South African food is very influenced by Portuguese food. The first Portuguese settlers sailed around and stopped at the Cape of Good Hope. So it is no surprise that I had always wanted to visit Portugal. And it did not disappoint. The fresh seafood, homemade hot chips and peri-peri chickens were amazing but here are some of the other unexpected treasures we stumbled on during our time here.
Pastéis de nata … This is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. It was created by Catholic monks in Lisbon. The convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching of clothes, so they’d use the leftover egg yolks to make custard like cakes.
During the revolution of 1820, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down. In 1834 the monastery sold the original secret recipe to the sugar refinery, whose owners, opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837.
This is the original home of the Pastéis de nata … Since then, locals and visitors arrive in droves to buy these pastéis, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. They are baked in a 600 degree oven. The top is similar to a brulee but the center is a creamy custard. Every day we’d line up to order half a dozen of these and I still dream of them.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge, stands majestically above central Lisbon and was the ancient seat of power in Portugal for over 400 years. It dates back to the medieval period and is one of the main tourist sites of Lisbon.
The castle complex consists of the castle itself (the castelejo), some ancillary buildings (including the ruins of the royal palace), gardens, and a large terraced square from which an impressive panorama of Lisbon is visible.
I am petrified of heights so my vertigo wouldn’t allow me to walk along the top walls. But from what my family tell me, the view was incredible. Let’s just say, I will take their word.
Before going to Portugal I had never heard of Eric Kayser. He was born into a family of bakers and began baking as an apprentice at age 16. Bread is in his DNA. Now one of the top bakers in Paris, he has over 80 Maison Kayser locations worldwide.
I have never in my life tasted bread and pastries like this. I was so blow away by the taste that I refused to eat breakfast anywhere else. The rosemary chicken sandwich with sundried tomatoes is incredible and the chocolate croissant is heaven sent.
In addition to Paris, there are locations in New York, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Morocco, Senegal, South Korea, Lebanon, the Carribean, Singapore, Mexico, Hong Kong and Taiwan, so if you ever see one of his bakeries you have to go inside .
The Castelo dos Mouros (The Moors Castle) is a castle that is set amidst the lush forests of the Serra De Sintra. It was established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra but it fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal.
The castle retains the charm of an ancient ruin, with dense forest surrounding the crumbling battlements that offer spectacular views over the Sintra region. We explored the towers and underground tunnels and spent hours walking around the magical, fairytale gardens.
And you have to try Gelados Santini. Some consider Santini’s Gelati the best ice cream in the world. Some Internet fans go so far to suggest it is “a gift from the gods.” Either way, Santini’s has been tantalizing Portuguese tongues for over 60 years. I loved the Strawberry, the Bitter Orange & Chocolate and the Passion Fruit flavors.
There was so much more to see in Portugal and I hope to return there one day soon.