Food trippin' in Portugal: Algarve Coast

Portugal is STUNNING. I had never been before last summer. It was definitely the focus of my trip. In conjunction with Spain, I did a week and half in Spain and Portugal (plus a night in London). 

From  Sevilla I took a bus to Lagos, Portugal. While there's a train between Madrid and Lisbon, the only way to get to the Algarve coast from Southern Spain is by bus or car. It was about a 4.5 hour ride. On the way to Lagos you pass these quaint coastal towns as well as vineyards. In Lagos, the largest of the towns on the Algarve coast, I transferred to a smaller, local bus that would take me even further west- to the most South-Western town in Portugal: Sagres.

I chose this destination after speaking with a friend and doing research. The main reason was also to go surfing. I had a friend who spent the previous summer living outside of Lisbon and surfing all the time. Another friend suggested I stay in Sagres over Lagos because Sagres is a small fishing town and feels less touristy than Lagos but I didn't stay in Lagos so I don't have the first-hand experience. I'm glad I listened to her though because Sagres is a quiet town. The bus stop was near various restaurants and surf shops. There was a nostalgic feel to it. Maybe it reminded me of other surf towns?

Sagres

Sagres

I arrived mid-afternoon with the summer sun overhead. It was certainly good exercise walking to my Airbnb. I arrived and was greeted by my warm and cheerful host Myriam. Later that evening, I was joined by two women my age. It wasn't until I got to chatting with them the next day did I find out they were from Switzerland from a city close to where I'd studied abroad during college.

Praia do Beliche

Praia do Beliche

They were eager to try surfing and I attempted to contact surf schools with no luck. Thankfully, because I've surfed before, I didn't need to go to a school. One of the sweetest people I came into contact with in Portugal was the owner of Maretta Surf Shop. He was friendly and helpful. I inquired the day before I wanted to surf and then I walked there the following morning to get a wet suit (yes, the Atlantic is cold even in September!) and a board. He then dropped me off at Tonel beach and we agreed on a time to pick me up.

The surf is a point break and I don't have as much experience with fast, short waves. Additionally, I'm not used to wearing wetsuits and I find them harder to move in and therefore I would tire easily. These waves were no joke. Now I know why surfers flock to Portugal but they also have much more experience than I do. I didn't even attempt the larger waves. I will need more practice in colder water with wetsuits before I try to surf in Portugal. I'm definitely a spoiled Hawaii girl in terms of waves and water temperature. Eventually I had to give in before my exhaustion resulted in negative results. The rest of the time I just sat on the beach and watched other surfers and waited for my ride. 

Fish soup

Fish soup

My best meal in Sagres was definitely a recommendation from my Airbnb host in addition to an Indian restaurant I found after searching online. After Spain, I was craving spicy food and for lunch one day I got a take out and enjoyed it in the beautiful yard at my Airbnb. Dinners out in Portugal are quite reasonable. I had salad, grilled sardines, a carafe of wine and decide for about 12 euros. 

The best thing about Sagres are the restaurants where you get fish or seafood grilled to order

The best thing about Sagres are the restaurants where you get fish or seafood grilled to order

If I wasn't traveling alone I would have rented a car like they did. This is my recommendation after having been in Sagres- rent a car. I chose Sagres so I could go surfing however, many beaches aren't easy or almost impossible to get to by public transportation. 

Sagres is in the running for on the best sunsets I've seen

Sagres is in the running for on the best sunsets I've seen

Perfect place to spend the day

Perfect place to spend the day

Looking up the coast from Cape Saint-Vincent

Looking up the coast from Cape Saint-Vincent

A piece of dessert doesn't hurt right?

A piece of dessert doesn't hurt right?

As if it couldn't get even more pretty

As if it couldn't get even more pretty

Must always stop for pastries when in Portugal

Must always stop for pastries when in Portugal

Have you wanted to visit Portugal or visited before? If you've never been and have been wanting to, where is it you're just dying to visit? Comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 

Stay tuned for part two where I make my way up to Lisbon!

A Week in Kansai: Eating Out & the Yamazaki Distillery

This past May I went back to Japan for the first time in three years. That's a long time for me considering that fact that I had been going every year since I was an infant and also lived there for two and half years. I had some important things to take care so it was a necessary trip. Not sure why I hadn't been in so long but boy was it a great visit/trip! It was lovely to catch up with old friends and also stay with friends who are basically like family.

Additionally at the weather in late May was perfect. Daytime temperatures in the high 70s, nights were a little cooler, sunshine abounded and the humidity was low. I've always recommended that people visit in the spring or fall given that the cherry blossom viewing and fall colors are breathtaking sights but those periods are often crowded and more costly so off season or shoulder season like the end of May into June before the monsoon season was a welcomed balance.

Sunset upon arrival

Sunset upon arrival

Other that what I needed to do the rest of my time was basically spent eating. No. kidding. Every street and corner in the cities presents itself with awe inspiring pastries, enticing Japanese bites or beautifully thought out meals. I rarely eat Japanese food when I go out to eat unless I have a specific craving.

Growing up my mother and I always had a mental list of things we wanted to eat while we were in Japan and somehow, in the end, we'd neglect or miss one thing. This time though I repeated all my favorites which I'll talk about later as well as trying some new places. The family I stayed with also cooked delicious dinners and I contributed as much as I could. I also made, per their request, chili con carne with rice. I very much trust the Japanese palate. If someone I know loves food and recommends a restaurant (almost regardless of the cuisine), I'll go. The family friend I was staying with is one of the top people I go to for recommendations in Kansai and Tokyo even. 

The Kansai region, referring to Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe mostly, can bring you the most delightful and elegant sweets to such satisfying and delectable and easy eats. Do want a slice of cake from a famous bakery or savory cabbage package smothered with a salty-sweet sauce and garnished with seaweed and bonito flakes? Along with everything in between, you'll find some of the most delicious and pocket friendly meals to be in the category of "B-Q gourmet" or B-grade food. This includes but isn't limited to okonomiyaki (the savory pancake I mentioned earlier), takoyaki or flour-based balls filled with octopus and topped with a savory sauce, seaweed, bonito flakes and sometimes green onion and ramen. Kansai is particularly famous for takoyaki and for okonomiyaki the Kansai style is a less thick, straightforward preparation while the Hiroshima style has many more toppings. I always make sure to have both takoyaki and okonomyaki when I'm in Japan. These can also be fun to make at home for a dinner party. 

Vegetable and shrimp tempura

Vegetable and shrimp tempura

Noodle spot in Kobe

Noodle spot in Kobe

Takoyaki

Takoyaki

Pretty restaurant entryway in Kyoto

Pretty restaurant entryway in Kyoto

Pickled cucumbers for sale in Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Pickled cucumbers for sale in Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Kyoto

Kyoto

Shoji Bridge, Kyoto

Shoji Bridge, Kyoto

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A favorite of mine: grilled freshwater eel over rice

A favorite of mine: grilled freshwater eel over rice

Mochi (rice cake) at a vendor area before a temple

Mochi (rice cake) at a vendor area before a temple

I never feigned interest in visiting Suntory Distillery in my 20s when I visited then lived in Japan but after getting into whiskey and scotch and knowing how amazing Japanese whisky is, I decided it was best to finally visit it! If you take the train to or from Osaka and Kyoto you'll see the grand distillery in the foothills. The JR (Japan Railways) stop for the distillery is called Yamasaki and then its less than a 10 minute walk. According to my family friend the whole distillery used to be free for visitors to see. When you book a tour (https://whisky.suntory.com/en/na/distilleries/)  there's two types now, free and another for about $10. Don't make the same mistake I did. I'll have to go back just to see the whisky making process. 

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The building with the tasting counter, gift shop and whisky library is spacious and warm. The historical aspect of the company is fascinating. Whisky making, much like sake or other productions of alcohol requires clean water. So the location of the distillery is extremely important. The distillery is located between two mountains where three rivers meet thus having some of Japan's softest water. 

The founder, Shintaro Torii, invested his family fortune to create Suntory and wanted to make a whisky better than that of Scotland. He was determined to make a Japanese whisky. Established in 1923, the Yamasaki distillery was the first distillery for Suntory. The area surrounding the distillery is tranquil and green. I enjoyed a couple tastes while sitting outdoors. I highly recommend visiting Yamazaki if you visit Kansai. I bought a nice bottle of single malt whisky from the gift shop to add to 12 year Yamazaki. 

Whisky library

Whisky library

Left- Yamasaki 12 Year Right- Hakushu 12 year

Left- Yamasaki 12 Year Right- Hakushu 12 year

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To summarize, when in Kansai try sweets and green tea in Kyoto, walk through the Nishiki market in Kyoto, eat okonomiyaki and takoyaki in Osaka, get tempura anywhere and if you're wanting Western sweets get your fix in Kobe, try udon which is from nearby Shikoku island but Kansai has many great options and visit the Yamasaki distillery. 

 

 

 

Have you been to Japan? If not, are you eager to visit? Where was your favorite place in Japan?