AVEIRO enguias fritas fried eels
"Fried eel and suckling pig must be eaten with the hands," Alcina Lopes insists.
90-something Alcina Lopes spends her days chitchatting with customers in her bistro, just 50m from the edge of Aveiro Lagoon in central Portugal. It may be humble, but Casa Alcina (r. da Bestida 1, Bunheiro; open 7.30am–10pm) is renowned for its luxurious if simple enguias fritas or fried eels. And the best person to cook them? Alcina, of course. The minute an order is placed she heads into the kitchen, ties on her apron, and prepares the elvers which are sitting in a bucket, lightly sprinkled with local salt. The little eel is traditionally pulled into a loop, by slitting the fish's throat and feeding the tail up thought the cut and then out the mouth. The eels are then carefully laid in a pan of boiling oil and not disturbed while they slowly brown and crisp, and then they are turned for the top-side to finish. As she stands over the hot stove Alcina describes the days when, as a 19-year-old, she worked alongside her parents. "I remember when the Second World War started," she says, "I was in Costa Nova with my father. We were selling pineapple. Suddenly there was a lot of activity. It seemed out of nowhere. Cars and lorries were on the move. There were planes in the normally quiet skies." These days Alcina's daughter-in-law works with her in the cafe, and at weekends her daughter will help out too. She sometimes eats at other restaurants, and her treat on those occasions is bacalhau dried salted cod. "I eat anything and everything, " Alcina says, "but meat only at home and bacalhau—any way will do—at a restaurant."
First published 2023