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The vibrant colors and sweet tastes of Portugal: The home of the egg tart and diverse wines offers a tasty getaway

Feb 11,2017
Camara De Lobos, one of the fishing towns on Madeira Island, has many colorful fishing boats docked in. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Left: A view of Porto, a city located north of Lisbon, from Graham’s Lodge, the home of one of the most popular port wine makers. Right: A view of a No. 28E tram running through Lisbon. Top left: Different patterns of tiles are seen throughout Portugal. [LEE SUN-MIN]
1. Poncha, Madeira Island’s local drink, is made with local brandy and tangerines. 2. Sardine, just like all popular seafoods consumed in Portugal is served with potatoes, onions, and olives. 3. Portugal’s popular port wine is a dessert wine made in Porto. 4. Egg tarts, one of the most well-known Portuguese desserts, are available all over the country. [LEE SUN-MIN]
LISBON, Portugal - Generally speaking, European cities have not been popular choices for those planning a getaway from the frigid temperatures in Korea, as most cities in Europe have harsh winters and extended periods of little to no sunlight.

But Portugal rises above the rest as a European country that is a great place to visit during the cold winter months.

The average temperature in the country stays between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius (50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter, and even higher temperatures are seen on the country’s popular Madeira Island. The larger cities are walkable, cozy and are full of colorful touches. The country, which is a little bit smaller than South Korea but has only one fifth of the population, is covered in colorful tiles, fishing boats, and scenic waterfronts.

After a day walking through any number of the vibrant cities throughout the country, fill your stomach with some local delicacies. Portugal is known for its internationally popular port wine, egg tarts and a long list of locally famous food and drinks that make the country irresistible to those looking to venture into the less-traveled parts of Europe.

Hunt for the world’s best egg tart

The bright colors seen on the streets are also found in the food. A must-eat dessert in Portugal is undoubtedly the egg tart. The place that almost all travelers head to for the delicious treat is Pasteis de Belem, which opened in 1837. This bakery, located in the western part of Lisbon, is known to have gotten its recipe from nearby Jeronimos Monastery, as nuns there used to make egg tarts using the extra egg yolks left over from using egg whites to stiffen their garments. The layers of the pie crust come together as soon as one takes a bite into the small tart, and the sweet custard filling comes out softly. There is normally a line of people waiting to get their hands on the treats, but it goes by faster than one might expect.

Although Belem is considered one of the oldest and most internationally well-known egg tart shops, there are other shops around Lisbon such as Manteigaria or A Padaria Portuguesa. Throughout the country, egg tarts have distinct flavors and many enjoy searching for their favorite. Egg tarts from bakeries in Porto are generally less sweet compared to ones found in Lisbon. One egg tart usually costs around one euro ($1.06).

Many visitors come to Portugal in search of cod, octopus and sardines, as the country is surrounded by the ocean. There are hundreds of recipes for cod, known as bacalhau in Portuguese, as each home and restaurant has developed its own style. One of the best known is Pasteis de Bacalhau, a cod pastry, which looks similar to what many know as a croquette. Minced cod and potato are put together and shaped as a mini baguette and then deep fried. Sardine and octopus are often grilled and served with either potatoes or rice.

A convenient place for travelers to visit to taste all the major Portuguese dishes is the Time Out Market in Lisbon. A big food court with booths set up by popular restaurants in Lisbon is located right next to one of the largest traditional grocery markets in town. For those who don’t have enough time to go visit each individual shops, the food court is a good option to get a sense of what’s traditional and trendy in the culinary scene in Portugal.

Drops of dessert

Port wine is one of the world’s best known fortified wines, with a higher alcohol content of around 20 percent, while most other wines have an alcohol content of 10 to 15 percent. The concept of fortified wine came in an attempt to keep wine from oxidizing, so distilled alcohol is added during the process of winemaking.

The term port wine specifically indicates wine produced in the Douro Valley close to Porto, located about three hours away from Lisbon by train.

Although the vineyards are mostly spread out in an inland valley, many of the port winemakers have their lodges set up by the Douro River in Porto, as the riverside is more suitable to store and mature their wine in oak for years.

There are largely two types of port wine: ruby and tawny. While ruby has a color similar to red wine, tawny port is brown and sweeter. While ruby port stays in a large barrel around two to three years, tawny port spends much more time in a small oak barrel - up to 40 years.

The aged bottles can be left open for around two months, unlike other wines which need to be consumed as soon as possible.

Taylor’s, Graham’s and Dow’s are often considered the three top port wine makers and the most well-known in the global market.

“Although the general taste of all port wine is sweet, the level of sweetness is different from one maker to another,” said a representative at Graham’s.

To find out the level of sweetness suitable for you, knock on doors of different lodges located alongside the south side of the Douro River in Porto. Many of these lodges hold tours and tasting sessions, and local restaurants also serve drinks by the glass for those wanting to explore.

The Graham’s lodge is a popular spot to visit for the view. The lodge, located farther west than other wineries and higher on a hill on the river’s curve, gives a view of the Douro River and both sides of riverbanks. There is also a restaurant overlooking the view as well.

Only in Portugal

Other parts of Portugal are known for their drinks as well. Lisbon has ginja, made with Portuguese brandy aguardente infused with a type of local berry to get a cherry flavor. The drink is often served in chocolate cup at bars, as the sweet drink goes well with even sweeter snacks. Some even put a shot of ginja in a local beer called Super Bock to give their drink a kick.

On Madeira Island, a popular Portuguese island vacation spot for Europeans, poncha is the drink that visitors must check out.

Normally crushed small tangerines are put into the drink. These days, bars also use other fruits such as passionfruit to diversify the flavor of this particular drink, and also use vodka or other types of clear alcohol to make the very traditional drink. The price of one shot varies from one to two euros.

If you get tired of drinking only sweet things, Portugal also has a wide variety of dry wine as well. One of the types to try is Vinho Verde, translated to green wine, which is mostly produced in the northern part of Portugal.

The term indicates that the wine is made with young grapes, which provides a fresher taste. Therefore, not just white wine, but also red and rose wine can also be made through the process.

Since the wine is made with unripe fruits, the wine doesn’t have as high an alcohol concentration. It is usually consumed locally and rarely exported, so might as well try it on the spot.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]