On the Road

On The Road: An American Spin on a Portuguese Dish with African Roots

This saucy, spicy Portuguese American dish defies origin.

Published Jan. 10, 2022.

If it weren't for the large, chrome-plated “SAGRES” stenciled boldly against the beige brick exterior, you might mistake Sagres Restaurant for just another condo building in a residential neighborhood in Fall River, Massachusetts. But this restaurant has been an enduring bastion of Portuguese cuisine nestled among the homes, bakeries, and bars of this seaside town.

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In 1976, when Antonio Ferreira Da Silva purchased the restaurant, he catered to Fall River's Portuguese community, who came in the early 20th century to work in the textile mills. The Portuguese influence is still present at all levels of the community.

Antonio was a highly regarded chef in Portugal before immigrating to the United States after the Carnation Revolution of 1974. His two sons, Victor Da Silva and Manuel Ferreira, eventually joined their father at the restaurant. The brothers worked in the dining room until Antonio became too sick to carry on in the kitchen, at which point Manuel jumped in to learn the recipes. “He had to learn to cook. He had no choice,” Victor tells me in a very matter-of-fact tone. Victor took over the full range of front-of-the-house management responsibilities.

Victor says the octopus is the biggest seller, which comes as a surprise because I don't see it listed on the menu. “It's not on the menu, but we always have it,” he affirms. But it's the shrimp Mozambique that thrills me. It's a slightly Americanized version of Portugal's camarão alhinho—shrimp slow-cooked with garlic and olive oil and then kicked up with spicy piri-piri pepper sauce (cultivated in the former Portuguese colony in present-day Mozambique) and lemon. Everything is executed with simplicity and confidence and a heavy glug of extra-virgin olive oil.

Shrimp Mozambique

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In 2013, the restaurant suffered a major fire and closed for two years to rebuild. Its new incarnation is a little more fancy, with modern fixtures and white tablecloths, but at heart it's still the same neighborhood gathering place it's always been. For those unfamiliar with Portuguese flavors, Victor offers, “if you're open-minded, looking to expand your horizons, then I think you'll enjoy coming here. And you will like the food.”

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