So begins the travel ritual once again. There is nothing like that endless list of pre-flight chores. The clock is ticking - the minutes seem to be flying by, and something will undoubtedly be left behind. There is never enough time in the day. Desserts are in the oven. Check. The bags are on the sidewalk. Check. I think, or rather I hope, I packed my passport... The oven timer has sounded off. Chocolatey aroma fills the air. It’s time to hit the road.
My never ending quest continues; to find fresh culinary inspiration to bring back home to the Hudson Valley. For this tour I set off to the city of Caminha, in the Northwestern corner of Portugal. I am eager to sample all this region of Portugal has to offer. Food, culture, and of course plenty of Portuguese wine. My flight touches down first in Madrid after a cramped seven hour journey across the atlantic, then a quick hour later arrives at the airport in Vigo, Spain. Glad to set foot on solid ground once again, I grab my bags, and make my way to the exit. There awaits my brother-in-law Russ, a Hudson Valley transplant, who has graciously offered to serve as our guide on this trip. We say our hellos, load up the car, and hit the road. We cruise through the mountains and valleys of spain, and cross over the Minho River into the beautiful country of Portugal.
This beauty is hard to capture; crossing over sandbars of the Minho estuary. It is the mouth of the river, where the river's current meets the ocean’s tide. It is low tide, and the view of the Atlantic from the Minho is unlike any other. We are surrounded. Water to one side, mountains to the other, and there ahead is our destination. We were suddenly transported to a medieval town, I was enchanted, or delirious with hunger and in dire need of a coffee.
Town of Caminha
With a history dating back to the 5th century, the town of Caminha exists in a duality between modern and old. The cobblestone streets leading past ornate churches, and elaborate stone buildings; decorated with detailed hand painted ceramic tile that the Portuguese are so well known for. All roads leading to one central point-the beautiful town square, overlooked by a clock tower originally part of a castle. The walls of the castle fortress have long since been knocked down, but the circle of the wall is still visible in the arrangement of the buildings surrounding the square. Modern and traditional cafes, galleries, antique, and shops of all kinds fill the square. It is the Heart of the town and a destination for locals and tourists alike.
Travel down the cobblestone streets of Caminha toward the riverfront. Any day of the week there are endless beauties to behold or shops and cafes to indulge in. Wednesdays when you turn that last corner toward the river, a new path is laid before you. To me there is nothing like this. Tent after tent, one after the other the feda market has arrived. Who doesn’t love an open market? It offers whatever you may need. First comes the live chickens and rabbits, produce and flowers. We pass through the loud chatter of the animals, and arrive at the fragrant scent of fresh cut flowers of all sorts. Next come stands with fresh baked breads, cheese, olives, cured meats, vibrant spices, and handmade terracotta pottery, all from local artisans or traveling gypsies. Where to begin? A sample of this cheese, a little chorizo or presunto, oh and how about a slice of Pao Broa. I’m in my element. I collect my share of spices, and am overwhelmed with ideas on what I can create with these things I am seeing and experiencing. Countless possibilities … plates with piri piri (African bird eye chili), linguica, or fresh bacalhau - I am lost in my mind and ready to get into a kitchen. I am lucky to be from the Hudson Valley, with all our amazing farms provide, they will easily facilitate the translation of my experience to the plate. I snap out of it and realize, I have to take a raincheck - There is more to be seen.
Food vendors give way to traditional terracotta ceramics, hand hammered copper stills,(I wanted one of these but for some reason my fiancé thought it could be a bad idea…..not sure why) and many other things. Followed by the gypsy section of the market. Women in scarves shout at me repeatedly and gesture for me to come shop with them, I suddenly feel self conscious. They seem to study my every move as we walk by. Cloths hang from the tops of the tents. Stands became cars or trucks with half of their products on the floor. Wearing shirts become optional, and I believe I am approaching a give a shoe take a shoe table- though I could be wrong. It feels like a whole separate market. We weave our way through the crowd and head back toward the welcoming cobblestone street. Thankfully, we have made our way out with our wallets intact, and at least most of us left without hexes. (Russ might want to throw some salt over his shoulder…).
Peter A Milano
Eat, Drink, and Explore from chef Peter's blog about his food experiences, recipes, and travel.