I try to keep an open mind about Portuguese food, really I do. Despite more than a few disappointing if not disgusting experiences, I continue tasting different dishes hoping to understand what makes the Portuguese so proud and fond their cuisine. Sometimes, I’m rewarded with a tasty treat but this is by no means guaranteed, as my Alentejan experience reminded me.
Note: Find out which Portuguese food I really love in this article.
Local specialities in Elvas
Before setting off for a weekend in Elvas, I dutifully researched the local speciality dish and found that it’s bacalhau dourada (golden cod). From the picture on the municipal website, I had a sneaky suspicion that it would be the chipstick and shredded fish creation I’d read about on another blog but since Piglet had liked it enough to want to recreate it at home, I thought I’d give it a go.
After traipsing around deserted streets looking for signs of life and restaurants, we ended up back outside the city walls at Restaurante Flôr do Jardim (Garden Flower Restaurant) which is set in the grounds of a park. It looked okay, if a little overpriced, and by this point, we were too tired and hungry to search for an alternative. Plus, their menú turística (set menu) included the option of bacalhau dourada, which settled it for me.
The importance of presentation
Sometimes, I despair of Portuguese restaurants. I imagine it’s quite difficult to pretty up a sloppy mass of fish flakes, soggy chipsticks and egg but I was not expecting it to look quite so unappealing. This is exactly what the waiter put in front of me.
Presentation aside, my biggest complaint about the way my meal was served was the total lack of accompaniments. No salad or vegetables. Not even a sprig of parsley to brighten things up a little.
Bacalhau dourada is actually quite tasty; the slightly salty cod is offset by the egg and potatoes and the occasional chunk of garlic. The trouble is, it’s incredibly rich and desperately needs something refreshing to go with it.
Mike’s meal looked appetising enough and had not one but three accompaniments: rice, chips and salad. He took pity on me and donated most of his salad but I still couldn’t manage more than a third of the bacalhau.
Just to be clear, I won’t be making this at home!
Stick with the local desserts
Feeling bloated, I almost skipped the desserts but I’m glad I didn’t.
I got to try both of the sweet dishes that Elvas is famous for; ameixas de Elvas (preserved plums) and sericaia, a very sweet, surprisingly soft cake. The plums were crunchy and slightly tart but worked very well with the sweet syrup.
Now these, I can recommend.
The only thing left on my list of local culinary experiences to try were the unnervingly green Elvas olives so I was happy when they were brought, unsolicited as usual, to the table when we had lunch the next day.
Whatever curing and marinading process they use around here works very well indeed. I found them a little bitter on their own but with fresh crusty bread to take the edge off, they’re very tasty.
Regional differences presented through migas
Sadly, the Alentejan migas (breadcrumbs) were not what either of us were expecting. Round our way, in central Portugal, migas tend to be more like soft croutons mixed with shredded kale, small chunks of chouriço (spiced sausage) and possibly black eyed beans.
Not a dollop of solid bread sauce decorated with slices of chouriço so hard that Mike nearly broke a tooth on them.
At least my bacalhau com natas (cod with cream) was served with a salad at this restaurant.
Saving the best until last? Bacalhau com todos
I’m happy to report that our last meal in the Alentejo was by far the best bacalhau dish I had during the trip.
We stopped at an unassuming restaurant on the way into Alter do Chão and had the dish of the day, bacalhau com todos (cod with everything). ‘Everything’ turns out to be boiled potatoes, onions and shredded egg.
This restaurant managed to make a lumpy fishy mass look appealing simply by scattering a few olives and giving it a side salad. It tasted good, too.
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I am from Elvas, I’m happy you visit my city, I really like your other post 6 things to do in Elvas.
About restaurants in Elvas, some of them are really bad, and the one you pick isn’t a great one, I’m sad about that. That Bacalhau Dourado you get is the worst I have seen, really and off course presentation matter in a restaurant. But almost everywhere it is served without salad (you have to ask for it lol), because most people here eat it at restaurants like an entrance to share before, at least i do so. Like Fernanda said “El Cristo” is a lot better, best seafood I have eaten (and yes it is curious), i go there last week and the “ameijoas à marinheira” amazing.
Other Restaurants I like are “Varchotel” (try the “Frango Assado” and “Bacalhau Dourado”) and “Vinha da Amada” (I love the Bacalhau com Natas here) this one is not fancy at all but the food is really good, both are a little bit out of town.
About the price i agree whith you, i don’t know why but it is a little bit overpriced almost everywhere, i guess it’s because the border, to spain it is cheap compared to its restaurants.
About migas, it is very hard to find a really good dish migas out of home, but they will not be very different from that, and yeah we have a total different meaning for “migas” here in Alentejo.
I Hope you find my coment useful, keep traveling, and i hope you go back to Elvas sometime maybe for “São Mateus” in September. XD
It’s a bit of a trek from where we are but worth it, I think.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It’s really useful information and I promise that next time I visit Elvas, I will take your advice (and Fernanda’s) and try El Cristo’s and your other suggestions if I have the opportunity.
Hello Julie, I found your blog via expatsblog.com. I’m not sure about some of that food, but most of it does look good. You must be enjoying your life in Portugal – are you near a beach?
I’m an English expat living in Kuantan, Malaysia and love the lifestyle out here too much.
Good to ‘meet’ you, your fellow expat,
Duncan In Kuantan
Now you know what the “Alentejanos” feel when they are presented with migas on your part of Portugal, their expression is “What?? beans?? kale?? and no meat??” I’m alentejana… Those olives are “azeitonas pisadas ou britadas” it can be done with any kind of olives before they turn black, those can be azeitonas de Elvas or not… For me Elvas is associated with seafood… my parents and their friends used to go to “El Cristo” restaurant for an afternoon of shrimps (gambas), crabs (sapateira and santola) and beers.
To do you have a phone where you can download apps? Try Appetite done by Super Bock, it’s free and has restaurant reviews, it’s a start.
Is that “Bacalhau com todos” a kind of mashed potatoes and it has a salad??? If so, you you have eaten a version of “Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá” and not Bacalhau com Todos. The latter is a boiled slice of bacalhau, boiled chickpeas, boiled eggs, potatoes and some people will add boiled kale and carrots (but the majority will not).
Hi Fernanda, Your comment about the migas made me chuckle. And thanks for the tip re the app – I’ll check it out.
I’m surprised that Elvas means seafood to you, it being so far from the coast, but I’m with you on the prawns, sapateira and beer, they’re great. They serve them in ‘Tapas Bar’ just down the road from where I work in Coimbra and is very popular.
As to the ‘bacalhau com todos’, that’s what the waitress called it. I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly so I asked her to repeat it. It was tasty, whatever it’s called!
Really that Golden codfish looked disgusting and bland without a salad! The Migas I know are also made with kale and very tasty. I think you can never go wrong with Bacalhau com Natas (cod with cream), it´s one of my favourites.
Hi Sami, I’m rather partial to bacalhau com natas too. it’s up there with bacalhau com broa as my favourite bacalhau dish.
I didn’t do much eating when I was there, Julie, but I did rather like Elvas. Did you? Quiet it certainly was, but I loved climbing up through the streets to the pelhourinho and that stunning little church (can’t remember it’s name offhand)
Hi Jo. Rather like my experience of the food in Elvas, I have mixed feelings about the place. I’ll be sharing some of the better moments soon.