Thursday, May 9, 2013

three lunches

These may look like scrambled eggs, but they are oh so much more. It's asparagus season in Portugal, and every so often along the side of the road, crude little stands laden with fresh green asparagus tempt the eye and belly. After a visit to a heron colony (where I delighted in watching Spoonbills preening) we stopped for something asparagusy at Café do Parque in Benavente. Eggs scrambled with the little green spears sounded like a perfect lunch, with a plate of river shrimp to accompany them.

These were the most amazing eggs I have had in my life. Ever.

Until this moment, the best eggs were a buttery scramble I devoured in Prague, but these... oh man. I have no idea what was put into them (other than the asparagus), but the flavour was unreal. These were magical eggs, with the ability to transport you from your current state of being into a blissful hum. I longed for more at the very last bite, but settled for the salty sweet river shrimp, which were pleasing, but those eggs!

At the end of our meal we met the chef and his wife, who, after hearing the compliments we bestowed upon her husband, stated with a grin: "I tasted his food, and I had to marry him." They invited us to sit for a spell, and offered us both a taste of some fine, homemade firewater. I felt so at home, so touched by their kindness.

In contrast with the warmth at Café do Parque, our second lunch brings us to a bustling café in Vendas Novas, the self-proclaimed capital of the bifana. I've hardly touched upon my deep love for the bifana— steaks of pork hammered into tenderness, fried in butter and garlic, then slipped between two pillowy halves of bread. With some squirts of tangy sweet mustard, happiness is yours. You can practically taste the bifana effect on your waistline in each bite, and I can tell you from personal experience that a bifana a day will surely round you out in no time. Back in January, Pedro and I began a scientific search for the most delicious bifana in Portugal. We had at least one each, every day, and by the time I got back to Istanbul, my pants refused to button.

Naturally, when I heard about this "Capital of Bifanas," we had to test the goods. I forget the name of the café— as every single one in Vendas Novas advertised their famous sandwiches as being the best. We picked the busiest one and eventually managed to get a table, gluttonously ordering two each for comparison purposes. While the pork was ever so soft and juicy, there was no hint of garlic whatsoever. I'm not Portuguese, but to me, a bifana without garlic is a little sad. Everything else was lovely— the bread was soft, the meat was perfection, but I missed the garlic...

Our third lunch takes us to the Castro in Castro Verde, where we dined on more pork (some of you may remember my ferocious appetite for the other white meat from this earlier post on pork) and  migas. Migas are comfort on a plate— a squishy crumble of softened bread cooked in lard, and since it was aparagus season, the migas we ordered came with hints of green. Paired with pork that melts in the mouth and a lovely green wine, I found myself eating ever so slowly to make the meal last longer. I really don't remember much about the dessert— I know it was good, but oh how I can still conjure up that delicate flavour and cosiness of the migas in my mind.

You really do eat well in Portugal.

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