Windward is the direction from where the wind blows and, in the south, it comes from the great sea, upturning its waters and helping to endure the hot summer stillness.
I fell in love with the windward side of Algarve some years ago. After seeing the cluttered mess of Albufeira and the orderly confusion of Vilamoura, I came to Lagos and never left, so you could say it was love at first sight. The beaches enclosed by cliffs of shades ranging from yellow to red and by the blue immensity of the sea make it worth the windy afternoons and colder waters. Moreover, I like Meia Praia. It’s only five minutes away from home, there is no traffic and the absence of the cliffs is compensated by the beach that ranges out of sight. Even in the middle of August, lying on the towel I can hear the sound of waves breaking into the sand, the strident voice of seagulls and the occasional call of beach mongers selling Berliners. In the evening, when the wind puts the sand into a spin, it’s time to pack and go grab a snack.
In the old city center, white houses line around a maze of streets and alleys crowded with blond hair and light eyes tourists and street artists practicing their art. I like to wander around the fish stalls at the city market, a mosaic of blue, red and silver, which never fails to amaze me with their huge variety.
To talk of Algarve gastronomy is to talk mainly about fish, diverse and really fresh. From the generous sea come sea breams, monkfishes, belt fishes, flounders, striped red mullets, red sea breams, gilt-head sea breams, sand steenbras, mackerels, sardines, octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes which are boiled, baked, fried, grilled or stewed. Along also come shrimps, crabs, spider crabs, oysters, mussels and goose barnacles that are boiled with plenty of salt or, in the case of shellfish, grilled. The land offers the ingredients for the typical desserts (almonds, figs, chila pumpkins and eggs) and the famous arbutus and fig spirits.
To buy fruit and vegetables we need to go to the first floor but, unlike fishmongers, there are only a few sellers that still remain in the market. Here I buy purple skin figs, heirloom tomatoes and a homemade chili sauce, made by Ms. Deolinda herself, that I advise to use with moderation since it is spicy enough to bring a dead man back to life.
Days go by slowly between the beach, pool and catching up with reading. I brought two crime novels and two cookbooks with me – a quick look around confirmed that I am the only person who, literally, reads cookbooks by the pool – and I bought a new one already during holidays, the book of Mónica Pinto from the food blog Pratos e Travessas, full of great photos that manage to portrait the soul of the recipes they go with.
I don’t know many restaurants in Lagos, mainly because I like cooking but also because I enjoy and eating quietly on my house’s large balcony. However, there is an Italian restaurant, Borsalino, to which we usually go at least once and returning from the beach we sometimes have lunch in Tasca da Lota, a small restaurant located in the fishing port, which is not sophisticated nor has a nice view. It is a very simple place, with tables and benches, which essentially serves grilled fish and where I feel at ease even with the hair still messy from the beach and the skin marked by the sea salt. It’s worth going early, otherwise you risk having to wait in line. The grill delivers sea brasses, mackerels, belt fishes, flounders and squids continuously, at high speed. Still, I always have sardines, dripping their fat over a slice of bread, accompanied by a lettuce, tomato, cucumber and bell pepper salad and a small jar of the house’s white house.
Some days we go down to the harbor to have a coffee, buy a magazine or newspaper and enjoy the sailboats. Lagos’ harbor is rather small when compared to others and it is easy to find Lazy Jacks, a bar/restaurant which I presume Irish, where the employees barely speak Portuguese but who always bring me a bowl of water for the dogs even without having to ask for it. This small detail made me a loyal customer.
Nature gains ground over the 30 km that separates Lagos from Sagres. Villages become smaller and with fewer tourists, the sea becomes colder and agitated and from Burgau we enter the Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina Natural Park. Stop at the Martinhal or Tonel beaches and from there go to Tasca do Careca, in Vila do Bispo, for dinner and ask for the fried or stuffed squids. The latter are the place’s ex-libris, generously stuffed and lying in a thick sauce that calls for slices of bread on the side, but to taste them you need to go early since their fame already outgrew the size of the small restaurant. End a perfect day watching the sunset at São Vicente cape. This year, a cloudy evening spoiled our plans and the wind threatened to throw us down but, still, it’s a fabulous view you won’t forget anytime soon.
The recipe to perfectly cook goose barnacles
Between Sagres and Aljezur goose barnacles are king and they’re also my favorite seafood. They grow clinging to the wet and slippery rocks and catching them, with climber’s art and mastery under the deafening sound of the waves hitting violently the cliffs below, is not for everyone. Every time I buy some goose barnacles I cannot help thinking about all the hard work these fishermen go through only to bring home a handful of them. I’m left with the easiest and most pleasant task, which is to cook and eat them.
To cook goose barnacles, fill a large pan with water, add a tablespoon of salt per liter of water and bring to a boil. Add the goose barnacles and wait until the water returns to the boil. Count just one minute and they’re ready. Serve immediately, still warm, with a cold beer. Each small crustacean carries with it the aroma and taste of the sea and there is nothing that compares to it.
Wish you all a lovely summer!