Before moving my life to Portugal, I day dreamed of gathering fresh oranges each morning in the sunshine, wearing my pyjamas and flip-flops, and snacking on sticky, syrupy sweet figs, straight from the tree whilst hiking the rugged, dusty, mountain trails with my dogs.
Finding good vegan places to eat, off the tourist trail or away from the coast can be very challenging. Even though there are; mangoes, avocados and figs in abundance, it’s very hard to find a mountain restaurant which serves an attractive or tasty vegan meal. The chef will always oblige with a vegan plate, but don’t be surprised if you receive; a bowl of hot cabbage stew on a summer’s day, gazpacho with cheese and ham generously sprinkled on top, or avocado toast topped with two perfectly fried eggs.
Summer sunshine treasure
In late summer, the fig tree boughs are heavily weighed down with an abundance of soft, ripe, delicate green or black fruit. Some have gone past their best and are drying naturally on the tree, others are simmering perfectly in the warmth of the day, oozing sweet, blushing, cerise, strawberry jam-like goo, completely beyond comparison to shop bought fruit.
The local markets are filled with fresh produce, grown, picked and sold directly by the farmers. Honey available in every shade of amber, gathered from bees feasting on carob, rosemary, orange blossom and wild herbs. Summer fruits and salad are grown and harvested all year round. Crumpled skinned ‘Rosa’ tomatoes are huge and heavenly. It’s a foodie paradise!
Village stores filled with local artisan produce
Ask most people about the best Portuguese food, and they will tell you all about the ‘Porco Preto’ which is Iberian black pig and ‘Javali’ which is wild boar. Or perhaps the huge variety of delicious local artisan handmade fresh, cured, or smoked cheeses, (mostly from sheep or goats) available in every village store. But for me, as a vegan, it’s all about the fruit, veggies and wild foraging. On the trail, there’s easy pickings of black mustard, wild asparagus and nettles, with the scent of wild herbs such as thyme, fennel, rosemary and water mint in the air.
Make time to visit the farmer’s markets
Head over to Olhão market on Saturday morning to find chillies in every shape, colour and heat for around €4 per kilo. I use a handful of freshly pounded chillies and plump purple garlic to make Sambal Belacan. Or, chillies dried at home for a few weeks, chopped then scalded with peanut oil, make an ideal coating for noodles or blanched carrot tops.
I lived for several months last year in the mountain village of Salir, 20 minutes north of Loulé. The days are warmer inland than the Algarve coast in the summer by several degrees, and in winter we enjoyed beautiful crisp, frosty, early mornings. A glassy frost carpeted the vibrant, green, grassy floor of the mountain orange grove. Small frozen puddles and dried carob fruit crackled underfoot as I made my way past the mill pool, to the heavily laden orange trees, which look out towards the table top mountain of Rocha da Pena. Some oranges dispensed lots of juice and were packed with seeds, some were almost seed free but unwilling to surrender their liquefied treasure. At -2℃, the oranges are cold, the juice is already chilled to perfection.
You can truly taste the sunshine all year around. Oh, did I mention the wine? Maybe next time!