Flavours of the Alentejo
It is no secret that Alentejo food is known for its strong flavours, traditional ingredients and ancient cooking traditions.
With knowledge passed on from generation to generation, it is virtually impossible to have a meal in the Alentejo and not feel satisfied at the end.
Although simply cooked, the regional gastronomy stands out for its unique dishes served with wine and, of course, bread, an essential food that no Portuguese table will do without.
Meat, sausages, olives and cheese also feature highly in traditional Alentejo gastronomy, where pork and lamb are greatly appreciated.
Another defining aspect of this regional cuisine is the local seasonings that give the food unique and characteristic flavours, such as coriander, mint, pennyroyal, oregano, bay leaves and other aromatic herbs that often grow spontaneously on the plains and near the streams.
To satiate our curiosity, we decided to take a road trip to the Alqueva and visit three restaurants. In just two hours, we were surrounded by yellow and green tones in a place where, despite being first-time visitors, already felt like home.
This is one of the hallmarks of the Herdade do Sobroso hotel in Vidigueira, Beja, which, alongside a restaurant with a peaceful and relaxing view, offers guests incredibly comfortable rooms. Displaying a modern touch combined with the simplicity and roots of the Alentejo, the emphasis is on products made in Portugal, which adorn the 11 rooms of the boutique hotel – a purposely small number in order to preserve the sense of intimacy and privacy for guests.
This cosy atmosphere is felt from the moment you arrive until you leave, as is the efficiency and professionalism of the staff. Josefa Repas, the estate’s cook, has won several awards recognising the excellence of her ensopado de muflão (mouflon stew) and açorda de cação (dogfish bread soup).
The authentic flavours of the Alentejo are brought to the table without the customer having to choose what they want to try. A tasting of various appetisers is suggested before the options for the first course are presented, including a selection of local cheeses, duck pie and the tasty jams made with fresh fruit in the estate, all paired with white wine from the region.
After the starters, we tried the pork cheeks served with rice, potatoes, carrot and pumpkin purée with a Reserva red.
To finish, we enjoyed a typical Alentejo conventual sweet: Sericaia pudding served with Elva plum and powdered cinnamon, the perfect choice for those who enjoy this spice.
This is a singular experience for several reasons, including Herdade do Sobroso’s honey, olive oil and wine, which seem to have an even more intense flavour when tasted ‘at home’.
We recommend spending an afternoon at the Alqueva river beach, where there is a large recreational area for sunbathing in the summer and relaxing, or you can go for a walk and enjoy the unique scenery. Afterwards, there is nothing better than enjoying the end of the day on the terrace of the Alqueva Bar/Restaurante.
Of course, one cannot visit the Alentejo without trying some presunto, so this was a must during our visit, and we enjoyed a unique experience. Rather than being served the presunto simply on a plate, it was served with figs and mozzarella, perfectly seasoned with salt, pepper, honey and aromatic herbs.
Next, we savoured mussels with chives, a classic herb that, together with the cream sauce, introduced us to a combination we had never tasted before.
As a good snack always goes hand in hand with a refreshing drink, wine gave way to cocktails, another reason to visit this place. An Aperol and a mojito were the suggestions of the friendly waiters who welcomed us so warmly, so when in doubt, it is best to ask for a recommendation from those who know the menu best. In this restaurant, the dishes can change daily depending on the fresh produce available, thus customers will be served only the best ingredients of each season.
This space, which is ideal for a refreshing drink during the day, lunch, watching the sunset or enjoying a starry sky during an intimate and cosy dinner, has both indoor and outdoor seating, giving customers the chance to choose between two different experiences, where regional products and local farmers are valued. Located to the southwest of Europe’s largest artificial lake, the Alqueva Bar/Restaurante is the perfect place to try regional flavours and enjoy what nature has to offer.
At the Monsaraz river beach, located to the north of the dam, you can also enjoy a peaceful atmosphere with traditional gastronomy. The Monsaraz Nautical Centre is the place to go for a good meal accompanied by wine produced in the region. The menu features typical regional dishes such as Alentejo-style gaspacho with fried fish, garlic açorda with codfish and poached egg, rabbit à caçador, as well as seasonal snacks and seafood, such as clams and crayfish. This is a panoramic restaurant presenting a combination of land and sea flavours to suit all tastes. You can opt for a light or a hearty meal, but whichever you choose, do save some room for a mouth-watering dessert.
We ordered the house ice cream with a caramel topping and the red fruit cheesecake, refreshing choices to enjoy on a sunny afternoon. For chocolate lovers, there is mousse or, for those who prefer a different flavour, Glória’s encharcada, a sweet made with eggs, orange, sugar and cinnamon.
Beyond the restaurant, the Monsaraz Nautical Centre provides boat trips on rowing, electric and sailboats, or old sailboats, giving you the chance to visit deserted islands or explore the Spanish coast.
In a place where friendliness prevails, it is hard not to be infected by feelings of joy and well-being, qualities of the hospitable people who live and work in the Alentejo.
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