Fish & Seafood
The Algarve has taken full advantage of its coastal location and over time moulded its cuisine to incorporate the vast array of seafood found in the waters off its shores. Indeed Portugal as a whole is a great fish-eating nation with an estimated 40% of the population’s protein intake coming from our watery friends. And this is hardly surprising when you consider the country’s long and eventful maritime history, where the neighbouring ocean has not only proved a great culinary resource but also a gateway to new worlds and an expansive empire.
The region could once boast a great legion of devoted tuna fishermen but the art of tuna fishing has sadly died out in the last decades and with it many of the ingenious fishing methods. Fishermen had a whole array of contraptions such as the “armação”, and different type of siege nets to capture tuna fish as the summer began and shoals of them made their way from the Azores in the Atlantic to spawn in the Mediterranean. These spawn-bound well-fed fish made an impressive catch and such were their quantities that towns such as Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve’s far eastern corner depended entirely on tuna for their economy.
The Algarve - a landscape of rolling hills and valleys, dotted with olive, carob, almond, fig, and orange trees - a vast coastline overlooking the endless waters of the Atlantic. It comes as no surprise then that the Algarve’s cuisine has developed in two directions. An impressive variety of dishes using fish and shellfish on the one side, and a varied assortment of meat and game dishes on the other.
Outside culinary influences are few and so traditional home cooking has taken on a vital significance, with recipes passed down through families and the ages. Odd really, as it was Portugal who first brought ingredients like pepper, coriander, ginger, curry, saffron and paprika to Europe, not to mention tea, rice, coffee, peanuts, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.
Those foreign influences that did manage to leave their mark on the dinner table include the Goths who introduced stews to the nation – which today constitute a major part of the local diet. More importantly the Moorish occupation of the Algarve was to give the area it own regional flavour – not only in the interesting variety of cakes and sweetmeats, but also with “Xarém”, a dish made with maize meal and shellfish.
Source: "Cuisine of the Algarve" - algarve-portal.com