Do you ever go for a walk in the countryside and marvel at the universe of beautiful plants and flowers that, especially in springtime, are always shining up in spectacular constellations below your feet? The same familiar faces pop up every year and while you might feel like you know them all quite well, when put on the spot you realize you haven’t got the foggiest what any of them actually are?
Well, don’t worry, me too. But a few weeks ago The Portugal News (or, at least, Kim and I) went for a little walk ‘into the wild’ with João Marreiros, owner of Loki restaurant in Portimão. João’s restaurant, named after the God of trickery in Norse mythology (and also, as it happens, João’s dog) has a fascinating concept.
You may remember that Kim wrote all about his restaurant a few weeks ago (which is still available on our website if you want to find out more), but basically all his produce is sourced locally from within 100 kilometres of his restaurant, which ensures the freshest ingredients. He makes everything from scratch (from butter to vinegar, soy sauce, flour for his bread, and even an ancient fish sauce the Romans used to make called garum). He then supplements his menu by going scuba diving, and yes, by going foraging.
Walking through the countryside surrounding Portimão with him was a completely eye-opening and frankly mind-blowing experience. Plants that I’m so used to seeing everywhere would suddenly be revealed to be wild carrot, for example, and João fearlessly tackled some dangerous-looking purple prickles, cutting them open and showing us how they were, in fact, artichokes. Every couple of steps there was a familiar face that was exposed to be something useful. This all quickly became a little overwhelming, and so João said “hang on a minute..” and promptly plucked some chamomile to calm our nerves.
But how did he learn all this? Well, from his grandmothers of course (as well as various friends and neighbours). Growing up in the abundantly green land of Monchique, João said he was always fascinated by mother nature and the traditions of the humble and hard-working people who live there. Whenever they talked, he listened. Consequently, he has a huge love for all the plant life that grows here with all their colours and flavours that he feels have infused into his blood and his soul (and indeed, are now infused in his cooking as well). As he grew up he also devoured books on the subject and nowadays, of course, he has the world wide web at his ‘greenfinger’-tips.
Now, just to be clear, you shouldn’t consider this as a guide and should only go foraging with someone, like João, who really knows their stuff.
However, we at The Portugal News thought it might be nice to do a little series called ‘Foraging with Loki’, and once a month have him pick his favourite plant that’s growing wild here and give us all a little bit more of an idea of what’s going on (on the ground) in the Algarve.
To kick things off, João has chosen sea thyme (Thymus camphoratus). The WILD thing about this wild plant is that it doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world, except on the wild west coast of Portugal. Traditionally used to flavour meat dishes (however, it is now in a state of conservation) it has a special place in Joãos heart and he would like to dedicate it to one of his grandmothers, Dionisia, who sadly passed away recently, but who lived her whole life in Arrifana. João says it has a complex, fresh and vibrant smell and gives everything an electric charge. It gives the characteristic smell of spring, and it flowers between March and July announcing the arrival of summer. The tireless dance of the bees and insects that buzz around it makes us think about how wonderful nature is and reminds him of the beautiful memories of his childhood.
Because João feels like it’s sometimes easier to see a plant’s features with a sketch, he managed to convince his artist friend, Tiago Rodrigues, to paint us a picture of the wild sea thyme - which he will hopefully continue to do for the rest of the plants in the series.