A day at the beach, Portuguese Style
For most Portuguese, Summer means one thing, and one thing only: beach time!
As soon as the weather starts warming up, everyone starts yearning to sink their feet in the warm sand and get that perfect tan. However, a Portuguese day at the beach can be very particular in its rituals.
So, if you want to learn how to enjoy a day of sun and sea like a born and bred local, grab your beach towel and umbrella, slather on some sunscreen, and follow this yummy and fun filled guide for a perfect trip to your chosen beach.
You’ll try to arrive at the beach as early as possible, but it’ll take you twenty minutes to find your sunglasses, or you’ll remember at the last minute that you have to pack your sandwiches and you still need to go to the bakery to buy bread, and you’ll never arrive at the beach on time.
Yet, before you even set up your umbrella, there’s an unavoidable Portuguese beach ritual. The espresso at the beach bar. Drop your bags, grab a seat, and enjoy a coffee with a view of the ocean, anticipating the thrill of the first cooling dip in the sea. A golden rule here: only espresso. No dash of milk, and absolutely no decaf allowed.
By now you’ve swam enough to work up an appetite, and you’re ready to enjoy another time-honored beach tradition: the Bola de Berlim. It might seem counterintuitive to eat a fried, egg cream filled pastry, (generously sprinkled with sugar) at the beach.
But if you want to be like born and bred local, this doughnut style calorie bomb is an essential. To find it, just look for the men and women walking along the beach , carrying the Bolas de Berlim (often on their heads), and loudly praising their pastries: “warm and good”! Start waving. If you can’t flag them down, the only solution is to run after the sellers, or you’ll miss them.
If you’re like a Portuguese, by 1PM you would be ready to eat! You can always grab a bite from the beach bar, but a truly Portuguese beach experience involves a cooler full of light (you don’t want a heavy meal to interfere your time in the water) and yummy food. The go-to meal for the experienced beachgoer is the humble “sandes” (the Portuguese take on the sandwich), which will usually mean a bread roll filled with cheese and quince paste, ham and cheese, or just butter, for those picky eaters.
Fruit, carefully picked for maximum hydration, also makes an appearance: watermelon, melon, grapes, strawberries or peaches. Make sure you don’t forget a sharp knife to cut through the melon you packed in your cooler, get your container of perfect ripe cherries or grapes, or just munch on some juicy and sweet peaches. With your energy levels up, you can go back to your paddle tennis matches, or simply lay down to keep on working on that perfect tan.
The Bola de Berlim is not the only food coming your way through the beach sand. Tirelessly crossing the hot sand, the ice cream sellers yell “frutóchocolate!” (fruit or chocolate), reminding you of that quintessential summer treat: ice-cream.
Grab a cone, and, as a side treat you can buy a long, curled wafer biscuit known as língua da sogra (mother-in-law’s tongue). No one knows the origins of this tongue in cheek name, but presumably it references the “sharp tongue” of a mother-in-law. This one, though, is also crunchy and sweet.
After a whole day at the beach, your reenergized body and soul are ready for a change of scenery, but that doesn’t mean that the day is done. New delights await you, and here is where you can take one of two roads:
Option 1: The Seafood Place
If you’re feeling generous, treat yourself to some seafood, along with some extra chilled vinho verde. Bring on the clams Bulhão Pato style (with garlic, wine, lemon and cilantro), the piles of prawns, the creamy sapateira (crab). If you dare, try a small plate of snails, seasoned with garlic and oregano, accompanied with toasted bread.
Option 2: The Barbecue in the forest
A more economical and traditional option. First, you must find a pine tree forest near the beach. Then, set up camp, fire up the grill and enjoy a bifana (pork steak), entremeada (pork belly steak) or some traditional grilled sardines. Wash them down with a few beers, and look for a shady spot where you can enjoy a well-deserved nap.
7 PM to …
At the end of a Portuguese style day at the beach, you might be faced with another very Portuguese tradition: the end of day traffic jam. It seems everyone has decided to come to the beach today, so either you hold on, and head home after sunset, or you embrace the experience. Bring some games, bring some songs and, most of all, bring some patience. After all, if this is the price to pay for a perfect beach day, it’s totally worth it!
Feed your curiosity on Portuguese food culture:
5 amazing beaches, just 30 minutes from Lisbon
10 ways to feel like a local in Lisbon
How to identify the perfect Portuguese custard tart
7 perfect places for a picnic in Lisbon
Real people, real food. Come with us to where the locals go.
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