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Well, I did for 10 successful days, but it wasn’t always simple.
This image was taken at Porto de Santa Maria, on Guincho Road. It’s located on the Atlantic Ocean, north of Lisbon. The freshness of the fish is what I’m wanting to show you… from the sea to your plate, with only the cooking in between.
In a word association game with someone who loves to eat and knows Portugal, saying “Portugal” could give you back an instant, one word answer, “fish!” Everyone I’ve talked to since I’ve returned has asked me the same question, “Isn’t the fish wonderful?”
Dining in Portugal was a gastronomic pleasure of the best kind for me, prefacing this with the fact that I’m about the most terrible eater in the world, with fish being my worst aversion. As a child, my father thought that he could change my palate preferences by force feeding me fish. He thought that all I needed was a bit of “nudging.” He’d say, “Someday you’re gonna love fish, Annie!”
If I love a food, I’m loving it all the way; and if I can’t handle it, I really can’t handle it, so his dream never came true. As it also turns out… I’m deathly allergic to fish as an adult. Aha! Our bodies have our own defense mechanisms.
THE GREAT NEWS
New dishes for me in Portugal were amazing. Once my early history with “Fish on Fridays” was explained, we moved on. My explorations signaled wonderful new flavors and experiences… without eating any fish. I really enjoyed watching everyone else having those gastronomic pleasures that I could only dream of having… in another lifetime.
Portugal’s foods held the rich flavors of my grandparents’ summer garden. Fruits and vegetables reminded me of the days when I was allowed to devour their victory garden. I just thought of it as a place to hang out and eat, when visiting them as a child; and, they thought of it as a place for me to enjoy the fruits of their labor… And, they always knew where I was. The flavors of Portugal were that great. My new friend Madalena Rudé (of Cascais, Portugal) told me that she finds the best fruits and vegetables come from Portugal, and she’s traveled the world. I have to agree the flavors were really that great.
Évora was a particularly remarkable experience.
My hosts Delfim Costa, Luis Ribeiro, and Isabel Ramos from Enoforum Wines took Gwendolyn Alley and me to Fialho, Évora’s most traditional restaurant, and a mainstay of that culture since the history of Manuel Fialho began in this charming town (born on March 18, 1903). As a young man, Manuel found his way to Évora, and began his career as one who served the public in gastronomy. He eventually began his own taberna (think “tavern”), after working for others for many years. He had established his work ethic, and customers followed him, because he had paid his dues.
When we arrived, it was on the eve of the launch of this book: Fialho: Gastronomia Alentejana (Alentejo Cuisine) ~ From Évora to the World, by Alberto Franco. The book is a combination of the family’s beginnings in the food industry, Évora’s history, and recipes from the family of Manuel Fialho.
Quickly: brilliantly written, the history of the Fialho Restaurant in Évora, Portugal, was founded by a set of parents (Teodosia Augusta Amaral Fialho and Manuel Fialho), who then handed down their restaurant to their three sons ~ Gabriel, Amor, and Manuel. Today, Gabriel Fialho’s daughter Helena Moreira, with a degree in hotel management, is the third generation to be working at the restaurant and is their heir apparent.
It was Amor whom I met, while visiting with my Enoforum friends. The Fialho brothers’ book was going to be released the very next day. When Delfim explained to him that Gwendolyn and I were writers from the United States, Amor dashed off to get each of us a copy. He signed them both and came back to present them to us. I was honored and still am.
[Pictured above, left to right: Gwendolyn Alley, Delfim Costa, Amor Fialho, Luis Ribeiro, Isabel Ramos.)
I was struck by his name Amor. I said to him, “Your mother must have loved you very much, to have given you this name. He explained to us that his mother didn’t name him. It was his godmother, who had just lost her lover, and decided that her recovery would be to make this child a love that she could enjoy, naming him Amor.
It’s with this book that I’ve brought back the flavors, the history, and the gracious people of Évora to my own home.
I loved reading it. It’s written for people of both the Portuguese and English languages, with each page comprised of Portuguese on the left and English on the right. All pictures have captions in both languages. Chapters contain a solid amount of history, beginning with Manuel Fialho, who began his career a bellboy at the Harmonica Social Club. His climb, to a position of owning his own restaurant, seems like what we all consider the American dream. It can obviously be done in other countries, as well. In this case, it’s Portugal. Sprinkled in between the historical perspectives are Portuguese recipes, each in their own separate chapters:
- petiscos ~ appetizers
- doses ~ portions
- pratinhos ~ nibbles
- especialidades ~ specialties
A collection of their publicity and awards over the years have been saved, scanned, and presented in the book. Famous people who have endorsed the menu, like Cliff Richard and Jane Russell are part of the book. Local business people of distinction fill pages of VIPs… their proudest moments are brought back to those who have loved dining in their humble restaurant.
Offering classic Portuguese specialties, Fialho is a must visit restaurant when you visit charming Évora. It’s one of Portugal’s most famous restaurants, with people coming from all over this country to dine at Fialho. If you visit, I guarantee that it will be a culinary adventure you’ll long treasure in your heart and memory.
What I enjoyed…
Flank of lamb, pork loin with potato migas (mashed), tapas with pickles, and encharcada do convento de sta. clara (for which there is no translation). It seems to be a staple dessert in Portugal, with many variations. Basically, lots of egg yolks, sugar, and water… A twist of lemon rind and ground cinnamon… baked in an oven, brings it all home.
Fialho Restaurant, Travessa do Mascarenhas 14, Évora