We've become quite adept at tracking down eating house curiosities further afield over the years but we rarely look over into the next valley to see what might be on offer there. We recently corrected that oversight. Technically, we should be able to see this place from the roof of our parish church, though I doubt they'd let us up there just to do that. Like so many places hereabouts, the name they call themselves for publicity purposes (if they even bother, that is) is not the same as that posted over the door, and what the locals call it is something different again. On paper it's called Aninhas do Mota but, well, who believes what they read these days?

It was close yet remote. There were no signs from the road, just gritty tracks leading up steep hills, but lots of cars parked haphazardly along one of them - all over it, even – gave the game away. The ravenous eaters were obviously far too keen to get noshing to spend precious seconds parking in any coherent way. It seemed packed, so we were glad we'd booked. Being a warm day, they had dragged all sorts of make-do furniture out onto the dusty road and into a field for people to sit at and stuff their faces. We had a table inside. Very inside. Right next to the door that led to the kitchen.

To claim that the room was basic would be to overstate its qualities. It aspired to be a storeroom with tables in it. These were not people who were going to waste time and money on inessentials, like paint and floorboards; they were going to concentrate on the quality of the home cooked food, weren’t they? We crossed our fingers and hoped that was so.

The storeroom was lined with untreated concrete and the ceiling was low. This caused the surfaces to reflect even the whisper of a fly as it rubbed its proboscis together. There were quite a few flies testing this. You might say the place was buzzy. Imagine, then, what those surfaces did to the voice of the woman on the next table who was obviously practicing for the village shouting match. Her companions raised their game to try to match hers. Luckily, the obligatory TV was turned to silent, but even the garish images from some horror show (the news, I believe) bounced noisily off the sharp surfaces.

Serious food

On offer was, gratifyingly, that great minhoto dish, Cozido à Portuguesa, so say no more and bring us a bucket of that. For those who aren't sure, cozido is rather like the Italian bollito misto or even the French pot-au-feu – though nothing like as sophisticated. Essentially it is (and those of delicate sensibilities should look away now) large chunks of fresh pork and beef, and perhaps chicken, boiled for hours with pig’s ears and belly, chouriço, salpicão, morcela, penca cabbage, carrots and spuds. It is not to be taken lightly and it will not help you to become lighter. This is serious food and these people took it seriously, even if they didn’t care a damn if we were eating in a storeroom.

The kitchen door opened and a woman in cook’s clothes popped her head out. ‘You people having cozido?’ We nodded, wiping away the saliva of expectation. She reached out of the kitchen to hand the food directly onto the table. No need for the middleman. She left the door open, so it felt like we were eating in the kitchen. This was more like it.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Fitch O´Connell;

The portion for two, of course, would have been enough for an average bus load of tourists, (not that any tourists would ever find this place) but we were not daunted. After much solid and determined work, all that was left were a few floating leaves of penca, the fatty bits of skin that neither of us could quite face and a piece of animal that we couldn't put a name to. Nevertheless, both the husband and wife team were concerned in case we'd not eaten enough. We reassured them we were well filled or, as the missus likes to say, well fed up. They didn’t look convinced.

Ancient history

Having paid tuppence ha’penny for this peasants’ feast, we went to find the ancient history of this neighbouring parish. We’d learned that Neolithic remains had been unearthed just around the corner at Pisão and we ended up down a rapidly diminishing track which looked across a deep, narrow valley. I wasn’t going to take the car any further and after a little walk, we came across an ancient woman walking up the hill towards us. Those of us who know can cross over the bridge down there, she said mysteriously. She looked at us and shook her head. We weren’t in the know. We weren’t local, you see. Yes, we are, we protested, pointing at the spire of our village church on the other side of the valley. She shook her head. That's over there. This is here. It felt as if in our quest to root about in the ancient past of the area, we had accidentally gone back in time. There must be a time portal somewhere between what passes for the main road and Pisão. She remained standing in the middle of the track, clearly some kind of guardian. We turned back up the hill, still carrying a large portion of the cozido with us.


Fitch is a retired teacher trainer and academic writer who has lived in northern Portugal for over 30 years. Author of 'Rice & Chips', irreverent glimpses into Portugal, and other books.

Fitch O'Connell