by Maria João Proença
Ericeira’s traditional cuisine reflects the eternal relationship of complicity and dependence that has always connected its people to the sea. At the table, fish and seafood are almost a mandatory part of a typical meal.
Throughout the village, restaurants specialized in seafood such as barnacles, clams, mussels, shrimp and lobster, multiply. The combination of seafood depends on the taste of whoever is going to eat it: either simple or more varied. The flavor is always the same: an intense sea taste.
As an alternative to the abundant seafood, try Sopa Rica do Mar, a thick broth to which pieces of monkfish, lobster, clams and sea bass are added. On top, a few chunks of bread fried in olive oil and garlic give a special touch to a soup that pleases any aficionado of good comfort food.
But a conversation about Ericeira and its gastronomy isn’t complete without an ingredient so closely linked to the village that, according to legend and local people, is at the genesis of its very name. Used as a local symbol, the sea urchin is one of the most enjoyed delicacies, eaten mainly between December and March, when it reaches its peak of flavor.
In terms of fish, the emphasis is on grouper, sea bream, sea bass, sole and bream, usually grilled over charcoal. In fact, there is nothing in Portugal that reminds us of summer as much as a good grilled fresh fish, enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the sea. Just ask the many visitors who flock regularly to Ericeira for the usual Saturday or Sunday family lunch.
A walk through the northern part of Ericeira’s historic centre on sunny days will reveal a curious tradition. The ray, one of the fishes that are captured off Ericeira’s coast, is found hanging from clotheslines or ropes right outside the houses, to the surprise of many outside visitors. This is one of the steps included in the process of preserving this fish, an ancestral habit used by families, especially in times of famine.
After being dried, cleaned, well washed and brined, there are several ways to eat ray. In Ericeira, it is usually served in dishes such as Raia Seca à Lagareiro (dry ray cooked in hot olive oil with garlic, along with unpeeled baked potatoes), Pitéu de Raia (ray sautéed with onions, garlic, sweet chilli and peas), Raia Alhada (garlicked ray) or simply boiled.
For dessert or to accompany your expresso at the end of the meal (a very Portuguese habit) an Ouriço (“urchin”). But not a sea urchin, like the ones mentioned above. This particular urchin appears in the form of a typical local pastry made from eggs and almonds. Delicious, especially when served with a crusty top.
On land, the many windmills spread across the top of the local hills, most of which nothing but landscape decoration nowadays, are witnesses to the history of the famous Mafra bread (Pão de Mafra). A bread with a sweet taste, soft inside and not very hard crust, produced mainly in Barril, Carvalhal and Encarnação, three small villages close to Ericeira.
From sea to land, the flavors of Ericeira leave you with a memory of a land made of strong traditions, customs and people who excel in extracting the best from nature, transforming it into something even more sublime.