The Algarve has taken full advantage of its coastal location and over time moulded its cuisine to incorporate the vast array of seafood found in the waters off its shores. Indeed Portugal as a whole is a great fish-eating nation with an estimated 40% of the population’s protein intake coming from our watery friends. And this is hardly surprising when you consider the country’s long and eventful maritime history, where the neighbouring ocean has not only proved a great culinary resource but also a gateway to new worlds and an expansive empire.
The region could once boast a great legion of devoted tuna fishermen but the art of tuna fishing has sadly died out in the last decades and with it many of the ingenious fishing methods. Fishermen had a whole array of contraptions such as the “armação”, and different type of siege nets to capture tuna fish as the summer began and shoals of them made their way from the Azores in the Atlantic to spawn in the Mediterranean. These spawn-bound well-fed fish made an impressive catch and such were their quantities that towns such as Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve’s far eastern corner depended entirely on tuna for their economy.
Tuna and sardine canning factories were once a common sight but since tuna fishing ended in the late 1960’s fish processing factories are now confined to the fishing town of Olhão with its large modern port. Here sardine paste, one of the region’s most emblematic products and one that you’ll find served with bread, butter and olives at the beginning of your meal at most restaurants, and other fish pastes and canned fish are produced and exported. This quiet working town also boasts the region’s largest and probably liveliest fish market and a batch of respected fish restaurants. These restaurants unite to celebrate the “Festival de Marisco” (Shellfish Festival) which takes place each August.
You will find information about some of the best known dishes in the article Traditional Cooking.