A Realistic Perspective on Food Festivals

I’m an opinionated person, specially when it concerns food, and this might be a post that you will either understand and relate, or disagree and hate. Tough cookies.

So this past April I went to my first food festival in Estoril, after my first day of tasting some tasty (and not so tasty) things, plus snapping a few shots, I posted my first opinion (gave up on part two for now). The first comment I received was from some angry spanish dude saying that I was paid to write and diss some stands, besides approving and congratulating others. Whatever you wish to believe, that’s fine by me (thank you to whoever thought I am a paid journalist though, you are very kind).

So, back to the point. Food Festivals, Street Food Events, Food Trucks and Social Media Obsessions – the key words I am about to use a lot.

If you are a keen foodie, an epicurean and gluttony lover, you have gone to many festivals (if not all of them), specially after the boom Portugal felt this year.

Positive points:

  • New businesses have a chance to get known and gain new customers, profit and some inspiration to keep growing;
  • New food ideas, combinations and experiences for locals to have some fun;
  • Social media engagement (Zomato, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the recent Periscope);
  • Thousands of instagram photos about what you ate here or there (more followers – whether you are a professional epicurean or the owner of the food truck business);
  • Commensality takes on an outdoor version of appreciation;
  • Wide range of food typology for every taste;
  • Local food and gastronomical heritage;
  • Cute trucks with interesting concepts;
  • Touristic engagement by offering gastronomical experiences.

Negative points:

  • Street food becomes too competitive;
  • Street food is no longer a “street” experience – it turns into a shopping reality;
  • Too much too choose from, long queues, lack of places to sit and enjoy the finger food;
  • Cupon run event with no refunds (not every event uses this method);
  • Too pricey, once you add up everything you have eaten;
  • After going to a few festivals, all seem the same;
  • Lack of stock and disappointed clients who really went to try a certain dish;
  • Lack of higiene/quality control factors that can lead to food poisoning (this happened in Portimão this year);
  • Fast food turns into a praise for slowness wannabe (this is just wrong);
  • Porta-potties (lack of higiene, again – can you imagine going to the toilette and not washing your hands before eating?).

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Some vegetarian dish I was unhappy to buy – spent 20 minutes in line to have a curry dish they no longer served and handed me this instead (without even informimg).

I dare say, this is a controversial topic for me to write about, because Street Food is not what it’s suppose to be. I get the point about wanting it to grow, but none of this has particularly helped ease these businesses in running a daily work through the metropolitan areas (except for social media). For me, a good experience should be me walking down a street, seeing an interesting food stand, and because I am hungry and wondering where to have a bite, end up supporting the local truck who puts some TLC into cooking whatever they have to offer.

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A take on the Portuguese tinned sardine – on a simple piece of bread, tomato sauce and rocket. This was unexpected, and delicious.

Like any business, novelty or product, the business life span will saturate sooner or later, leaving a future hole that will need to be filled with the next big thing. It also seems to be something that’s happening all over Europe – when in Bologna, I went to the Finger Food Festival – and my experience was as disappointing as the ones I had in Portugal. The only benefit I got from attending was the fact that I did eat the best cannoli ever (big pro by tasting national goodies). But was it the best one in Bologna, or Italy per se? Possibly not. But I was a happy tourist for that moment in time.

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In foreign countries like the US and UK, street food is much more independent, based a little bit everywhere – events, local festivals that aren’t even about food in the first place, and the random corner where usual workers will always wonder by during their meal times. Twitter info based, these businesses can thrive with regular customers, not only the by-passers that are just curious to Instagram the fancy hot dog they ate, after having a burger and a waffle from neighboring stands. In third world countries, street food is culture and the day-by-day thing, not a trend where people gather.

As everything in business, specially food trade, novelty is key, sustainability is a must. Sometimes, when things are done only to make money (like selling those burgers every two minutes because you have way too many customers waiting impatiently), quality is compromised, and experiences upset.

None the less, it’s an enjoyable experience (when not having to endure weekenders, and big crowds), but not the type you will want to go every single time. After a few gigs, I would rather spend my money at my favorite restaurant, even If I don’t get to instagram the meal and gain another follower.

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Food Fest in Lagos

My suggestion? Make the law easier for local food trucks to travel and sell their food in certain spots around the town, next to a beach, near an event. Help these businesses grow in a natural, sustainable way, across the country. Heck, the world. Oh, and please don’t make me wait another half an hour for a lousy burger.

Alqueva Part 1 – The Trip!

My very first “alentejano” experience was twenty years ago – I was a mear four year old waking up to the godawful sound of a pig being murdered. I hated every bit of it: the sqwelling, the blood, the smell of burnt hair, the guts held in buckets through the hallway floors. The years passed by and I learned to appreciate it. After all, it always ended up in a fiest (literally speaking).
Returning to Alentejo brought back those memories, and while I read Anthony’s experience, I couldn’t help but laugh and be thankful that my nanny dragged me along during her weekend visits to Odemira. Childhood trauma apart, it just made me become a little more portuguese than I already was about to become. This time, I didn’t see swine torture, but I was introduced to something much more mind blowing about this part of the country.
Just to get you started, Alentejo in the summer is known for it’s hotness, the umberable kind that will make you want to look for shade and never think about sun bathing again. It is just that hot. After being in the Algarve for most of my life, being hot never seemed to be a problem – you have the sea, the fresh breeze, the not so hot heat. In the countryside you won’t find salted water, maybe a river now and then. But now Alqueva has Europe’s biggest artificial lake. For more info about historical facts and why the dam was constructed, consult wikipedia’s wise knowledge here.
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The most peaceful sunset I have seen in all my existence.
So this was the trip – renting a boat, sailing what once was vast pastured land. The most peaceful experience I have ever had since I could remember. Ghostly territory, non urbunized islands, stranded trees, slightly sloped bays and plenty of still waters.
This was such a cool idea, I just have to tell the world about it and recommend it to everyone.
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Getting to know small villages, local living, plus, far away from busy civilization and mass tourism confusion – this is what this trip was all about. This one is Estrela – no restaurants, one simple café and you can’t find packaged orange juice anywhere. When I asked what this was all about, while I had been shopping for it because my mother needs it more than she needs coffee in the morning, a lady simply answered “If we want orange juice, we will squeeze oranges”. True wise words, natural is best!
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Monsaraz view from this quaint B&B. Amazing and unusual town – I highly recommend visiting this unique spot.
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Aldeia da Luz scenario – One of the villages that had to be reconstructed because of the increase in water altitude.
While we were wondering the hot and haunted roads of this recent location, we found a table to sit down and have a refreshing mini (a small sized beer – 25cl to be precise). Checking out the inside of the so resembled tavern, I realized that for snacks, men were standing around the counter, with peeled boiled potatoes, some slices of fresh tomato, a few peanuts and each one of them had their own pocket knife to nibble. Wow, I need to get one myself! Astonished yet lights flickered in my mind as I started to understand what Alentejo’s lifestyle is all about – simplicity, at best, and humble practices gained by generations of getting by with whatever was available.
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When my dog found a stray goat, and followed him just to watch.
Next – Part 2 – The Food!

Honey Lemon Curd Muffins

You know that saying, ‘if life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Or throw them at someone’s head?’ Well, I’ve decided to make something sweet instead.
This recipe was my solution to use up lemons that were falling desperately off the tree.

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|| Muffin batter
Ingredients
2 eggs
105 grams salted butter
80 grams brown sugar
50 grams honey
200 grams all-purpose flour
60g soy milk (lactose intolerant option)
Zest from 1 lemon, plus 1/2 tsp of lemon juice
8 grams baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure
Make sure butter is kept at room temperature, and beat for at least two minutes on medium speed until smooth. Keep beating while adding the honey and sugar. Add the lemon zest and vanilla paste until combined. Beat in one egg at a time, making sure you incorporate well before adding the other egg.

Sift the flour with the baking powder beforehand; add into the butter mix along with the liquids (soy milk and lemon juice).

Let the batter set for at least an hour before cooking; this helps the flour to absorb the liquid, which makes the dough become very moist.

Fill greased muffin pan or individuals up to 3/4. Preheat the oven to 165ºC and bake for 25-30 minutes.

|| Lemon curd
(Bimby’s recipe – our favorite kitchen gadjet – it’s better than a Kitchenaid – no, seriously)
Ingredients:
160 grams caster sugar
2 eggs
60 grams salted butter
2 lemons (zest and juice)

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Procedure:
Melt the sugar with the lemon juice on low heat – don’t let it boil. Stir the syrup into previously beaten eggs and continue to mix while slowly incorporating it. Cook again on low heat, always stirring. You will recognise it’s done when a dipped spoon becomes drenched with thickened curd. Off the heated stove, add the butter and let it melt slowly.

Scientifically, eggs start to coagulate around 60°C; a bit higher they will curdle and separate. The key is a low temperature, plenty of stirring, without overcooking. Plus don’t forget to stir. If a very silky smooth texture is desired, pulsing it in a blender will do the trick.

Cut out a hole in the baked muffins and fill with the curd, sprinkle with powdered sugar or dress up with fresh thyme.

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Any leftover lemon curd? Mix it with plain yoghurt and muesli. Use it as a pancake topping, a simple spread for toast or combine with salty cheese for a sweet tangy contrast.

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Street Food Festivals – Portugal 2015 (Part 1)

In Portugal, street food has become a thing. Actually, all around the world it has gone berzerk every way possible. It’s just another one of those things that goes gourmet after years of being in the dark. The same has happened to octopus here – it used to be cheap and a certain meal for whoever couldn’t afford to buy meat or better fish – and today it’s ridiculously expensive because, well, it just became popular. This is a problem with street food, it can be great, delicious, or a right disappointment if the money is not worth the while. I don’t think many are going to do the effort to have the best mouthwatering product, they might just be more interested in promoting their facebook page or getting tagged on instagram by a new client.

And yes people, I have had my coffee this morning, this opinative text is all about to make sense in the second half (which will be published later today). Bare with me.

So recently I had the opportunity to attend the World Food Tourism Summit in Estoril organized by APTECE, the National Chef’s Congress and during that week, the Street Food European Festival was also in the vicinities feeding hungry people. And waiting for me. What a bonus! Aha! I did have fun, took some cool photos, had a great glass of wine, a few snack items and enjoyed great company while talking about food. In every possible way.

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Legal Nomads – One of the cutest trucks throughout the event, aside from the cutest lemonade stand I saw on the last day, if I were to acquire a mobile food service item, this would be it. Specialty: crepes. Pretty good, or just to say, not bad. I’m a huge fan of pancakes, crepes so so, but I think I was just a bit disappointed with the filling, it didn’t blow my mind away. On the bright side, the inside kitchen of the truck is adorable – I would have it in my own house if I could!

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Waffelaria Tradicional – These guys showed up on Shark Tank PT version – I credit them for their high quality product. Liege waffles are hard to come by, actually I don’t think I have ever had the opportunity to eat a homemade, freshly pressed waffle, let alone a chewy Liege style with chunks of sugar (just like it should be, traditionally), from a tiny stand. I totally recommend, better than any crepe, any day.

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Maria Wurst – From what I have read about Maria Wurst, it is a fusion between two female geniuses – one portuguese, the other german. This is a match made in heaven, how can a sausage business not thrive with two sausage native speaking women?

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The two sausages my friend and I had. Simply delicious and oversized compared to the size of the bun (just the way it should be). Simple, with onion, sauerkraut (which was very good) and my smoked wiener was divine! I hope to see you guys more often!

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The Skinny Bagel – CUTEST VAN EVER! No, seriously, I love the stand, the color (great marketing tactic btw – orange is one of the star colors in attracting people’s attention), the menu. Unfortunetly, the day I decided to try one – no more burger bagel, which was the one I wanted to try.

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The Crabbshack – No more soft shell crab burgers when I went to their stand. British dudes, who were invited to the event, obviously they have a fish and chips sort of concept – with squid, no more crab and they had no way of finding more because it came all the way from the UK. Shame, but I did take a photo of whatever they had left to sell.

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The Copenhagen Coffee Lab – I don’t know why I came here, honestly, after living in Portugal for so many years, I kind of poo poo any coffee that isn’t PT style. Or Kope Luwak! (good stuff)

I suppose I just wanted to know what the whole fuss was about, and was feeling in need of a caffeine boost before I went to work. Not bad, but, just a simple overpriced laté. Plus, the lady was in some sort of intense co<sçdfjknversation with some random fellow, while I stood there waiting at least 5 minutes before she acknowledged my existence and asked me what I wanted. Anyway, cute heart. And cute stand!

This is the end of part one hungry people, later on I will gather the remaining photos of day two, plus a few special extras I caught on camera at the congresses.

Portugal and it’s Food – Post Foodie Congress Thoughts

After two days full of experiences at the first national congress about food and tourism, organized by APTECE in Figueira da Foz, I am shocked, to say the least.

First of all, I just might of found my calling (yet another one), besides wanting to show the world everything about Portugal and it’s cultural richness. I am never going to give up on enhancing Algarve’s potential as a foodie paradise. With a limited size, Portugal and it’s humans should, by now, be a complete encyclopedia about everything tuga related. I was surprised, well maybe not that surprised, at what most know (or don’t) and share about the south. Yes, we are a seasonal region, why of course we get flooded with tourists in August, but – we have so much more going on besides that. All of the food festivals, always an excuse to go eat a typical cataplana; the beaches and the grotto trips in a random fisherman’s boats; some outstanding unknown and undervalued wines; some of the best recipes with almonds; the fig trees growing in every corner, even in the middle of the city; our oranges that are to die for; carob’s growing potential and superb sweet flavor; the mountainside like Monchique and it’s typical grilled chicken; Espinhaço de Cão‘s great chouriço; potentially the best honey you will ever taste can be found in every saturday morning market (artisanal production); that tasty Folar de Olhão with it’s cinnamon twirlly goodness. Oh, and the tuna! So much to say about the tuna. Our muxama (salted tuna belly and dried for 12 days) is unique and it is only produced in Vila Real de Santo António.

medronho

This is arbutus berry. We make a strong liquor with it called Medronho, the same name of the fruit in portuguese. I have also been experimenting with it’s version of jam.

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Here is carob I picked from my tree. Some people will still break a pod in half and chew it, because of it’s sweet flavor.

The downside to the Algarve, and maybe a bit all over Portugal is, some people don’t care. I might just sugar coat it a bit by saying that, they should care more. Also, the competition between regions is beyond ridiculous, and extremely unnecessary. You might have the best cheese, but I certainly make the best marmelada! It’s just that sort of thing a proud regional portuguese has to deal with – that is when he/she is a cultural interacting type of person.

Cooperation is important, and getting people to realize how amazing cultural heritage is can become a challenge, specially when lack of communication between small producers, tourists, travel agents, hotels and the outside world is an everlasting problem. We forget that we are a community, that we are able to help each other and build something new, something big, and still enhance a thousand years of historical quirks that make us who we are today.

Going down south once again, and mass tourism aside, we are authentic. We have good resources, lovely beaches, fields rich with agriculture, seasonal markets, fresh fish everywhere. People, we have Food! Whoever hasn’t tried some of the typical regional cuisine, should travel to the Algarve just to do so. Obviously we will have pizzerias, hamburgers, barbecued meat and french fries, to content the not so foodie travelers, and all their kids (man do they eat poorly nowadays).

Basically, if you are reading this at the moment from a foreign country, right down on your bucket list to pay Portugal a visit, and if ever in the Algarve don’t hesitate to contact me for the authentic southern portuguese foodie experience. Mark my words people, readers, bloggers, I am going to change the way the Algarve is perceived by outsiders, and do so much more besides some good weather on a beach for the regular sunbathing tourists.

I have been away for the past weeks, busy visiting family in the US, trying to find and sort out a job, involved in an amazing project (spoilers await) and working on a few posts I so dearly want to share with you. I shall write again very soon, with a yummy recipe with lots of portuguese influence.

Ta ta for now people, keep on rocking in the kitchen xox