Once upon a time there was bacalhau

Discovering Aveiro, the ancient port where the traditional fish of Portugal arrived. With two restaurants

24-03-2013
The Caras de Bacalhau, that is to say the

The Caras de Bacalhau, that is to say the "face of salted codfish", prepared at the Bela Ria in Gafanha de Aquém, tel. +351.939.487035, the perfect place where you can taste one of the best salted codfish in the entire country

Aveiro is a small town the Portuguese always remember with great pleasure: it is linked to the most traditional product of Portuguese cuisine, namely bacalhau. Here in the seaport, today a little smaller, used to arrive the fishermen who, after a long journey got here from Newfoundland with their precious catch. Of those times, the memory and some exhibits in the lovely and modern Maritime Museum of Ilhavo still remain, as well as some traditional local dishes offered in the various restaurants on the coast.

Two are the addresses needed by those who want to discover the specialties of the area and notice the differences between more traditional restaurants and those that tend to simplify the local cuisine, but without exaggerating: after all, North of Lisbon the food style implies rich and abundant dishes and should this not be the case, the local public opinion would immediately downgrade the restaurant. Large quantities of food, sometimes at the expense of quality, are still a value that’s difficult to eradicate from the population’s habits.

Polpo, aragoste e Sant-Jacques in brodo di verdure, ristorante O Bairro ad Aveiro, +351.234.338567

Polpo, aragoste e Sant-Jacques in brodo di verdure, ristorante O Bairro ad Aveiro, +351.234.338567

In any case, the first restaurant to write down in your notebook is the O Bairro, opened last August in the middle of Aveiro, in the main square of the historic centre. Here, twenty-eight year old Tiago Santos, with experiences in Italy, in Martinafranca (Apulia) as pizza maker, and then in the finest Portugal restaurant scene, at Casa da Calçada in Amarante, runs a modern place tied to neighbourhood life and to the city’s tradition, offering a menu divided between tapas and richer dishes.

The nearby fish market is a guarantee of the quality of the products arriving from the sea such as salted codfish, mullets, enguias (the smaller eels) and all the daily catch, but also the meat, such as the black pig cooked with sweet potato gnocchi, courgettes, candied onion and a base of orange juice and ginger, is no joke. And then there are some experiments, such as the tapas/shot called 33 cl of Caldeirada: a glass of fish and fruits of the sea affogato with onion, pimento and caldeirada mousse. The setting is young and informal, the kitchen is open view and the service is relaxed and fun.

Rita and Jorge Pinhao of Bela Ria in Ilhavo

Rita and Jorge Pinhao of Bela Ria in Ilhavo

Different is the style of Bela Ria in Gafanha de Aquém, near Ilhavo, a curious establishment with the vivacity and the clientele of the typical village place. Here tourists don’t arrive and clients don’t live further than 20 km away. However, you can taste a cuisine full of passion, heart and tradition, as well as one of the best salted codfish in the whole of Portugal, prepared with various techniques and cooking procedures, in the surreal, a little tacky, family setting that recalls those provincial cafe–bars which have now disappeared in Italy.

The exuberant Rita, with her strong attitude, serves in the dining room, seasoning her work with caustic comments, while the calm Jorge Pinhão acts as counterpart and is the magician in the kitchen. The Caras de bacalhau, that is “face” of the salted codfish, has no rivals, but this is also true for the Salted codfish in a potato crust with olives and vegetables or the Beans with salted codfish tongue. These are traditional dishes you cannot miss, tasty and rich in flavour. This is the most authentic face of Portugal’s cuisine.


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The establishments, tastes and cooking personalities in Europe, as seen by Gualtero Spotti