Come to Portugal, stay for the heaven-sent food

I have a very sensitive tummy (besides a prominent one), and can’t gorge on food as much as I would like to. But when in Portugal for a Trafalgar Tours familiarisation trip, I found that the food here was heaven-sent. Spanish cuisine seems to get all the accolades but I find Portuguese cuisine more than able to hold its own. So I ate like a horse!

Speaking of horses, at our last stop along the beautiful cork region of Alentejo – a stud farm, Coudelaria Brito Paes – we had an amazing Be My Guest lunch spread.

At the Coudelaria Brito Paes, the chicken with mustard, cream and vegetables was very much appreciated.

Right at the very first stop, in Lisbon, we were already primed by tour director Pedro Pinto to expect a vegetable soup as the first dish. Normally, it’s kale soup but because pumpkin was in season, it was pumpkin soup at every stop. This soup was more carrot-based, though, with toasted almonds in the mix. The main course was a tasty chicken served with mustard, cream and vegetables. I think each of us had not just seconds but thirds as well, and all but polished off the freshly baked homemade bread. Pedro did say that it was Portuguese custom to not shy away from asking for seconds, even at restaurants.

My favourite dish on this trip was the famous black pork cheeks served with potatoes, at Cafe Alentejo in Evora. Just the right amount of fat and so tender. My grin complemented that of Asian Food Channel’s Sarah Benjamin who was also on the trip with us.

The exquisite black pork cheeks served with potatoes (bottom dish) at Cafe Alentejo.

Can you imagine a backdrop of the famous Douro Valley while having lunch in a vineyard at the Quinta de Marrocos Winery? This was followed by a tour of the wine-making process.

For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the famous Pasteis de Belem, a version of the natas tart also called the Portuguese custard tart (they’re nothing like the ones here in Malaysia or even Macau). This one is found in Belem in Lisbon but each region has its own special ­versions. It was heavenly! When the hotel we stayed at on our last night in Portugal served it for breakfast, you should have seen us piling them up.

There were many special surprise treats (a Trafalgar trademark) throughout the journey (and you might have your tour director serving it up in the coach itself) but I was very taken with the boleima (flaky cinnamon apple and ginger Jewish pastry of the Alentejo region) that we had with piping hot coffee at Castelo de Vide.

The famous Pastis de Belm against the backdrop of another famous sight, Jernimos Monastery.

Serving up a treat, a local dessert called boleima at Castelo de Vide. Percebes (goose barnacles) is a must-try when youre in Porto.
A favourite delicacy of the Portuguese which you can get easily in Porto is percebes (goose barnacles), which are briny like oysters and expensive.

In Porto, you get the best choices of port wine named after the region. At the famous Sandeman, we were taken on an informative tour of the cellars by a guide all dressed up in the logo get-up a la Zorro. This ended with a very pleasing sampling of the three different varieties – the white, ruby (the one most are familiar with) and the tawny – all very reasonably priced.

The three different types of port wine – (from left) white, ruby and tawny.

Our guide at Sandeman in Porto in his Zorro-ish get up which is actually the logo for the brand. The beautiful and enticing gardens of the Mateus Palace.
You can pick up another famous wine, the distinctive Mateus rose wine, after travelling from Porto to Guimarães heading to Viseu at the stunning Mateus Palace, which has equally spectacular gardens.

Time to pop open that bottle of port!



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