The Corner Market

Light comes in through the clerestory windows clouded by decades of salt. It’s bright outside, but still shadowed and cool in the Mercado da Praia das Maçãs. The open marble slabs once held many vendors; in early May, still the quiet season, most lay bare except for those regulars we’ve come to know. 

It’s Friday, and the tradition remains for fish, whether it’s from the vestiges of Catholic practice, or just habit, so we sit and have a Sagres at Luis Dos Copos and watch people come and go. We’ll pick up chocos (cuttlefish) from our friends at Maria da Nazaré; Francisco and Diana welcomed us to town nearly three years ago, and we trust their family’s stand for its fresh bits both local and from the main fish market in Lisbon. We can pick up vegetables and charcoal from another stand, or cheese, or a grilled chicken. The market opens mostly in the mornings, some days during the week, on weekends, and more often in the summer–but always on Friday.

Our real weekend market habit began soon after we moved to this corner of Portugal, as we found most local markets–both open-air stands and small groceries–had fresher produce at reasonable prices than the big hipermercados (Jumbo, Continente) in “the city.” We only trek to those when we have to, for multipacks of toilet paper, pasta on sale, and bargain wines. Instead, we take a Saturday afternoon and spend it at the mercado da esquina (corner market) hugging the bend in the road (N375) near Almoçageme. When Gigi started crisping her pizzas in the food truck anchored there, we made it a lunch date: pizza, wine, then shopping. We have friends who sell there too: There’s Fernanda, who takes local cheese and smokes it, or covers it with herbs or pimenta, that you can try along with chouriço, morcela, and other saucisses. She loves pumpkins, so when we went back to the U.S. for Thanksgiving one year, we brought her fabric covered with the beloved abóboras. She used it to decorate her stand–and she made an apron from the rest.

Also along the row, there’s Maria de Esteve: Her name’s somewhat longer, but our tongues can’t yet twist around all the syllables. Pouco a pouco! Her fresh little sprigs of broccoli are an early spring favorite, then comes spinach, giant cabbages, and cherry tomatoes later in the year–all bounty from her garden plot–along with homemade jams and berries. Sometimes she has eggs too, or we’ll get them from the kind brothers who run a larger stand farther down the row. They always have local potatoes, onions of all sorts, fruits in season, avocados, and greens stacked high. When you see folks playing with their kids on the beach, it makes you feel good to buy food from them. We’ve bought herbs in pots from a couple who had a baby last summer, and the other bits from another family stand at the end–they keep more commercial produce that comes over from Spain and Morocco, and bridges the seasons to satisfy our need for things like fennel, year-round.

For our odds and ends we stop several times a week at the Atlántico in Colares–they not only have the Santa Catarina tuna I like from Açores, but they also have good prices on our staples: bread, milk, chocolate…and a talho (butcher) with the best quality carne picada (ground beef) around, and good fresh chickens. If we don’t feel like getting in the car, we walk down to see the twin brothers who run the Supermercado Camarão (literally, the Shrimp Market). They stuff an amazing amount into their little corner store, along with gift-y conservas and other treats.

For dinner tonight, we’ll grill the chocos, and have a farmer’s market quinoa salad to accompany them: I think I’ll throw in the following, though it changes with what’s in season:

Herbed cheese cut into small (1/2-inch) cubes

Smoked chouriço, cut into small (1/2-inch) cubes (both from Fernanda)

Fava beans, red onions, avocado (from the brothers’ farm stand)

Spinach or broccoli (from Maria de Esteve)

Chopped organic almonds (from the girls who sometimes sell them)

Fresh herbs from pots (from the young couple for whom we got the dog collar)

Fresh fennel, and other bits (from the family’s commercial stand at the end)

All tossed in a vinaigrette dressing with cooked red quinoa…what a treat!

Grilled Cuttlefish (Chocos Grelhados)

500g cleaned cuttlefish, ink discarded or reserved for other use

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

olive oil


cilantro leaves

salt and pepper

  1. Prepare a charcoal grill to medium hot temperature.
  2. Cut cuttlefish into rectangles approximately six inches in length. Score each deeply in a diamond pattern on one side, without cutting through.
  3. Mix spices together and pat onto on both sides of the cuttlefish, focusing more of the spice on the diamond-cut side.
  4. Brush with olive oil.
  5. Place directly on grill, cut side down for 3 minutes.
  6. Turn over, and let cook for an additional 3 minutes. Brush the surface with oil again and turn once more to finish off the glaze, for one minute, on a lower-heat portion of the grill. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. With 3 tablespoons olive oil, and juice of half a lime, and a handful of cilantro leaves, mix into a dressing. Place cuttlefish on bed of greens or salad as desired, and spoon over dressing.