Markets and fruit in Portugal

A market (mercado) is the best place to put together a picnic: fruit, dried fruit and vegetables, nuts, bread, smoked meat and cheese, olives, biscuits and cakes. Every town has its own market, usually open Monday to Saturday mornings, sometimes also in the afternoons. The choice is usually widest on Saturdays, while on Mondays fish can be difficult to find. Portuguese fruit is a particular joy, especially in the Algarve and the region around Alcobaça, though any market should turn up some excellent local produce (ask for frutas da região), usually given away by their smaller size and more battered appearance.

You may even find officially certified biológico – organic – produce, though it has yet to make much of an impact on mainstream food-buying habits.

In spring cherries are a delight, when you can also sample anonas from Madeira (sugar apples or sweetsops; there’s a second harvest in Oct/Nov), plus strawberries and early apples and pears from Alcobaça. Particularly good summer fruits are melons, peaches and apricots, and exotics from the Algarve including Barbary figs, guavas and mangoes, plus nêsperas or magnórios (loquats or medlars, especially in June). The grapes arrive in late summer and autumn, especially black Moscatel and a welter of local white varieties. Pears, apples, plums and figs are also good at this time, including the long black figs called bêberas (don’t eat the sap in the stem, which will blister your lips).

Winter is the time for citrus fruits, pomegranates, and immensely sweet dióspiros (persimmon or date-plums; tomato-like spheres with pulp like liquidized jam, eaten with a spoon). Winter and early spring is also the time for chestnuts (castanhas), which you can buy roasted from street vendors around the country. Available year-round are delicious finger-sized bananas from Madeira, and sweet and aromatic pineapples from the Azores.