You would expect from a country where so much of it's land mass is coastal and with a heritage of seafaring their food obsession would be about fish. In Portugal's case you would be right. Strong Atlantic currents bring an abundance of white fish
to Portugal's shores such as bass and bream, as well as other seafoods and shellfish hapily sheltering in the vast number of coves, lagoons and inlets. One delicacy prized all along the western Iberian coast is the Goose Barnacle, known as Percebes in Portuguese. They're found growing on the rocks and cliff faces contently being battered by the Atlantic waves. Collectors or "percebeiros" have to risk their lives on slippery steep cliffs braving the hefty currents and swell. The coastline around Sintra is a perfect habitat for Goose Barnacles and locals will tell you here is the best place in the world to eat them.
However if these odd looking creatures aren't your thing then there's plenty of alternatives found in a great number of fish restaurants found in the area. There's nothing better in my mind to enjoy the catch of the day simply chargrilled, with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sea salt, helped down by a chilled Setúbal white wine. Portuguese also enjoy fish stews, most notably the Cataplana. Named after the clam-shaped copper pan it's cooked and served in. The Cataplana originates from the Algarve, possibly from Moorish origins, this dish is now found all over Portugal with regional variations. Most often it's a dish shared by two people.
Sardinhas Assadas (grilled Sardines) are a staple in restaurants all over Portugal, yet best eaten during the Santo António festivities in June when they're in season. In Cascais they claim to serve the best sardines in Portugal. Another popular dish found all over is Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, clams in a garlic-coriander-wine sauce, ideal for dipping crusty bread into on a balmy afternoon. Not all the fish found on Sintra's menus are locally caught however, Salmon and Bacalhau are most likely sourced from Scandinavia or the North Atlantic. Bacalhau (dried salted cod) is Portugal's national dish and their obsession with it is reflected by the vast array of recipes on offer, it's said there are 365 different ways to cook bacalhau, one for each day of the year. In Sintra you're likely to come across Bacalhau com Natas, Bacalhau à Brás and various other house styles.
You can find most types of meat and poultry on a Portuguese menu, there's usually two or three types of steak on offer, beef or veal. Pork makes an appearance very often, in fact in the town of Negrais north east of Sintra they specialise in roasted piglet (leitão), which has to be tried to be believed as it is truly a delight to the taste buds. Another outstanding pork dish is Porco Preto. Originating from the Alentejo region, these small black pigs are fed on a diet of acorns and are full of flavour.
Chicken is a popular dish often grilled with piri-piri in specialised restaurants. Turkey is a popular choice also, mainly served in steak form. Meat finds it's way into stews too, the Cozido is a hearty one-pot dish of various meats, sausages and vegetables. Another tasty one-pot is Arroz de Pato, which is essentially a risotto made from duck, choriço and rice, finished off in the oven ten minutes before serving. Portugal has a rich tradition of making fine choriço type sausages and hams many with DOP status, including some great blood sausages. The Alheira is a smoked chicken sausage created by jews during the Inquisition to fake pork consumption.
Many of Portuguese small towns have their own dessert, from the famous Pastel de Nata from Belém, the Fradinho of Mafra and the pies of Azeitão. As far as confectionery in Sintra is concerned the Queijada de Sintra (Sintra tartlets), rules supreme. It is made from an ancient recipe dating back to the Middle Ages. A filling of curd cheese, with ground almonds, egg yokes, sugar and cinnamon placed in a pastry case and sprinkled with icing sugar.
Another sweet delight are the Travesseiros of Piriquita. Piriquita is already considered a must see for tourists visiting Sinta. Open since 1862, Casa Piriquita soon became famous for its puff pastry pies with a filling of almond cream and now have two bakeries in Sintra.
The Colares wine region located around Sintra is one of the worlds oldest producing areas if not one of the strangest. It is in fact the second oldest demarcated wine regions in Portugal after the Douro. However the art of making wine though was first introduced here by the Romans when they occupied the region. The vines are planted in the sand dunes which follow the coast, trained low to avoid the Atlantic winds. This challenging terrain proved too harsh for the phylloxera louse which devastated nearly all of Europe's vines in the 19th century, but not here in Colares. The shortage of competitors led to a boom in the popularity of Colares wines. However the processes involved in planting and training vines in such a alien environment for grapes is arduous and production has fallen sharply in the last 50 years from 2,500 acres of vineyards in the 1940's to just 50 acres today.
What is produced nevertheless is of excellent quality and quite distinctive. The acidic and tannic nature of the reds mean they're aged for years before being released on the market. Today there is a consorted effort to revitalise the industry and new vines are being planted in areas which are also in much sort after demand from tourism.