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Percebes or Barnicles at Portugal


Percebes or Barnicles at Portugal

In search of ‘Lucifer’s fingers’

To understand why a restaurant charged me €100 for a plate of percebes – tube-shaped, gooseneck barnacles known in Portugal as ‘Lucifer’s fingers’ – I spent a day with the brave men who risk life and limb to harvest them from the country’s most south-western coastline, the Costa Vicentina.

Likened to the devil’s digits because of their thick, finger-like trunks and diamond-shaped ‘feet’ that are eerily similar to claws, percebes can only grow and multiply on rocks in the ocean intertidal zone (the area between the high and low water mark), where crashing waves feed them with plankton. They cannot be farmed, and the rough sea makes it notoriously dangerous for divers to harvest them. While gooseneck barnacles can be found in other parts of the world such as Canada, they are considered a rare delicacy in Spain and Portugal. (Credit: Tim E. White)


A day in the office

Because of the culinary and monetary riches these filter-feeding ‘truffles of the sea’ (as they are sometimes called locally) offer at market, divers make the most of any bout of milder weather to hunt for them.

“Even a bad day on the sea is better than a good day in the office,” said Fernando Damas (pictured), a percebes diver who quit his lucrative career as an industrial designer 19 years ago to dive for percebes full time. “The ocean is full of wonderful surprises.” (Credit: Tim E. White)


A dangerous business

On the Costa Vicentina, the saying goes: “Never turn your back on God when you dive for Lucifer’s fingers.” João Rosário, a commercial diver explains that, in this case, God refers to the might of the sea. “When you dive for percebes and you turn your back on the unpredictability of the ocean, you will most likely be injured or killed,” he said. “There are many cases of divers being knocked unconscious and drowning. The ‘lucky ones’ get away with breaking an arm or leg or suffering abrasions where the rocks cut through their wetsuits.” (Credit: Tim E. White)


Different schools of thought

Percebes can be reached by climbing down the cliffs or diving from a boat. There’s little consensus over which technique is the least dangerous. Those who climb down 100m cliffs by rope to chisel the barnacles off the cliff face at low tide run the risk of a fall or being crushed against rocks by the breaking waves. The alternative is to anchor a safe distance from the cliffs when the tide is slightly higher, and then swim towards the cliff face, timing each effort to chisel off the percebes to the rhythm of the ocean. (Credit: Tim E. White)


The necessity of teamwork

Percebes divers work in pairs for safety reasons, and you need to trust your partner with your life, said Damas, who has been diving with his younger diving partner Tiago Craca for more than six years. They make a perfect team, sharing decisions on when it is safe enough to go out to dive and when to call it a day. 

“He is half my age and has already saved my life,” Damas said. “That day, my head was full of other thoughts. You can’t be worrying about things – it’s dangerous if you lose focus. I did not see a large swell and my foot got stuck in a crevice. Luckily Tiago realised that I’d been underwater too long and came looking for me.” (Credit: Tim E. White)


A regulated industry

In Portugal, percebes hunting is highly regulated, and all diving activities are controlled from the town of Villa do Bispo (pictured), home to the Associacao Dos Marisqueiros Da Vila Do Bispo, Portugal’s percebes association. Only 80 diving licenses are issued each year, with most of the divers living here or in the nearby coastal town of Sagres. The local fish market in Sagres is the only place where divers are legally allowed to sell the barnacles to restaurant owners and suppliers. The daily harvest is restricted to 15kg per diver, with prices reaching between €30 and €60/kg depending on the quality and size of the percebes, according to Paulo Barata, president of the association. (Credit: Tim E. White)


‘Our ATM in the sea’

Despite strict regulations, the poaching of percebes remains rife; it’s a lucrative business and the marine police cannot patrol everywhere. It’s also a secretive business, and not even the licensed divers share where they have dived or plan to dive next because of the rarity of the delicacy.

One poacher at the fish market in the coastal town of Portimão, 55km east of Sagres, spoke his mind: “I don’t care about the rules. The Costa Vicentina belongs to the people – not the government. The percebes are our ATM in the sea. We have the right to withdraw our money.” (Credit: Tim E. White)



No cutlery required

It’s fair to ask what all the fuss is about; but tasting percebes more than answers the question. Imagine a lazy afternoon on a beach holiday: the sun is starting to set and a light breeze ushers in the scent of the ocean. That’s the taste of percebes.

And there’s only one way to eat the devil’s fingers – with your own fingers, said Sergio Meudes, manager at Marisqueira Azul restaurant in Lisbon, where percebes appear on the menu when available. You need to firmly grab hold of the colourful claw of the barnacle and then rip the fleshy meat from the rubbery neck. “The next part is easy – eat it!” he said. (Credit: Tim E. White)


Only one way to prepare

There’s an overwhelming consensus among the Portuguese that there’s only one way to cook percebes properly: in boiling salted water for no longer than it takes to say the Lord’s Prayer. “Even if you pray slowly, it should never take more than a minute,” said Adriano Lemes, Marisqueira Azul’s chef. “Then spoon it onto ice to terminate the cooking process. Don’t add any spices and especially not any sauce,” he stressed.

And don’t dare mention the fact that British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay once served percebes in a creamy sauce. The locals within earshot will throw their arms in the air and shout out sayings such as ‘falando como um verdadeiro idiota’, which is loosely translated as, “what an idiot!” (Credit: Tim E. White)


Article written by BBC Travel






If you're eating some barnacles at this restaurant and you think you've never eaten them so fresh in your life, that's quite possible. It is the owner himself, João Pedro, who picks them up on the local rocks. And, as you know, they grow there, and well, thanks to the choppy sea of the region. So choppy, incidentally, that is able to refresh with splashes who choose the balcony of the restaurant to enjoy the (excellent) seafood offer.

Adress: Piscina das Azenhas do Mar, Colares (Sintra)


Sea Food restaurant Azenhas do Mar


It will probably be the best restaurant in Estrada do Guincho - if we don't count Fortaleza, which plays in another championship. And it has this status by a set of factors. Beginning with the beautiful space, both inside and out, following the attentive and efficient service and ending with the raw material of very high quality, coming in many cases from the restaurant's own nurseries, located in the middle of the rocks surrounding the esplanade.

Adress: Estrada do Guincho (Cascais)




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Adress: Avenida Rei Humberto II de Itália, Boca do Inferno (Cascais)


restaurant-mar-do-inferno seafood


Great draft beer, great fresh fish and seafood, good seafood variety.

Adress: Rua Bartolomeu Dias, 120 (Belém), Lisboa

nunes-real-marisqueira-seafood restaurant


It is in an area where tourist restaurants rival in numbers with tuk tuk, but have never let themselves into the temptation of easy business. Therefore, it continues to focus on quality and serve the typical and boquia clams of Ria Formosa steamed in a coffee maker with garlic and coriander. Who does not like to have work to crabs, has here one of those places where it already comes all prepared, you just need to eat.

Adress: Praça dos Restauradores, 79, Lisboa


Pinoquio seafood restaurant


It is by many considered the best brewery in Lisbon, and the constant queues at the door, from 6pm onwards, give you at least good arguments to discuss the statute. Ramiro has qualities similar to those already listed elsewhere in this list - a raw material of exceptional quality and variety - but it adds a very effective and attentive service: barely a last drink in the imperial one soon arrives immediately at the table. It looks like magic.

Adress: Avenida Almirante Reis, 1H (Anjos), Lisboa


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He may not be so popular as his neighbor Ramiro, but on the other hand, he does not have the waiting lines either. And that is a very important advantage. Count on fresh seafood, well-brewed beer and a great "prego" - Beef sandwich.

Adress: Avenida Almirante Reis, 27B (Anjos), Lisboa


marisqueira-do-lis seafood restaurant


Best Seafood restaurants Porto and around


Best Seafood restaurants Porto and around

Tasquinha da Linda

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Adress: Doca das Marés A-10 (Viana do Castelo)

Tasquinha da Linda

A Cabana

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Adress: Avenida Marginal, Lugar de Cedovém, Apúlia (Esposende)


A cabana - Best sea food restaurant Porto

Praia Mar

In Caxinas, a land of fishermen, Praia Mar marks both the landscape - it is in a glass-fronted building, designed by Siza Vieira - as the stomach of all those who visit it. Not only for shellfish, of assured quality whatever the species or context, but also for fresh fish or even the black angus meat pieces.

Adress: Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, 58 (Vila do Conde)


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Few mens understand about fish and shellfish in this region as much as José Silva, the manager of Toupeirinho. It may not be the size of neighboring houses but it does miss anything else.

Adress: Rua do Godinho, 27 (Matosinhos)

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O gaveto

Anyone who has a habit of disregarding the small restaurants of this country should look at this classic. For over thirty years, fresh fish and seafood have been used in the "Gaveto". The showcases and the giant aquarium always filled with lobsters give the motto to a meal that can (and should) include shrimp from the coast and local barnacles, caught in the zone of Angeiras.

Adress: Rua Roberto Ivens, 826 (Matosinhos)

Best Seafood Porto - O Gaveto


The stew and the seafood rice are the most famous dishes of the Zizi but you do not have to force the digestive system to exercise. This is because seafood is never lacking (and quality) to cook at the dose. The esplanade, in the sand of the beach of Aguda, is the best space to enjoy the meal during this time.

Adress: Rua do Mar, Praia da Aguda (Vila Nova de Gaia)

Best Seafood Porto - Zizi