A Lota love for Alvor

Every year since I was a child, I have been lucky enough to visit Portugal at least once a year. The Algarve to be precise and Alvor to be exact. I believe in each to their own and not everybody enjoys revisiting the same holiday destination but I love the inviting feeling of returning to a place that warms your heart and gives you peace. I have never heard anybody say they have not enjoyed a visit to the Algarve and Alvor is one of the jewels, I believe, on the coast. 

Like previously stated, I have been visiting since I was a teenager so I have experienced this sun trap pre and post ibs. Pre ibs, I divulged in my favourite pastel de nata, a true tragedy of being diary free. Walking past the little Custard tarts, knowing how amazing they are but unattainable to yourself. Tasting the delights, carefree in all the wonderful restaurants that cater for every taste bud and fancy. Enjoying endless ice creams by the pool and drinking my way through the cocktail menu to my hearts content. Unfortunately, Post ibs, eating and drinking on my annual holiday has been different but I am not going to state the obvious or repeat my previous moans. 

The one food type I adore is fish, I would eat fish morning, noon and night, if I could. Every type of shellfish and fish is not safe in that big wide ocean. Luckily, that is what Portugal does best – fish. The great news that I have learnt about fish too, is that it is perfect for sensitive stomachs and compliments my staple foods perfectly rice and potato. So as long as I don’t dice with something that is red on the fodmap (see my post about the FODMAP app). I am winning. Most restaurants in Alvor serve amazing dishes of fish and there isn’t really a restaurant that I have left feeling disappointed or reluctant to return. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lots of beautiful meat dishes out there but I am a fisherman’s friend when I visit my beloved Portugal. 

When you visit Portugal you MUST divulge in sardines among the other fresh fish on offer. Sardines are one of Portugal’s national dishes and in my opinion you won’t find better else where. Now my father in his younger years travelled around the world on boats so I have been lucky enough to have his guidance on fish and how to debone. Most people are put off by the bones in sardines but please don’t be. Once the head is off, cut down the middle to take the gut out and pull from the tail the bones fall off the fish in one swoop. If you are still dubious then just ask the friendly waiters to show or support you and off you go- you won’t be disappointed. 

For me though, there is one restaurant in Alvor that stands above the rest and my holiday isn’t complete till I have been.A Lota , it is at the bottom of the main strip of bars and restaurants in Alvor and the ocean is literally 10 steps from the front door so you know the fish is fresh. The welcome is warm here and service is of high quality which is hard to acquire in a busy restaurant. The menu here isn’t pages and pages ( which I prefer) but every item on the two page menu is delicious. Every meal that I have had in A  Lota, I have loved. My key dishes that o would recommend is the octopus coconut curry, seafood rice or literally any of the grilled fish that is on the menu. The waiter will come and show you the catches of the day and you can see how fresh the fish is. There is a warning though – the food is so delicious there may not be much conversation at the table between your family and friends. Apart from the odd mmm or phrase to persuade you to share a taste of your dish as everything just smells and looks so delicious.  

One advantage A Lota has, for the ibs fans out there, is the famous covert that is offered in many Portuguese restaurants. Unfortunately I have to turn down this starter ( which is painful when your hungry) when my table eagerly orders this popular starter. In this instance, I can join in- whoop. The bread is accompanied with rye bread – tick. Then the most beautiful olive paste, Pate and the most exquisite sardines, anchovies and tuna. Oh my, druel has literally just emerged from the side of my mouth as I write. It literally is the best covert and I know your saying, how would she know? She just said she is left out of eating coverts but everyone on my dinner table agrees and trust me, my brother and Dad are the prince and king of coverts. Heavenly starters do not stop there, the muscles, tuna tartar and the prawns (the best I have ever tasted) are a must to try. 

If you travel to Portugal, then you must hit Alvor and if you are lucky enough you must visit A Lota. 

Tip – Fish, potatoes and rice are an amazing staple diet for avoiding upset stomachs. 

Lesson – Pastry and custard are a no go for IBS. 

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Heaven sent FODMAP app … the start line for ibs recovery!

Irritable, is not a word I would of chosen when naming IBS. I often wonder if the person who did in fact choose the name for this illness, is a long sufferer of IBS. Due to it being definitely more problematic than a little bit irritable. Luckily, naming medical symptoms and illnesses is not my job. Due to opting out swiftly in A level biology classes (reading scientific vocabulary was my kryptonite).

Bad-tempered, tetchy, cantankerous are also not strong enough words to describe IBS – even though I am definitely these synonyms when I have an episode. Grouchy, is definitely a word when am wrapped up on the couch or in bed, bent in the fetal position, contemplating what day to day activities I have had to put on hold or fun activities because they didn’t facilitate enough emergency toilet breaks. Moody, when I’m finally freed from the toilet cell to return to my peers. Embarrassed that I have been missing for an abnormally long time in the bathroom because – well you know the score. Prickly, having to contemplate that yet again I will probably be cast as the unsociable one who has to leave early, not drink (adult juice of course) or skip on a special occasion as I just can’t force my bowels to play fair. 

Sorry if you feel I am stating the obvious, as I am sure you are reading this blog because it caught your eye as a long suffer of IBS or somebody close to you is a player in this fun game. As toilet activity isn’t really a topic that the fortunate want or need to talk about.So let’s leave all the negativity (a self confessed negative Nancy when it comes to my IBS) and focus on helpful advice and tips that I have discovered on my journey, living with IBS. 

Firstly, let me give you a quick insight to who I am. Just for the simple reason, you will know I am not a fraud. I am in my late 20’s, ok, I admit, the last year before the big 30 but I still like to keep people thinking I could be on the right side of 20. Throughout my 20’s I have suffered with symptoms of IBS and the last five years I have felt the full force of this wonderful gift. Now am not saying it’s the worst illness in the world and I know they’re illnesses and ailments that are a lot worse so please don’t fall into the trap of thinking am a woe is me person. I do realize that I am in good health and i am lucky. However, IBS can be a pain in the arse- excuse the pun. 

I have wound up in A&E and many a doctors waiting rooms. I have seen lots of doctors both in England and Dubai, yes I was a lucky expat. Over the past 5 years, I have spent days in hospitals with stomach pain. Wonderful doctors making me better but not really finding a reason for my severe pain and illness. Recently though, in Dubai, after lots of hard work from doctors,CT scans and a delightful colonoscopy I have been officially diagnosed with IBS. I have to be honest with you all and say it has been all positive since then!  Now that I know what am tackling, I follow a plan which sometimes hits snagging points and troubles but it’s a plan and it’s working. Hopefully my words will give you some advice and I can’t promise you will hail them as words of wisdom but you might read one bit of info that might save you from one near miss and run to the lavatory. Plus if am winging to a computer screen or talking to a machine, my poor partner and my families ears can have a rest. As am sure there is only so much IBS talk, one person can take. 

My first piece of advice is you must start to eliminated food and follow the FODMAP diet. I can’t lie to you and say it is easy – it’s not! However it’s a must if you want to start to end this vicious IBS circle or at least ease your problems. I automatically cut out dairy, which if we are honest isn’t that hard to do with all the milk substitutes nowadays. I also followed a FODMAP app which is easy to use as you type in the food and it colour codes if you should eat it or not; 

  • red is 100% no go
  • orange is eat in moderation 
  • green means eat as much as you like. 

This is difficult, especially if your quite strict on your food habits but it is a must if you want to beat the pain. I would recommend following the FODMAP diet for about three months and then you can slowly start introducing certain foods to work out your triggers. I cannot lie to you and lure you into the false pretence that I had this FODMAP diet down to a T and was a FODMAP intellect from the off set. It is all about trial and error and of course the heaven sent FODMAP app which was the best £3 I have ever spent! If God himself did not invent that app then i don’t know what godly creature did but I would  love to shake their hand, forget that, I want to snog their face off!