As a guest in Aljezur you will sooner or later meet the “Batata doce de Aljezur”. The sweet potato of the Lira variety grown in the Aljezur area is unique. The European Union recognized the Batata doce de Aljezur in 2008 as a protected area and food item.
How and when the sweet potato was introduced to Aljezur is basically unknown. Legend has it that the ”Feijoada de batata doce de Aljezur” (the Aljezur sweet-potato bean stew) gave the Knights of the Order of St James of the Sword, led by Paio Peres Correia, the strength and speed to overrun the Moorish held castle of Aljezur in AD1249. Founding Aljezur in the tenth century, (it was then named Aljuzur/Arab meaning of Ilands) the Moors had of course no intention of giving up their stronghold castle on top of the hill. The knights, drinking a potion of sweet potato before each battle, mounted a surprise attack, stunned the Moorish and gained a victory that resulted in taking over the castle and throwing out the occupiers after almost 300 years.
Knowing that Columbus discovered the new world in 1492 and that the potato itself has its origins in Central and South America, it still is a great story and shows that Aljezur has more to offer than its beautiful beaches. According to Peruvian records, sweet potato dates back to 750 B.C.
The Portuguese explorers and traders introduced the batata and its sweet cousin to Portugal during the 17th century. With Aljezur, the sweet potato found a perfect place to grow and develop to a nutritious and tasty earth fruit. The climate of the Western Algarve and especially the combination of weather and soil created an elongated and pear shaped potato with purple or reddish brown skin and yellow flesh.
Today the Batata doce de Aljezur plays an important part in the local kitchen. Over the years it became a traditional food item, not only boiled or grilled, but used to create soups, desserts and cakes.
A well know dish of this region is “Batata doce com polvo”, sweet potato with octopus. A special flavor of Aljezur, combining the products of soil and sea, prepared in local Portuguese style.
Besides Aljezurs restaurants, the local shops, the daily mercado and Saturdays farmers market are your best bet to find cakes and other delicious pastries made from the sweet potato.