Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Portugal takes its gastronomy very seriously—not just its Michelin-star fine dining but also its seriously rustic traditional dishes and its excellent products. People don’t just talk about cherries but talk about cherries from a specific town. They also travel long distances (well, relatively—it’s a small country) to eat those cherries, or tomatoes or sweet potatoes or cheese. For visitors, it’s a good region to go beyond the usual Lisbon-Porto-Algarve route. Although the formal proceedings—presentations, show cooking, award ceremonies—generally go down in Portuguese, everyone is welcome, and good food needs no translation.

Cornbread in Mora

Although the word migas translates as “crumbs” this classic Alentejo dish combines stale cornbread with olive oil, vegetables and sometimes sausage. The village of Mora claims it as its own—having registered migas alentejanas as a trademark—and celebrates the humble dish every March with a monthlong gastronomic initiative, Mês das Migas, in which several restaurants in town and nearby villages offer special cornbread-based dishes. A number of these feature asparagus, which is in season in early spring, and generally the migas are paired with proteins = like spare ribs or lamb chops. March 2023

Sea Urchins in Ericeira

Ericeira may be known as the surf capital of Europe, but those shores also turn up some excellent seafood. Native son Nuno Nobre, who grew up plying the waters here with his fisherman father, has been organizing the Festival do Ouriço do Mar (international festival of sea urchins) in honor of the spiky shellfish for the past six years. (March will see the seventh edition.) During the festival, the local market will be taken over by pop-up snack shops, show cooking, educational talks and demonstrations with Portuguese and international chefs. There’s also a scientific component, with investigations into the ecosystem and discussions around preserving biodiversity. March 10-19, 2023

Sheep Milk Cheese in Oliveira do Hospital

The cheese from Portugal’s mountains is so distinctive—and beloved—that it has protected designation of origin status (like a DOC for wine) and a big party to celebrate it. The Festa do Queijo da Serra da Estrela, in the foothills town of Oliveira do Hospital, is an event that captures a lot of local attention, and the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has been known to show up. This year, the organizers are expecting some 300 exhibitors, not only cheese makers but also producers of sausages, honey, wine, spirits, bread and cakes. The conclusion is the presentation of what they call the largest fresh cheese in the world—weighing in at more than 150 pounds—which is served to guests with freshly made pumpkin jam. March 11-12, 2023

Lamb in Vila Viçosa

While this gastronomic festival is officially called Vila Viçosa à Mesa (‘to the table”) it is in fact a weeklong celebration of lamb, a dish that is traditional to the region and typically served to celebrate Easter. About a dozen restaurants around Vila Viçosa—known as the “princess of the Alentejo” for its royal history and palaces—will offer special dishes to commemorate the season. TBA, April

Pork Sandwiches in Vendas Novas

In 2011, the municipality of Vendas Novas registered its bifanas—pounded pork steaks fried in a “secret sauce” and served on bread with garlic and paprika—as a trademark. In the self-styled capital of the sandwiches, the Feira da Bifana combines food with concerts, dance performances, artisan markets and entertainment for children. TBA, May

Cherries in Fundão

Festa da Cereja (festival of cherries) is a three-day celebration of fruit held just outside Fundão, a historic city near some of Portugal’s most beautiful historic villages, in an area that happens to produce exceptionally fine cherries. Along with lots of opportunities for eating, the proceedings include markets, exhibitions, street entertainment, concerts and a tourist train through the orchards. June 9–11, 2023

Sardines in Portimão

Granted, all of Portugal becomes something of a sardine festival in June, when the fish are grilled and eaten on the streets to celebrate various cities’ patron saints. But Portimão’s Festival da Sardinha in August, when the fish can be eaten fresh, is its own special occasion. Along with the food, the festival has a lineup of musicians from various genres, who play for several hours each night on two stages. TBA, August

Oxheart Tomatoes in the Douro Valley

Created by a pair of journalists from Portugal’s leading newspaper, the annual Festa do Tomate Coração de Boi honors the country’s best tomatoes—those funky, pinkish, vaguely heart-shaped ones—with a special lunch in one of the Douro Valley’s top wineries, a serious competition (with other journalists, winemakers and food producers as judges) and an awards ceremony and garden party with the biggest spread of tomato-centric appetizers I’ve ever seen. The main weekend also includes an afternoon of workshops and tastings, and for a few weeks, many restaurants in the region will promote dishes that showcase tomatoes. TBA August

Brown Crabs in Santa Cruz

This will mark the 27th edition of the Festival da Sapateira, the brown crabs that are considered a special delicacy. (It’s often served in its shell, mixed with roe, mayonnaise, mustard and sometimes beer..) For a full month, restaurants around the beach town of Santa Cruz will offer all-you-can-eat promotions for a fixed price. TBA, September and October

Chestnuts in Marvão

A tradition for nearly 40 years, Feira da Castanha (fair of chestnuts) is about more than the cozy winter nut. Rather, the party in Marvão is a celebration of the rural traditions of the hilly northern Alentejo, with a particular focus on commemorating the day of St. Martin with roasted chestnuts and the first young wines of the year’s grape harvest. There’s also a market for local products—including embroidery made with chestnut back and baskets made with chestnut wood—exhibitions, traditional folk singing and circus activities. November 11–12, 2023

Sweet Potatoes in Aljezur

The sweet potatoes from the coastal town of Aljezur, where the Alentejo meets the Algarve, are said to be the best in the country—or the world, according to the organizers of the annual Festival da Batata-doce. They have their own protected geographical indication (again, sort of like a DOC for wine) and are said to be uniquely flavorful. Those organizers expect to have more than 90 exhibitors, who will offer various traditional potato-based snacks and some new recipes. The sweets-makers of the region are also out in force, serving their many cakes, pies and pastries. The concerts, with name-brand Portuguese musicians, will last until 2am. November 25–27, 2023

Chicken Stew in Various Places

Cabidela is one of those nose-to-tail dishes that tend to show up on English menus simply as a chicken stew; in fact, a key ingredient is the hen’s blood, mixed with vinegar and added almost at the end, while the rice is boiling. While it’s associated with Minho, in the country’s north, there’s not a town that organizes a festival. Rather, food impresario Paulo Amado has created a nationwide event series—Ordem da Cabidela—that features lunches and dinners in well-regarded restaurants (some with Michelin stars) with the stew as the main attraction.

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