There are still places left in Europe where you can indulge in some authentic, honest food. They’re just not usually where the tourists are. To enjoy some genuine, handcrafted food, made from a recipe that’s probably been handed down through generations, you have to travel outside the normal tourist places. This is where the adventure begins.
Join us on a gastro-adventure to Bragança in the north-eastern part of Portugal. [masterslider id=”34″]
Searching for authenticity
When you’re in a restaurant filled with locals and can’t understand a word anyone’s saying, you’re in the right place. It’s time to find your Google Translator app and translate “what can you recommend?” into the foreign language. And then just say yes to the dish!
Adventure is not about hurling yourself out from the top of a mountain, wearing nothing but a mankini and a parachute. It is not reserved for those who want to dive with sharks or go off-piste skiing. Adventure can start right here on your plate. It’s about daring to take the road less travelled and the dish least known.
We came to the region of Bragança, in the northeastern part of Portugal, in search of authenticity. We found it in the local villages, in the craftsmanship of the artisans. And we found it in the gastronomy.
Until recently, Bragança was isolated in the north-eastern corner of Portugal. This means, that the former remote region, now only 2 hours’ drive from Porto, has retained its unique heritage, and the gastronomy, craftsmanship and traditions make this Trás-os-Montes area – literally “behind the mountains” – the perfect place to tap into authentic Portugal.
Let me say from the outset, if we hadn’t been on a press trip arranged by locals, who know which restaurants are the best, we would never have come across these exceptionally good examples of traditional – and reinterpreted – portuguese dishes and local restaurants.
Restaurante Típico D.Roberto
The restaurant is situated in a typical Transmontana house, with the whole decoration revolving around the theme of the hunting, sausages and ancient artifacts of the region. Maybe it’s the wooden beams, maybe the smoked hams hanging of the wall: it oozes with atmosphere.
Thin slices of the indigenous Portuguese Bísaro pig together with homemade bread and washed down with a dark, red wine takes the edge of the hunger. Then come the succulent meat, served with chestnuts and a rich rice. The red Douro wine complements the dishes perfectly.
The roadside tavern is about 7 kilometres outside the city of Bragança but is well worth the drive!
This local restaurant specialises in open barbeque and grilled meat and is a favourite amongst locals. Located 20 minutes by car west of the city of Bragança and only 15 kilometres from the Spanish border, this restaurant sits on the edge of Montesinho Natural Park.
We munch on the local sausages and are surprised by the tastiness of the Alheira; a smoked sausage, typically consisting of bread and poultry meat and an inheritance from the Jews of Portugal, who didn’t eat pork, but had to look inconspicuous.
Another local dish being served is Galo no Pote, that translates into “Chicken in a Pot”. Pieces of chicken simmers with onion, garlic and parsley for several hours in e three-legged cast iron pot near the open fire in the restaurant. The results are tender, juicy pieces of chicken that just melt in your mouth.
If you’re a meat lover, you will certainly be enamoured with the Bragança region. The veal chops come sizzling from the golden embers of the open fire in the kitchen and are humongous in size! The rustic, traditional food showcases the honesty of the gastronomy in the region. This is no-fuzz, high-quality food, best savoured after a long walk in the surrounding nature.
Restaurante Tipico o Javali
Meat and game is – not surprisingly – on the menu here in this rural restaurant 5 kilometres north of Bragança. They serve generous portions and are popular with the local foodies as well.
For starters we enjoyed a snack plate with local meats and cheeses, then a crepe with wild mushrooms, followed by boar with chestnuts, finishing with a piece of homemade pie. Sumptuous, authentic, unpolished. And really good. So good, it’s mentioned in Michelin Guide.
But you don’t need to bring your big wallet. Just a big stomach.
Tasca do ZéTuga
Saving the best for last. Not only the gastronomic highlight of our visit to Bragança, but simply one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Not only is the restaurant featured with Bib Gourmand recommendation in the Michelin Guide, it also stars the Portuguese Masterchef of 2018, Luís Portugal. For us, the food was worth a Michelin star!
Chef Portugal has revolutionised the traditional, transmontana cooking and presents traditional recipes and local produce in a new and exciting way. This is nouvelle cuisine, transmontana style!
For starters, the muffin-shaped bread rolls with pieces of ham scooped up the pepperoni butter like a dream and provided the base for a selection of 3 local cheeses. Then, Escabeche of Trout on Rye was served as a creative reinterpretation of “fish in a can”, followed by a revision of a local, Bragança classic called Butelo e Casulas, mashed up into a ball, rolled in poppy seeds and served on a pink coulis of red onion mayonnaise. Like a meat truffle on top of a rosy sauce.
Then came a Cannelloni Alheira with 5 tomato sauces, followed by a local, Trás-os-Montes Couscous in pork sauce with local pork neck and garnished with Rapini, a sort of cabbage flower. A very filling dish, where I was surprised by the juicy flavour of the pig neck, a cut I hadn’t tried before. It was almost unfair to the next dish that we at this point were utterly gorged. A tender beef by the local Mirandesa cattle with a baked mashed-potatoes-dumpling, wild asparagus and local, wild mushrooms. Perfect with the red Douro Reserva wine.
When we arrived at the dessert; a piece of almond, apple and honey pie with celery ice cream, I didn’t think I could eat more. But come on: How often are you presented with the opportunity to taste celery ice cream?! This unlikely combination was such a delight for our taste buds, that we ended up eating more than we should have.
Well well, that’s what you endure when your taste buds are invited on an adventure, that your stomach isn’t up to the task to follow. And while the stomach-ache would be over in a few hours, my tastebuds are still having a party whenever I remember that unforgettable meal.
There are plenty of other reasons to visit this authentic corner of Portugal. The city of Bragança is charming, with a pedestrian-friendly city centre, a medieval castle, Romanesque Domus, many museums and art galleries and even more picturesque churches and monasteries.
Another reason to visit is the craftsmanship of the local artisans. There are not many artisans left in Europe, and they are a dying breed. To see so many craftsmen here in Bragança is a testament to the fact, that tradition is very much alive in this far corner of Portugal and is a wonderful opportunity for any curious traveller to buy some authentic, Portuguese souvenirs.
To discover more about Bragança’s artisan patrimony, check out our story about The Last Potter of Pinela.
Our trip to Bragança was made possible at the invitation of the Association of Commercial, Industrial and Services of Bragança. Through their project + Bragança they want to show the beauty and heritage of the region to curious travellers and conscious tourists.
- Bragança Official Tourist Office website (in Portuguese)
- Bragança on Visit Portugal official website
- Bragança on Wikipedia