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Nº 70 – The most exquisite dishes of Portuguese vegetarian cuisine

Saturday the 16th of January 2021

It is shortly after 12 o’clock on this day before the lock-down, shortly before the country is once again completely closed down. The Parliament decided an hour ago to close Portugal and all its restaurants. The door opens and the guest who enters says into the room: “Mmm, it smells good in here.”

We start our journey through the best cuisines of the Republic in Vila do Bispo, in the extreme southwest of Portugal. Our idea is to travel through all 308 counties and test and recommend the food in each one. Somewhere I read that 99.4% of all Portuguese are meat eaters and only 0.6% eat vegetarian or live a vegan lifestyle. Is that true? The overwhelming majority of the Portuguese are said to eat dead animals almost daily? We are interested in this other way of eating – this small, light and fine cuisine where no dead animals end up on your plates, but in the art of cooking without meat – the art of healthy nutrition, of good cooking, of tempting delicacies, of natural ingredients, of the science of seasoning…

The small restaurant is called IZZY’s Market and is run by four clever women, Isaura Arouca – the boss – and Sandra in the kitchen and Vanessa and Maike at the counter and in the dining room itself. The place where the restaurant is located is not particularly beautiful. On the housing estate next to the town hall, construction has been going on there for years and there is just no end to it. It is the third time we have eaten here. The small restaurant is more like a shop with a large shop window and it is in front of this window that I sit with my colleague who is accompanying me on this trip. We discuss the food. The restaurant is on trial.

A restaurant basically can earn 15 stars (points). You as the reader can see the score at the end of our kitchen review. Nobody is perfect. If you would like to amend the score I have awarded, please do. You are invited every week on Saturday. Also, as a reader you can make suggestions of restaurants yourself. We always visit the restaurant incognito. In IZZY’s Market the visitor can also do their shopping: fresh fruits and vegetables, locally grown, are here in wooden boxes for the home gourmet to cook at home, they also sell nuts, almonds, spelt, figs and dates and many other dried fruits, cosmetics and locally made soaps. All of which are not packaged.

Pandemic conditions: take-away

 

The restaurant is tiny. Every day, from Monday to Friday, it offers a dish of the day, a lunch dish. Today it is “Carne de Soja Alentejano”, a colourful dish based on potato croutons with roasted soya and mushrooms, cubes which are each no bigger than one centimetre square. This takes up one half of the plate. The other is a varied, mixed salad of rocket, frisee, tomato, lollo rosso, cucumber and carrots with a white yoghurt dressing. We choose a fruit juice to go with it. There is no alcohol in the restaurant, no wine, no beer, only freshly squeezed multi-fruit juices that generate a lot of power: Strawberries with kiwi, tangerine with orange and grapes and apple and banana. The result is a well-balanced flavour, neither too sweet, nor too sour, not at all bitter, just exotic.

Before eating and after eating, don’t forget to wash your hands. I love clean bathrooms. There are fresh live flowers in pots, there is a baby changing unit, the windows are frosted glass, the toilet is spotlessly clean, the washbasin too, there is disinfectant available, and there is a rota of when the bathroom was last cleaned, with the time and the signature of the cleaner. The small restaurant has a shared bathroom for both men and women. Why not?

I count the tables. There are three tables, two of them for four people each, a small third table for two guests and beside the shop front looking out on the permanent building site for four people. Today a pile of gravel is being unloaded. Enjoy your meal.

All the cakes and desserts are homemade Isaura reassures us. Cheesecake with blueberries or Creme Caramel. Her soups are also  always wonderful: a creamy carrot soup with leeks decorated with poppy seeds. All together it costs the editorial office eight euros, plus € 1.90  each for the fruit juice. Amazing.

In the end, I feel comfortable in this little place in the middle of nowhere. Here, someone cooks for the joy of it and does it competently. The ingredients come from organic farming, mainly from the Vale da Lama farm in Odeáxere, the neighbouring district, less than 30 km away. Few food miles/Kilometres. I was able to take a peek into the kitchen. It is open to view, food leaves the kitchen and empty plates are handed back.  There is no waiting time. Separation of the waste, yes. Less than 15 litres of recycling per day in three separate bins. A very friendly and competent service in several languages. No Multibanco payments. Opening hours Monday to Friday between 10am to 5pm. Also breakfast with fresh rolls and a good variety of coffees and teas. And they three children dishes available. What more could you wish for?

Yes. Wheelchair users best stay outside at one of the three small tables, because inside it would cause a traffic jam. And the toilet is not accessible for the disabled. With more than 15 people, it would become claustrophobic. Shortly after one o’clock we say goodbye to light jazz music and yes, it smells good and you eat well in this restaurant. Result: 12 out of 15 points.

1. location of the restaurant: zero points;
2. architecture and design: zero points;
3. feel-good factor: (no wheelchair accessible) zero points;
4. cleanliness: (kitchen, restaurant, toilets all clean) one point;
5. menu: (changes daily, freshly made daily specials, seasonal fruit, low sugar cakes & desserts) one point;
6. cooking & service: (qualified, professional, friendly, continuity, multilingual) one point;
7. ingredients: (food: how and where it’s produced, proof of origin, all food is recycled, low food miles, little waste, healthy) one point;
8. creativity, originality and tradition of the dishes: (they make their own bread) one point;
9. transparency: (little daily waste , an open visible kitchen) one point;
10. organisation  (a concept menu with starters, main course, desserts or similar) one point;
11. taste (really appetising) one point;
12. drinks (their own creations, water & teas in reusable glass containers) one point;
13. prices (a. in relation to quality, b. the low cost, c. Subjectively less than €10) one point;
14. Can I imagine returning?  YES. one point;
15. Extra point? YES, because if you eat there nine times, you get the tenth meal for free.

 

 

IZZY’s Market · Vegetarian Boutique · Urb. Senhora do Amparo, Lt 13, Lj 5 ·  8650-436 Vila do Bispo · T 282 639 153

 

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations : Dina Adão, Tim Coombs, João Medronho

Fotos: Stefanie Kreutzer

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