27 June 2011

Portuguese Meal Rules and Greek Alevropita

In the middle of a hectic day at work, I ran down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat for lunch.  Ten minutes later I was sitting at my desk, simultaneously eating a ham sandwich and proofreading a draft on my laptop.  The Portuguese staff came in, saw me, and did a double take.


Because to eat a cold sandwich for lunch while sitting at a desk working is completely oddball American behavior.  My Portuguese co-workers (much like Bacalhau Boy) require lunch at a table! With utensils!  Hot food, and plenty of it.

Things can seem a bit through-the-looking-glass here when it comes to meals.  There are many ways in which a North American visitor might become confused.  Here are the five top mistakes I have made things to remember when eating in Portugal:

1. You may only eat lunch between 1 and 3 pm.  Outside of McDonald's and the like, all restaurants will be closed from 3pm until their dinner shift.  If you have missed your window and are desperately hungry, you must seek a cafe (which will not be serving hot meals but might fill you with pastries) or a mall, where the food court awaits.

2. Do not try to order a sandwich for lunch.  If you really want a sandwich, wait until 3:30 and go to a cafe for it so they think you are having an early lanche.  You will avoid the stares of old people who disapprove of your outlandish eating habits.

3. There is a fourth meal of the day, called lanche.  It is a bit like afternoon tea, but instead of tea you would have a latte and a grilled cheese sandwich.  Or a juice and a ham and cheese.  Or an espresso and a piece of almond cake.  (I am a big fan of lanche.) It is usually eaten around 5-6pm.

4. You do not have meal items for lanche.  I have, at times, offered Bacalhau Boy some leftover pizza or some eggs and toast as an afternoon snack.  He stares at me with furrowed brow as though concerned for my sanity.

5. Dinner is never before 8pm and is commonly eaten as late as 10pm.  If you are in Portugal on holiday, stay away from restaurants which serve dinner at 6pm-- they are undoubtedly tourist traps and not the best meal you will get in any town.

As charmingly Southern European as these peccadillos are, they have a larger implication which is somewhat troublesome to me as the family chef: if you have the biggest meal of the day at lunch, what do you eat for dinner?

How about soup and bread?


How about soup and alevropita?


This is like crack with a crust. It has singlehandedly made me look forward to soup night.

SOUP night.  I know.

The return on investment is huge.  So little effort, so much taste.  Mix a light egg batter, dump it in a hot oiled pan, and crumble feta on top.  That's all.

In mere minutes you will have a crispy, salty, cheesy flatbread.  

And a few minutes after that, you will have a happy belly.

When you have no time for a lot of cooking, no appetite in the heat, or you just want a bit of soup or salad and some bread... skip the bread and have some of this instead.

(And you can have it for whatever meal you want, that's just between us.)

Greek Feta Flatbread
serves 4 as a side dish, 10 as an appetizer
from Saveur

5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp vodka
1 egg
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup flour, sifted
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
12 ounces of feta, crumbled
2 tbsp unsalted butter, in small blobs

1. Heat oven to 500F (260C).  Place a 13x18 x1-inch rimmed baking sheet in the oven while it is preheating.

2. Whisk together 2 tbsp of the oil with the vodka, egg, and water.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and whisk until smooth.

3. Take hot pan out of oven and brush remaining oil over it.  (Careful, it will sizzle!)  Pour the batter into the pan, scatter the crumbled feta on top, and dot with the butter.

4. Bake until golden brown and crunchy, about 20 minutes.  Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.


  1. Ooh yum, what a perfect solution for a hot summer evening. We're more likely to do a ratatouille or green bean salad in the heat unless someone has of a cold soup recipe or two she wouldn't mind sharing...

  2. Mmmm, ratatouille! I think your ideas are perfect-- a cool green bean salad would go so great with this crunchy yummy thing. And I actually do have a cold soup recipe I am going to try out this week: cold melon soup with presunto. It sounds strange and fascinating and easy, I can't wait to try it. I'll let you know how it goes!

  3. ha! Porutuguese meal rules, SO true!

  4. waiting till 8pm for dinner?! but i go to bed around 9 ? crack with a crust sounds good. lol

  5. Yes, it's true, bedtimes are later here, too. But it is rare to get to work before 9 or 10 am, also... which makes all the difference when you go to bed at midnight. :)

    (Lucy, glad I'm not the only one who has noticed this!!)