much-heralded fish market. According to the locals, Tuesday and Friday are the best days for fresh fish. The fall season is also the best time for buying premium fish because of their growth cycles.
Again, the fish market was fairly unassuming, much like the top ones I’ve seen in Asia as well as the Americas. That said, the overwhelming aroma (for an area stacked with countless varieties of sea creatures) was unique. I had to test myself – search with my nose for any remotely off-putting, miniscule sign of fishiness. It was just overwhelmingly sweet, saline fumes wafting all over.
“Don’t trust the gills, regardless of the day - it’s the eyes you need,” Mario explained.
I always thought I knew fish, but this dude really knew fish. We got the conger and belt eel guy going, processing a half-dozen nasty two to three foot specimens while we moved on to the other vendors.
The baby sole and turbot made a re-appearance, and we also saw true Dover sole – stunned, shiny and really stiff. Cooked properly, that fish could rival anything.
We saw one guy dismembering aluminum-coloured espada. He opened them and gingerly removed the two foot long, orange roe sacs. We took those as well.
There were massive monkfish, heads still on, the precious liver still intact and on display for those who really know what they’re doing.
“The liver with chorico and the fish loin are perfect together,” Mario said all-knowingly.
“No shit,” I thought.
As a great chef once said to me, “Por fa fucking vor.”
Market Bifana, Portimao, The Algarve
Before we left that morning, Mario’s wife and Mara had assured us (on his behalf) that a trip to the market was not complete without a visit to the bifana sandwich shop located just outside the perimeters.
I was curious and hoping for the Portuguese answer to Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. We got just that – soft, squishy buns with substance (Wonderbread does not exist in Portugal) and uber-thin slices of pork leg that had been soused with a piri piri like marinade, quickly poached in a mystery broth. The sammies had tons of moisture and spice.
Mario ordered black Sagres beer for everyone. We vetoed the kids’ order, but went along ourselves with the 8:30AM pork and creamy, icy cold, rich, black beer-fest. It was killer.
Probably not the best way to start the day, but if you’re gonna do it, you might as well make it delicious.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: "Antonio de Toronto!"
We were late arriving in the Algarve
region of Portugal, but had our priorities in line. Our place was just outside of Portimao
, in a tiny fishing village called Ferragudo
Market Bifanna, Portimao, The Algarve
My good chef friend Albino Silva (owner and operator of the amazing restaurants Chiado
, Senor Antonio and his newest, Salt
) told us about two amazing local restaurants in the Ferragudo neighbourhood:La Paradis
and Rei das Praias
The Walsh clan quickly became regulars at both. We hit La Paradis for dinner at 10PM on a regular schedule. Mario, Wanda and their daughter/heir apparent Mara were wonderful.
The fish and meats are all cooked simply, but strictly over olive wood – arguably one of the best fruit woods out there for the BBQ connoisseur. We lived off the grill offerings for the most part, but Mario also sent us the iconic cataplana: morcella, chicken neck and chorizo with the tiniest, sweetest clams I’ve ever eaten. It was truly amazing. A ton of ingredients, but they melded together perfectly. We paired it with good bread, a small pot of warm, lardy, rendered pork crackling with some meaty bits and killer local, highly spiced, crunchy, young green olives.
Cataplana at Paradiso, Feragudo, The Algarve
Mario’s La Paradis is every locavore’s/general manager’s/chef’s/capitalist’s/hunter-gatherer’s dream restaurant. It is a gorgeous, simple, tasteful place that relies strictly on the intent of service and quality of product.
Next week: Portugal’s answer to Wonderbread (and what’s the legal drinking age again?). Por favor. - J.K.