Christmas in Lagos is all about new friends, sun and beaches!
Natal em Lagos é novos amigos, sol e praias!
In Portugal, the winter has been mild. Sunny afternoons with a touch of chill in the evening. It’s a food-galore period! Lunches and dinners go on for hours, and there are very short periods in-between them. Different parts of the family meet up and go about in a very organic schedule, everything flows in a chaotic order, as in the traffic of an Indian road junction.
The gastronomical selection is ample, but follows a strict years-old rehearsed order. Dinner on the 24th is boiled cod-fish (bacalhau cozido) sided with potatoes, green cabbage, eggs and chickpeas, and lots of olive oil. Lunch on the 25th is farrapo velho (old rags), a recycling of the previous night’s recipe, shredded down to a rugged-looking mixture of whites, greens and pastel yellows – add olive oil for bright colours. In the evening comes the roasted turkey with potatoes and chestnuts, swimming in – you guessed it – olive oil.
This year, we had a bonus meal on the 23rd – a delicious roasted duck with rice in a country house on a top of a hill in the great Algarvian outback (insert banjo riff).
Desserts are also a highlight of the season. Bolo-rei, fritos, aletria, mexidos, queijo da serra, the regional D. Rodrigos and doces finos algarvios. But the star product is the Rabanadas – bread slices wrapped in egg, sugar and cinnamon. I used to eat tens of these in my childhood! Nowadays I can only manage one or two, tops. Still, it’s my favourite feature of these evenings. Here’s a proper recipe from a foodie friend of mine.
The most awesome thing about christmas this year was the newest addition to the family: a one-month old dachshund, sister of the four year old one, who goes by the name of Viviane, although I was rooting for another name.
Happy holidays everyone!
The diversity of the shores of Lagos makes up for a large part of the area’s beauty. The east coast, closer to the town, is rugged with sandstone and limestone cliffs that give in winter after winter. A myriad of small beaches of coarse sand can be found in the meanders of the cliffs. These rocky beaches are said to have been havens for pirate ships many centuries ago. Dona Ana is one of these beaches. Divided into two parts by the irregular cliffs, this small beach has micro-atmospheres of their own within itself. The central, crowded area, where mostly families stick around, thrives with the activity of the out board engine boats regularly taking tourists around the nearby grottos. The hidden part, which can be accessed only in the low tide, is usually quieter. But as noon approaches, it becomes hard to find a quiet area. The early peaceful morning haze that comes with the sunrise is quickly replaced by a contrasting sunshine and screams of children and conversations in many different languages. It is one of the few beaches in Portugal where one can enjoy the sunrise while facing the oceanic horizon.
Porto de Mós is a single long beach that takes up most of the south coast. The cliffs are still part of the scenery, but here the softer sand gained the upper hand. This beach is usually the meeting point of many groups of friends which often intermingle. The length of the beach provides ample area for sports, the most usual being raquetes – beach tennis – played with two wooden racquets and a rubber ball that make that ubiquitous characteristic wooden percussion – tak! tak! tak! – like a very lazy, very large woodpecker that takes frequent breaks in his work.
Life is swell in the south.
During the winter, Lagos is but a small town in southern Portugal. When not working, the locals indulge in simple pleasures like hanging out with family and friends, usually at bars, coffee shops and terraces if the weather allows. In the summer the small town gets invaded with tens of thousands of tourists that feed the local economy for another year and turns into a bustling seaside resort. Local businesses go about like squirrels, stockpiling for the winter, making hay while the sun shines. The town fills up with new bars and restaurants that cater almost exclusively for tourists.
But the diaspora of locals that come to spend holidays at home seek out the simple (often secret) pleasures that are there all-year round. B.A. is a haven in that sense. A step outside of the beaten track, this tiny tavern offers affordable booze, a nice outside patio and friendly familiar faces.
Recently opened Esquina do Fado was a pleasant surprise. A wine bar-slash-preserves trader-slash-music club attracts a mixed crowd and often has spontaneous jam sessions with local musicians, playing mostly yankee music. Not complaining here, I’m a sucker for some good blues!
Then there’s matraquilhos, or foosball in english. Always a thrill! On a smoky mezzanine of Black Cat, the 50-cent-a-game matraquilhos table at all times being pounded, slammed, kicked and lifted. Full-time gang bang on the 22 metal players made out to look like a 50s version of the two largest teams in Lisboa – Sporting and Benfica. The teams lined up and put a 50 coin on the table to get in the queue. Whichever team won the match, could play the next challenging team. The guys handling Sporting won every single game as soon as they got in. It was almost unfair how well they played. But that got me the chance to sketch them in full.
In the story of going on holidays to Portugal, food is, of course, one of the main characters.
In Lagos, O Lamberto is the unofficial family cafeteria. It’s outside the city centre, so the few tourists that ever get there want to get there. The highlights there come mostly from the sea, such as the grilled squid or the octopus salad. Going for something grilled here is playing on the safe side. Don’t forget to squeeze lemon all over it.
A Oficina was a new place for me. A friend took us there for a snack session. It lays in a town in the outskirts of Lagos with a fitting name – Mexilhoeira Grande – “The Great Mussel Picking Place” (?!). Yeah… Anyway, the house specials: olives with pickled carrot, goat cheese, bucho (a sliced blood sausage), feijoada de buzinas (cowries with beans), parafusos (shrimp wrapped in pastry, deep-fried), tiras de lula panadas (deep fried breaded squid stripes) and the ubiquitous snails. These came with twisted metal picks that brought a tear to my eye! Everywhere, these traditional picks that make the job of pulling the snails out of their shells have been replaced in restaurants all over by common wooden toothpicks. It was a joy to use one of these again!
For desert, we shared a slice of delicious cookie cake (Marie cookies dipped in brewed coffee, piled together with a buttery cream) and Morgado, a delicacy from Algarve. It’s made of almond paste, eggs and squash jam (Gila) and was heavenly prepared.
Sol e Pesca is a former bait and fishing shop in the semi-prostitution slash new-hip area near Lisboa’s shore known as Cais do Sodré. Its concept is unique (as far as I know): preserves of different Portuguese brands are served in their own oil, with some herbs, bread and drinks. This keeps the place from the restaurant status, while serving a satisfying and delicious meal. Looking at the menu, you just want to have a taste of all of them!