You cannot – unless you are a vegetarian, in which case you are excused – go to Faro without eating seafood. Situated on the Atlantic coast, where the Ria Formosa lagoon protects the town from the worst excesses of the wild sea waves, this is nevertheless a place where shipping, and fish, dominate the local cuisine. Wander down to the marina and you will see hundreds of boats bobbing in the waters. Hop on a ferry to the nearby island of Culatra, and you will see fishing nets piled on the ground or hanging out to be repaired.
The Ria Formosa is a network of barrier islands and inlets that separate Faro from the open Atlantic. Part of the area is a Natural Park, and an important centre for migratory birds – well worth a visit if you are a nature enthusiast – but other areas are set aside for shellfish farming, including oysters and clams.
Faro has an amazing variety of seafood cafes and restaurants, and some of the best can be found at the marina. The perfect spot for a long, lazy lunch or romantic evening meal, the marina has a calm and peaceful ambience throughout the day; if you’re in mind for a little more bustle, be sure to visit the adjacent fish market. Faro’s Old Town also has some superb eating options, and at night-time this area really comes to life with a variety of bars and clubs spilling out into the roads and alleyways. You could also take advantage of car hire to explore some culinary options in Faro throughout the day which are further afield.
Eating out in Portugal is a sensory delight. A traditional Portuguese meal has several elements, including appetisers, main courses, desserts and, of course, wine. Appetisers, known as couvert, typically include bread and olives; sardine pate, freshly grilled sardines, fish soup, prawn dishes and small clams, or conquilhas, may also be offered.
When it comes to the main course, or pratos, there is a superb array of dishes to choose from. If you’re after a taste of authentic Portugal, then try bacalhau, a traditional dish of dried, salted cod. This is a staple dish handed down throughout the centuries, from a time when drying and salting was used in place of freezing to preserve fish for long voyages and storage throughout the winter months. Bacalhau is now prepared and cooked in hundreds of different ways.
Moorish rule and influences throughout the centuries has left a culinary legacy in many forms. The dish known as cataplana, for example, is a delicious combination of clams or other shellfish, and often fish, with spiced sausage and tomatoes, all cooked up in a pan in simmering wine and herbs.
Many fish dishes are simply prepared. Several different types of fish are on offer, from swordfish and tuna to sea bass and mullet. Tuna steaks, or bifes de atum, may be cooked with onions and tomatoes, or the fish may be offered with a simple green salad. Other seafood dishes include razor clam risotto and stuffed squid.
Any seafood meal in Faro should be complemented with a Portuguese white wine, and fortunately enough, there are many excellent and very reasonably priced wines on offer. Though the Algarve does produce its own wines, many will be from other parts of Portugal. Vinho verde is a young, light and delicate white wine that complements seafood well, while a glass of dry white port makes a fitting end to the meal.
Whether you are sampling grilled sardines in a beachside cafe in Culatra, a special meal by the marina or oysters in the Old Town, the seafood in Faro doesn’t disappoint. How could it, with the perfect combination of delicious Iberian flavours, recipes handed down throughout centuries and, above all, freshly caught ingredients?