Alentejo has some of Portugal’s most flavoursome cuisine. Young chef Joaquim Almeida has a great understanding of the cuisine and serves it in authentic style at his restaurant Dom Joaquim, one of the best in Évora.
Joaquim Almeida, chef and owner of Dom Joaquim restaurant, falls under the category of quiet, unassuming cook. Almeida doesn’t speak a word of English but this is of little consequence when you witness the fixed gaze, precise gestures and determination of this 38 year old chef who learned his trade in the town’s best establishments. This commitment is reflected in his cooking that places emphasis on traditional Alentejo classics. This, he tells us, is precisely what his gourmet clientele are attracted to, rather than any gastronomic eccentricities. Nevertheless, while Almeida remains true to the terroir and local produce, he still manages to contribute some personal touches.
It’s tradition, however, that take the lion’s share of the menu here including a fine selection of soups and broths for example. Provincial Alentejo cuisine continues to be marked by its rural origins, endowing it with a natural and sincere quality and the epitome of this style is a kind of “primal soup” consisting of water, garlic, coriander, olive oil and bread (in the best instances.) It can be thinned or thickened with a poached egg, chunks of cod or even clams, depending on the cook’s purse and the bread used will be the leftovers at the end of the week or even the crumbs saved from the corner of the kitchen table.
Almeida demonstrated to us on the preparation of a rock salmon soup (açorda decação), a dish that, in all likelihood, would have been something of a rarity on the local peasants’ tables. He starts by coarsely crushing several cloves of garlic which he mixes with olive oil, salt, a few bay leaves, paprika and, of course, coriander – a reminder of the Moorish heritage that permeates Alentejo’s cuisine. As soon as the ingredients come to the boil, large pieces of rock salmon are thrown in and a little water is added. After a few minutes of cooking, three volumes of wheat flour, water and vinegar round off the soup. In the meantime, we find it impossible to refrain from the pesticos, delicious Portugues tapas-style dishes, that require great strength of mind to refuse*. Almeida also gave us a sample of free-range chicken cooked in its own blood with rice. We loved the soup slightly sharpened with a dash of vinegar and served into a plate lined with slices of bread. We also loved the second dish - a simple stew of roast lamb, an ingenious example of a grandmother style, Sunday peasant dish designed to nourish labourers. After all, we too had made the effort of walking at least 7 miles across Évora!
* In Portugal, appetizers (as well as bread and sometimes wine) are placed directly on the table without being ordered. You can send them back to the kitchen and no one will take offence. This is usually a wise move as servings are copious and the very sweet, egg-based desserts require a hearty stomach.
Rua dos Penedos, 6, Évora
Tel: (+351) 266 731 105