Find out about the local products of the Algarve, where to buy them and which restaurants are best to savour the Algarve food.
Food in the Algarve is simple, tasty, traditional and has the taste of the sea. The Algarve has changed a lot in the last few decades, but its gastronomy today is the testimony of old times of a people who have always distinguished themselves for the quality and seasonality of their products. The traditional Portuguese products, especially those of the Algarve, are a historical journey and show a less touristy region. The food of the Algarve has the power to gather several people for a meal in a simple moment of pure joy. See the Algarve through different eyes and discover the products we are so proud of.
Photo by The Lopes Photography – Unsplash
Local products from the Algarve countryside:
Fig stars (estrelas de figo) - These are ancient stars made from two simple ingredients that grow in the fields of southern Portugal. Almonds and figs are the ingredients that give this very typical Algarve snack its body. In the past, figs and almonds were dried in the sun, on terraces typical of the region. Today, these fruits are dried in a wood oven, but before that, they are flattened, cut four times at the ends and on top, a second fig covers the first to hold the toasted almond in place.
The fig star was a popular food in the ancient Algarve because of its long shelf life. Traditionally they were made on All Saints' Day, but nowadays they are sold all year round at the farmers' market.
Find fig stars at one of the markets in Lagos. In this article, you will find the opening days of each market in Lagos.
May cake (bolo de maio) - This cake is generally cooked in May, as the name suggests. On May 1st, Labour Day, Algarvians go out in groups to the countryside for a picnic, and the May cake is served as a dessert to go with medronho (arbutus berry cup).
This dark-coloured cake has origins in the Middle Ages, but it was the recipe, already perfected by the nuns of the Nossa Senhora do Desterro Convent in Monchique, that has survived to this day. The recipe has 12 ingredients: lard, olive oil, corn flour, honey, chocolate and many other elements that make up this homemade and slow-made cake.
To find this cake, look for it in the most traditional grocery shops in Lagos or even in the city's markets.
Maize porridge or xerém - Of the regional products of the Algarve, maize porridge is the best known. From morning to night, it was the daily food for the workers and the poorer families. The porridge was mixed with sugar in the morning, fried fish at noon and a little olive oil in the evening for good digestion.
Nowadays, the porridge has a different name and is served in various restaurants in the region. Xerém, as it is called today, has become a noble accompaniment to meat, fish and seafood. At the Adega Vila Lisa or sporadically on the daily menu of the Prato Cheio restaurant in Lagos, you can find xerém with cockles, prawns, fried fish or razor clams.
Sweet potato from Aljezur - Legend has it that the sweet potato was used in a "potion" that the knights of Santiago drank before any confrontation with the Moors. Thanks to this recipe, the knights had the strength to drive the Moors out of the castle. Today it is a symbol of the Algarve and has its own annual festival in Aljezur.
In Aljezur, there are many recipes made with this tubercle, from regional sweets, desserts, to more elaborate dishes for lunch or dinner. Be sure to visit the Museu da Batata Doce in Aljezur, a restaurant 40 minutes from your resort.
The flavours of the Algarve Sea:
Algarve-style horse mackerel fillet (Carapaus alimados) - There is no other recipe that reproduces the flavours of the Algarve Sea so well. Carapaus alimados is an old brine recipe, used before refrigerators. It is a meal that takes time to achieve the right taste. 24 hours are needed to enjoy the taste of fresh horse mackerel, brined, then boiled for 5 minutes. The horse mackerel should cool overnight, then the skin and bones are removed and finally seasoned with olive oil, vinegar and garlic.
The Algarve gastronomy is simple and retains the natural flavour of the food by leaving the taste intact without using many spices. Try this delicacy at the Avô Casimiro restaurant in Portimão.
Fried moray eel - If you visit the Algarve frequently, you've probably seen a scaled fish hanging from the terraces and windows of restaurants. Have you ever wondered what it is? It is none other than one of the best Algarve delicacies for summer afternoons. It is a moray eel that is sun-dried for 24 to 48 hours and then fried in hot oil to crisp up the skin and bones. It is one of the most appreciated summer snacks, accompanied by cold beer. You can find this Algarve snack in Vila do Bispo at the Ribeira do Poço restaurant, 28 minutes from Belmar Spa & Beach Resort.
Barnacles - No one can imagine what lies behind a plate filled with barnacles in a restaurant, how difficult it can be to climb the rocks on a rough sea day to catch them. Anyone who collects seafood knows not everyone can be up to the task, but everyone should try barnacles, especially those from Costa Vicentina. They are said to be the best in the world!
This delicacy is served simply by putting water and salt in a pot, waiting for it to boil, adding the barnacles and leaving until it boils again. If you’d rather not be troubled with cooking them, try them at the seafood restaurant O Perceve in Lagos, where you can get barnacles and other delicacies straight from the sea.