Christmas seafood

Our guests from Oregon have returned from whence they came, and after catching up on some lost sleep, I sat down to rejuvenate the blog. Let’s see, what to blog about…

…what have I been doing nonstop for the last week…

Oh yeah! Eating!

So it must be time for a series of food posts, right?

When my brother-in-law visited for Christmas, we treated ourselves to a nice restaurant meal in Vila Real de Santo António. Since this is a beach town, we ordered seafood — never a hard sell with any of us. I was delighted with the starter dish of bean clams (my wife tells me they are Donax trunculus):

Bean clams

…which were tiny but tasty. So tasty, in fact, that I immediately dove in face first and didn’t remember to take a photo of the dish until I’d already eaten half of them. I did, however, take a photo of the aftermath.

Bean clam shells

You know you’re in a nice restaurant when even the dish they give you for discarded shells is elegant.

I also took a close-up of the clams prior to snarfing them all, but upon viewing the image on my computer, it became clear that some things are not meant to be seen magnified. Cooked, glistening mollusks is one of them.

The clams were prepared with the “bulhão pato” method, involving olive oil, cilantro and lots of garlic. It is by far my favorite treatment for bivalves. Why the Portuguese consider platters of cockles or clams to be starter dishes, I do not know, because I will happily make a meal out of them when they’re prepared like this.

But I also like to try different things, so for the main dish, I joined my brother-in-law and stepson and ordered the grilled tuna. It emerged from the kitchen in a carefully stacked tower of food.

Tuna dish

That’s two tuna steaks with an asparagus laid across the top, draped over tomato compote, which is sitting atop a pile of spinach, which is spilling over a boiled potato. And no, none of us could eat the whole thing. I left behind half of my potato, while my stepson showed his solidarity with teens across the world and avoided anything green.

My wife ordered a traditional Christmas dish:

Octopus dish

Just kidding. The traditional Christmas dish in Portugal isn’t octopus, it’s cod. (Usually in a casserole.) But this was definitely the most attractively presented octopus I’d ever seen! It was sitting atop a mashed sweet potato, and the contrast in taste was quite interesting. After trying it, I wished that my tuna had come with sweet potato rather than the boring kind.

We were all so stuffed with dinner that dessert was out of the question. Instead, we hopped the ferry over the Guadiana River to Ayamonte, Spain, and had hot cocoas at a café there. These were the good kind, the kind that can hold your spoon upright. It’s very similar to warm chocolate pudding that hasn’t completely set yet.

We sat outside, huddling in our coats as the air turned cool, and sipped hot cocoa while watching people loudly talking/dining/playing in the plaza. It was a lovely end to our dining experience…but then, chocolate usually is.

Then it was time to catch the last ferry back to Portugal. And though this is a food post, I can’t resist including one scenic shot, taken as we waited at the ferry landing:

Guadiana dusk

Those are the lights of Ayamonte, Spain on the left and Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal, on the right. In the center-left of the photo is a burst of light from the Vila Real lighthouse, which coincided with the green blinking light of a channel marker (dead center). I’d like to say I just happened to catch them both lit at the same time, but in reality it took me about 22 attempts. Good thing we were early for the ferry.

(You can biggify the last photo by clicking on it.)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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13 Responses to Christmas seafood

  1. Cathy White says:

    Really ! You should put a health warning before posting those pics of food. I proclaim solidarity with your stepson on anything green, the only exception being home grown raw peas straight from the pod, and even though I am not a seafood eater I would be tempted (not the octopus tho’). A probably silly question , are there checks xing from Portugal to Spain and vice versa?

    • oregon expat says:

      No — open borders is one of the greatest blessings of the European Union. You need to get past passport control when entering the EU from anywhere else, but once you’re in, that’s it.

  2. 1st-time mom says:

    love seafood..everything looks awesome!

  3. Archivistwolf says:

    I applaud your seafood choices and envy you a bit…. It’s difficult at times to get good, fresh seafood here.

    I chose to go non-traditional this year, but my guest didn’t seem to mind at all:
    Veal Scaloppini
    Lemon Caper & Artichoke Gemelli
    Spinach Salad w/ Bacon Vinaigrette
    Round Crescent Rolls
    Served with a very nice Un-Oaked Chardonnay

  4. Ana says:

    Oh, that octopus looks delicious. And, actually, octopus is a traditional Christmas dish in some areas up north (Trás-os-Montes especially). Seafood was hard to come by, since the area was so isolated, so octopus was considered a very special treat.

  5. Marta says:

    Like Ana, I was going to tell you that octopus is indeed a Christmas dish in some areas of Portugal. I always eat cod (the boiled kind), but since my husband came into the family we’ve added octopus salad as a starter for our Christmas dinner. (

    We went to Vila Real de Santo António during the summer and we also ate the wonderful Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, but I don’t recall seeing such a fancy-looking restaurant. Do you care sharing the name?

    Also, congratulations on the last picture. It’s very very awesome! 🙂

    Happy New Year!

    • oregon expat says:

      Thank you, and Bom Ano Novo para si!

      The restaurant is Sem Espinhas, right on the waterfront. Apparently it is known for its fabulous espadas, but we didn’t have the stomach space for them. We did watch some being delivered to a table behind us, and they looked gooood.

  6. Marta says:

    Lol… That’s okay, it sounds yummy anyway!

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