When I finished my degree in Economy, I was sure of one thing, that I wanted to return to Alentejo. So, when the opportunity of working as a consulting accountant for A Bolota came along, I said yes. In 2005 the restaurant was near closing, and I offered to buy it. It was a project that I couldn’t let die. A Bolota is over 30 years old! I used to come here with my parents on special occasions when I was a child, and I couldn’t bear the idea of seeing this place disappear.
A Bolota always stood out for being innovative. Thirty years ago, they followed advanced techniques learned from Madrid’s haute-cuisine and they would cook dishes that were quite bold at that time, like partridges with chocolate. These days we still have that mix of creative dishes with typical local cuisine like “migas com carne de alguidar” (a mash of bread, garlic, and meat), chickpea stew made in a “tarro” (a kind of cork vessel), “açorda” Alentejo style (soup of boiling broth poured over a slice of bread), dogfish soup (“sopa de cação). These are dishes we’re great at and that our customers love.
To those travelling in Alentejo who want to explore the region and see it from a different perspective, I invite you to come and visit a restaurant where you can still find someone who knows why the dish “cat migas” is called like that. When Alentejo was a forgotten part of the country, where a lot of the locals struggled economically, people would ask for a piece of salted cod fishtail at the grocery store to “feed the cats”. At home, they would boil that with day-old or week-old bread and make “migas”, mushier than usual, and seasoned them with a lot of coriander, garlic, and olive oil. That’s why they called them “cat migas”. Of course, today we want our clients to taste more than a hint of fish, so we cook them with the loin part of the salted codfish!
In the kitchen, I’m responsible for desserts. I always loved making them. My mother reminded me that, after graduating, I used to bake “sericaias” (a local flat sponge cake flavoured with cinnamon) and sell them.
Our story and mission
I was born and raised here in Terrugem and, although I lived in Alcântara (Lisbon) while I was in University, where I could walk to class every day, it was never my intention to settle in Lisbon. My then boyfriend, now my husband, is from Lisbon but I always wanted to return here.
Working at A Bolota meant, on the one hand, the possibility to settle in my hometown and on the other hand the chance to work in my field. I started working in the finance department of the restaurant. At the time, the company employed 25 people, and it was bigger. Little by little I moved on to the commercial department and began to take part in almost all areas of the business.
Thirty years ago, A Bolota was that kind of distinctive restaurant you only went to on special occasions!
It was tough for me to see the business on the verge of closing down. I’ve always known this place, and I saw it grow over time. They always did their own thing. Even today, we keep that spirit alive, we innovate a little, but we never forget our roots. On traditional dishes, we also try to stand out. For example, we serve something like “migas com carne de alguidar”, but we plate it in a way that’s pleasant to the eye.
When the recession hit we had to reduce our staff but that only makes us work closer like a family. We all do what needs to be done when the time comes. For example, I take over most of the desserts process, except plating. That’s Anabela’s responsibility because I don’t have as much patience for it as she has.
Success on both sides of the border
In Terrugem we are close to everything and away from all that’s not relevant. Of course, there are fewer cultural events but, we are a one hour and a half drive from Lisbon, and Évora or Elvas have some cultural activities as well. And even when Alentejo was a forgotten corner of the country, where everything got here slower, people were poor, but they would never starve. As long as there was bread, people would get by.
Being close to Campo Maior and having Badajoz (Spain) nearby is important for job opportunities and for the type of facilities we have access to. My quality of life here is higher than the one I’d have in Lisbon.
That’s why the cuisine in Alentejo is based on bread and fat, that’s how people survived for the day. The weather was always very harsh, and people tried to survive with as much joy and dignity as they could.
As a little girl, I grew up around “matanças” (a traditional way of slaughtering a pig that gathered families and friends). Today, access to meat is no longer an issue, but the “matança” is still a celebration and an excuse to see old friends. We usually gather around 30 or 40 people, and it’s always a fun weekend.
Terrugem is the village in the Elvas county with a higher number of young and highly qualified people. Considering my generation, 75 per cent of us have a University degree, and most of us returned here after graduating.