Olhão Seafood Festival to offer “vegetarian options”

For the first time in its decades-old history, the Olhão Seafood Festival is due to offer “vegetarian options” this year.

As its name indicates, the hugely popular gastronomic event has gained its reputation for serving the freshest versions of some of the Algarve’s most beloved seafood dishes.

But some people believe it is time that the event should open itself up to a larger audience – in this case, vegetarians.

Alexandre Pereira, a member of the municipal assembly for People, Animals and Nature (PAN), has announced that his proposal to begin serving vegetarian meals at the festival has been welcomed by the local council.

“It was with pleasure, but I confess also surprise, that I heard António Pina (Olhão mayor) accepting my proposal,” Pereira said in a statement to the press, before explaining the logic behind his idea.

Alexandre Pereira
Alexandre Pereira

“I know that the name of the event is Seafood Festival, but I also know that after 34 editions the festival is today the best known and most visited event in Olhão. In that sense, and to open up the selection of choices and give an opportunity to those who follow a vegetarian diet, I wanted to pitch the idea of offering, inside the festival’s venue, food options without products of animal origin,” he said.

Typical Algarvian dishes such as ‘xerém’ (corn porridge) are usually served and made with seafood, but according to the PAN representative, “the secret of a good xerém is the stock.”

“With the right vegetables and spices, we can make a vegetable xerém that is worthy of a Michelin star,” he said, adding that other vegetarian options include ‘peixinhos da horta’ (a kind of green bean tempura) or a vegetarian ‘cataplana’ (a stew cooked in a clam-shaped pot).

“In the vast majority of typical Portuguese dishes, it is not the flavour of animal products that stands out; spices and condiments, vegetables and herbs are what create an impact in the recipe and led to combinations which are etched in our memories,” Pereira added.

PAN adds that António Pina answered that while the goal is to not stray too far from the event’s concept, the current administration is “available to move forward with the inclusion of alternatives to seafood”.

Alexandre Pereira also said that this is a way of tackling the “growing pressure” on the Ria Formosa and its ecosystems.

“This change cannot happen by imposition or obligation, but by increasing the variety of choices and options in terms of lifestyles,” he said.

“There are more and more people worried about the degradation of natural ecosystems with the pressure and ecological footprint that we cause on the plant, who adopt more sustainable behaviours and ways of living, in which what they eat represents a turning point,” Pereira added.

“We know that vegetarianism or veganism are subject to some stereotypes and prejudice, especially for challenging cultural patterns which were built thousands of years ago. But I believe that society is slowly changing and that we have people who are more aware and educated.”

By Michael Bruxo
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