Friday, August 03, 2007

Dining in the Azores: Part 1
We'll get started with shellfish. Limpets are to the left, prawns to the right. These were two of the four dishes that I most enjoyed on a very recent all too brief visit to the Azores. The island was Pico and the purpose of the visit was a family wedding. Pico is one of the best destinations on earth for whale watching, and it is even better known for the mountain from which the island takes its name. At 7,713 feet above sea level, Mount Pico is the highest peak not only in the Portuguese Commonwealth, but within the entire Mid-Atlantic Range. Scaling Mount Pico along with finding and photographing several whales engaged a lot of time fo me that otherwise might have been devoted to checking out the culinary scene.
It should be worth mentioning that the restaurant serving the limpets also had whale soup on its menu. This was in Porto, the principal town on the neighboring island of Faial, to which we ferried over one day for lunch. Aware that no whales had been killed in the Azores since the mid-80's, I assumed my soup would include imported whale meat but no. What was listed as "whale soup" proved instead to be a vegetable soup that seemed quite conventional except for an inordinate amount of dill. Like hydrangeas, dill grows wild all over the Azores. The only justification our waiter could render for calling this"whale soup" was that that it was such a "strong" soup. Notwithstanding, the restaurant's limpets were great. Limpets look much like large barnicles, and the outsides of their shells are hairy. The flavor suggested to me a cross between whelk and the muscle of a quahog clam, though milder and more tender than either. My limpets were broiled with garlic. pimiento, and most likely some lemon juice and white wine.
Back on Pico behind the sport shop in the town of Magdalena is the Bounty Bar. For so simple a spot on this out of the way island, the prawns just might be considered a culinary masterpiece. The owner is German and seriously into cooking. He first sauted the prawns with onion and chopped lemon rind (probably pickled), then removed and set them aside. He added coconut milk, garam masala, finely chopped cashew nuts, garlic, tomato and almost surely some white wine to the pan, thus completing the sauce. It was the only evidence of culinary fusion encountered on our trip.

The Bounty Bar also had a special that evening: freshly caught parrotfish. Cut into fillets, its flesh was firm, white, mild-tasting, and most pleasing. Parrotfish is but one of more than 40 varieties of fish to be enjoyed in the Azores. Few of the species were familiar to me, though I would have liked to have had the opportunity and the time to try them all.

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