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Maggie Beer

Maggie's food reflections from Europe Part 2

October 31, 2018

So many food experiences from our first day in Porto waiting for the rest of the group with a dish of clams simply served with the cooking juices, garlic and parsley; or sea bass in a salt casing cooked in a hot pan and flamed with great theatre. A seafood porridge; full of mussels, scamp and razor clams in a tomato broth with the juices again from cooking with fresh coriander, EVOO and stale bread and ‘making’ the porridge by the waiter stirring at the table. The first night of the trip we were bussed to Matosinhos, a town by the sea, and ate at Casa Serrao where the grilling of the fish was done on an outside charcoal barbecue; lines of these outside kitchens taking over the street; the smoke bellowing over the street long which was where the most perfect sardines caught that morning as whole fish with just EVOO were cooked; then the largest sea bream I had encountered; gutted and opened up to cook on the grill; the amazing caramelisation of the skin and the sides and cooked again to perfection. Such plenty on the table as we dissected the fish off the bone to begin with but then a few of us attacked the bones and the cheek and every bit of it so succulent I definitely ate more than I needed and the meal was nothing short of unbelievable yet so incredibly simple.

Jose’s picnic lunches every day were so different; so moorish and sustaining…. I devoured every taste and learnt so much of the traditions that resonate with my climate back home. Each picnic could have been a food diary all in itself but so much else to share.

Then just to choose one more example of why the food was such a stand out I need to tell you of the dinner in the town of Guimaraes in northern Portugal. Restaurant Jantar. Firstly a caldo verde soup served for all that I was smart enough to only have a few mouthfuls as I could see how the table was set. So much more food to come; The biggest plates of baccala a’broa; baked cod with beans and potatoes; cod being such an important fish through Portugal this one fresh; a huge serve that would really have been enough for the whole meal that we tackled with gusto; and then the next platters appeared; this time of roasted veal; beautifully cooked and falling off the bone; again with potatoes and beans as they were what is in season. I was in my element and so excited with every taste that I was asked whether I would like to go into the kitchen; an opportunity I jumped at. There was a huge kitchen and as they proudly showed me around I saw a pot on the stove that looked interesting; they explained it was a pigs stomach stuffed with pork and would I like a piece; (in fact it looked a little like haggis); of course I said yes and then returned to the table expecting a small piece to taste. With the generosity we found everywhere we went through Portugal and Gallicia they had taken the boiled meat and deep fried it so it was beautifully burnished and presented it sliced on a platter to the whole table. To the slight distress of my travel companions as we’d already eaten so much and after which I was banned from visiting kitchens! And that wasn’t the end of the meal small pastries; a crema Portuguese and a deep golden pudding from the region made in a mould a little like a large crème caramel just with egg yolks and incredibly rich. The whole spirit of generosity and pride was wonderful to absorb; the building had originally been his grandparents and had been a wine cellar and he was very proud of the family heritage and the family still involved. Such a special night and indicative of one experience after another during our seven magical days.

I’ll share just one more with you as I am limited by time and space. The town of Baiona having crossed the border into Spain we walked along the rugged Gallician coastline so beautiful even through a heavy mist. I have to admit we were not sleeping rough; that night we stayed at a Parador in the 16th century Monterreal Castle. Which as a matter of interest if you’re over 65 years old you get a very special discount on the price so always look to book direct if you choose to stay at a Parador; it doesn’t break the bank particularly if you book in advance Paradors are run by the State; it’s a way of protecting these wonderful old buildings that really is worth investigating. So to dinner at Restaurante O Mosquito, Cena in his small town Nancy had chosen 7 simple dishes for us to share; 10 of us at the table; platters both ends and as ever such generosity. Racones are larger tapas to share with friends and of course all Gallician specialties served with incredibly good Albarino wines. A platter of goose barnacles; a platter of padrone peppers simply fried in EVOO with sea salt biggest fat mussels ever so full of flavour; totally unadorned and perfect. Razor clams Navajas; barbecued till goldon; delicate; thin and sooooooooo sweet; soooooo fresh. Clams again in a sauce of pimento evoo garlic and parsley and then a tortilla Espagnola; the traditional potato and egg cooked in the pan. I almost forgot the Octopus Gallega; boiled, sliced with just EVOO, sea salt and some paprika. A feast yet again.

So many unexpected and wonderful experiences of food; wine music and tranquility walking through the beautiful countryside and finishing at the Cathedral and experiencing the Pilgrams Mass; all of it totally unforgettable. A special mention must be made of Pedro Araujo the main wine advisor at Quinta Do Ameal a fantastic winery and wonderful place to stay, great wines such a beautiful property.

There was so much more I could write of but I wanted to mention that having been home just three weeks (and already 5 interstate trips under the belt) so feeling quite exhausted yesterday I sat and reread Dee Nolan’s books a Food Lovers Pilgrimage both France and Santiago de Compostela and though these tomes didn’t cover much of the trip that we had done having come into Gallicia and finishing at Santiago from a different direction; what struck me was how much more I gained from her beautiful words having walked a part of the Camino; in fact I relived the trip and continue to absorb more in my thoughts as time goes on.

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