Aveiro the Portuguese Venice
Aveiro is known somewhat tongue-in-cheek as ‘the Venice of the West’ due to its network of canals, and the fact it is losing a battle against nature as its watercourses silt up.
Historically the town made its fortune from the salt industry which was of course essential for making bacalhau with salt-cod. Although dried cod had been around for centuries before, it was the availability of cheap Portuguese salt in the 17th century that made the alternative salting process commercially viable. Aveiro was the capital of the industry and it’s legacy can be seen everywhere..
If you like you can take a tour on one of the moliceiros, the gondola-like boats which are moored on the canal just by the hotel.
They were originally used to transport the salt from the pans to the warehouses back in the day.
Some of them have quite risque decoration on their prows and sterns!
If you have time, there are two large beaches but they are a bus ride away. In July the weather is usually sunny in the mornings but it often clouds over in the morning with fog and wind at the beach.
A local sweet you will see advertised everywhere is Ovos Moles /euvesh meulesh/ where sweetened egg yolk is encapsulated in a soft edible covering reminiscent of those sherbet-filled spaceships you could get when you were a kid. Not a fan personally as they are far too sweet and give me toothache.
Hotel Moliceiro, (Advanced B), 15-17 Rua Barbosa de Magalhães, Tel. 234 377 400
Located on the Canal Central in the picturesque old town, this upmarket hotel has good service, very comfortable rooms, an excellent breakfast buffet and free Wi-Fi, as it should when double rooms cost €105 a night.
If you’re staying at the weekend, you might want to get a room at the back as there is usually a free concert in the square next to the hotel every Saturday night which goes on till about 12.30 pm, although the sound check starts much earlier.
Marisqueira Mare Cheia (Intermediate A), 10 Rua Jose Rabumba.
This unpretentious seafood restaurant is the people’s choice and all 70 seats are always full, whether you come for lunch or dinner. I come here every time I’m in Aveiro (this is my third visit in six years) and have never been disappointed. Sorry about the lack of local names for the dishes but the atmosphere was too frenetic for me to get all the information I wanted.
On this occasion I was given a starter of very large mussels with green-lipped shells (a first for me) in a sauce with onions and red pepper, which were ok but slightly overcooked (B-).
After ogling the choice of my four neighbours (their pan was nearly the same size as my table!), I went for the main of fried prawns, butterflied and cooked in a cast iron pan with lots of oil and slithers of garlic, absolutely delicious (A). With this, a side of very skinny and tasty Patatas Fritas (A).
I had two half-bottles of wine; a fruity Cabriz from the Dao DOC…
…and a drier Planalto from the Douro DOC, both of which were excellent.
In July 2010 the grilled sea bass was very good (B), as was the side dish migas here made with less (or no?) bread than its Spanish counterpart but with lots of black eyed beans, kale and some rice if I remember correctly (B+).
The lobster with rice looks like a very good option too. I’ve had it in a Galician (where the cuisine is very similar) restaurant in Madrid and it was great. You might want to pass on the ‘salad’ though as you will get strawberries, pineapple and papaya on the same plate as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, as is the modern Portuguese style.
For dessert my excellent English-speaking waiter brought me the local speciality of Torta di Ovos Moles which uses the same tooth-rotting egg yolk and sugar mixture that is in the famous local sweet but this time in cake form (and hence much more palatable in my opinion) (B+).
This was followed up with an aged local aguardente called Sao Domingo from Anadia (20km from Aveiro) in the DO of Barirrada which was one of the best I’ve had here (A). Total cost for the wines, mussels, prawns, chips, dessert and three aguardentes this time was just under €40, slightly expensive for Portugal but worth every cent.
This is a great place for seafood and should be your first stop in Aviero. I also liked the fact that the head chef came out of the kitchen to say hello and have a chat with his customers.
Salpoente (Advanced B), 82 Cais de San Roque, Tel. 234 382674
One of the best upmarket places in town, located in an atmospheric old salt warehouse next to the Canal de San Roque, a fifteen-minute walk from the hotel. The staff are friendly and I like the smiley young proprietor.
The menu features regional specialities, especially fish dishes, although there are some meat options on the menu. The unordered starters they give you usually include Azeitonas Marinada (B), Pataniscas de Bacalao (saltcod fritters), which were a bit bland this time (B).
In the past I’ve also had some tinned mushrooms with ham (C) but this time got some tasty cow’s cheese (A) which went well with their excellent bread (A). They charge you if you eat them (only €1.50 a plate).
Without reading my last review I inadvertently ordered exactly the same as last time! Camarao ‘Al Ajillo’, a rack of prawns grilled with garlic, olive oil, parsley and brandy (which was a B last time but now B+). It was very similar to the dish I had at Mare Cheia but not quite as good or well presented.
The main Arroz do Mar (B), similar to Caldeirada with chunks of fish, clams, mussels and prawns in a soupy paprika stew, which was nice but slightly oversalted on this occasion (B-) and big enough for two.
My white wine this time was another citrusy Vinho Verde called Alvarinho Deu La Deu. The waiter told me this was the name of the cantina but I’m sure Alvarinho here refers to the grape, but correct me if I’m wrong. It’s supposed to be one of the best (€14 in the airport) and it was good (B+) but there are others I prefer.
In the past I’ve wanted to try a white from the local Bairrada DOC but the owner told they were too powerful for seafood.
To finish the Tarta de Maca com Gelado de Baunilha (apple pie with ice cream) was thin and tasteless (C).
On a previous visit the Crepe a Salpoente was ok but the sweet egg yolk filling (the same as in Ovos Moles) didn’t do much for me (C). Guess they don’t really do desserts here.
This time for my digestif I had a Beirao, a Portuguese liquor with a sweet herbal flavour that is much more easy on the palate than aguardente. It was ok (B) but was too sweet for me to want another. In the past I also had a C.R.F. Reserva Aguardente Velha which failed to impress (C).
Conclusion: the atmosphere is more refined and the surroundings are more attractive than Mare Cheia but the food isn’t as good, so it’s now my second choice, although I still like to come every time I’m in town. You can also buy bags of sea salt here, €5 for half a kilo. There’s a bar next door and a couple of others along the same street.
On the way back along Cais de San Roque you can admire this beautiful art-deco house with its maritime motifs. The fish ceramics and anchors make it my favourite building in town.
O Batel (Intermediate B) Travessa Tenende Resende (off Rua Tenende Resende, turn right at Ferra above). Tel. 963 218 900
Lots of recommends on the net for this small and slightly hard-to-find place, but I didn’t have time to give it full
justice. The waitress was very pleasant and spoke excellent English (as most of the younger generation of Portuguese do) and the boat-like furniture and decor (reminiscent of those classic Italian speedboats; sleek dark varnished wood) is relaxing if not particularly comfortable (slatted wooden deckchairs). I had the cheap lunch time special; a soup stew of bacalao and bread in a tomato-like sauce, which at the time suited my head cold, but was not something I’d have again (C). The salad of mixed leaves and tomato quarters was well-presented and good quality but over-dressed with oil and balsamic-type vinegar (B-). Needs to be visited again in the evening, when I don’t feel so ill for a better analysis.
O Telheiro, (Intermediate B), 20-21 Largo da Praca do Peixe (fish market square). Open Sunday.
This is a good choice for Sunday evening when most other places are closed. There are two sides, the ‘sala’ with tables properly laid up with linen and a bar area with wooden benches and paper tablecloths. I prefer the dark wood atmosphere of the bar. The staff don’t speak any English but the hand-written menu is just about decipherable if you have a knowledge of other Latin languages.
On this occasion I had the Cosotleta de Vitela na Brasa, a thick medium-rare veal steak (B) which was just what I needed after a week of eating seafood. I ordered a salad and a side of chips (B-) but was only successful in getting the latter. To drink I took a chance on a red from the local Bairrada DOC, Termiao Passaro Branco, which was drinkable (C+). To finish; pears in red wine, a popular Portuguese dessert (B+).
Ferra (Elementary C),32 Rua Tenende Resende (off the fish market square, it has a nice art-deco shop front displaying the mottos ‘labour’ and ‘honour’).
Very busy at lunch time, this seems a very popular place. It’s cafe-style with paper table clothes and plain decor. It took a while to get served as the waiters were so busy and mine forgot everything I asked for because he was so overworked. They had run out of my first choice of grilled sardines so I had the tuna and black eyed bean salad for €6 which was ok but a bit tasteless. You can probably get better food if you know how to ask for it. A cheap choice with basic but perfectly edible food, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to go again.
Lots of other places to try but personally I’d say work your way through the menu at Mare Cheia and then Salpoente.
There is a Spar at 48 Avenida Dr Lourento Peixinho where you can buy these fancy tins of good-quality tuna in olive oil for about €3. They make good take home presents I think.
I also got some Vinha Verde for €3 which I’d paid €12 for in a restaurant in Oporto.
They also sell Gallo olive oil which some local friends recommended for dressing salads, although their first choice was the harder-to-find Romeo oil.