About 150 years ago, the fishermen of Vieira de Leiria, and later from further North, began to migrate south, fleeing the wild seas of winters in search of sustenance in the calm waters of the Tagus, which abounded in species such as shad, eel and lamprey. Many began to live on the riverbanks, often sleeping on the boats, and gradually began building small houses. These “river nomads”, as Alves Redol called them, thus created villages, with houses built on pillars and painted in bright colours. In the 1980s there were over 80 of these “Avieiras” villages on the River Tagus. Today, only a few remain.

In one of these villages, the village of Palhota, we recorded this recipe for Eel Stew. The fado singer Zé Miguel Amador, known in this part of the country as the “Little man of fado”, says that there were a lot of eels in the Tagus at that time and the eel was worth next to nothing at the fish market, obliging the fishermen to make use of the eel as food, thus creating a dish made from leftovers, also using stale bread and moira (cooked grease crushed with vinegar, salt and a little broth).

The eel begins its migratory cycle in the Sargasso Sea, off the cost of Bermuda, where the adult females lay their eggs. The larvae then go on a journey of growth as far as the coasts of Europe and North Africa, where they swim up river estuaries, invading everything that can be considered streams, rivers and lakes, and only then becoming eels. That’s why eel recipes can be found in Portugal from north to south.

Tiago Pereira