On a quiet street in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood, a green awning hangs out front of Pigmeu, giving the restaurant a bit of a French look. But inside, the nose-to-tail menu couldn’t be more Portuguese: As one might guess from the restaurant’s name (it’s a play on the words pig and meu, “mine” in Portuguese), the dishes feature pork and offal as well as seasonal vegetables.
Miguel Azevedo Peres is the mastermind and talent behind Pigmeu, which he opened in December 2014. Since his first kitchen job in 2007, Miguel has cooked at various restaurants in Lisbon, including Estrela da Bica, and for a time had the concession for the café at Museu do Chiado. But it was a desire to focus on sustainable meat consumption that led him to go in an entirely different direction with Pigmeu.
The chef is from Lisbon but his family comes from Bairrada, in central Portugal, an area known for its many suckling pig restaurants. This certainly influenced Miguel’s decision to open Pigmeu, but mostly he felt that pork was Portugal’s true – and often overlooked – staple. “We made salt cod into our big national ingredient but it doesn’t make sense, it’s not even from here,” he tells us. “I think pork is actually the most widely consumed ingredient [in the country]. Also we have three indigenous breeds: bísaro [in the northeast], malhado de Alcobaça [in central/west Portugal] and alentejano [the black pigs from Alentejo in the south].”
The pork at Pigmeu comes from Herdade do Freixo do Meio, the oldest organic farm in Portugal and one of the most prominent, located near Montemor-o-Novo, slightly east of Lisbon. Sustainability is the focus at this farm, where ethical production is coupled with social engagement and natural conservation. They raise the alentejano breed, which are given free range and feast on acorns. “The animals are part of the montado [mountain] landscape and they have an important role in that territory, they help the trees and the land to regenerate,” Miguel explains.
When Miguel opened Pigmeu, Lisbon was heaving with burger joints. “We wanted to do something else, affordable meals using the animal from nose to tail and also the leftovers and offal that are not consumed anymore,” he says.
The whole animal is sent to the restaurant from Freixo do Meio, and then Miguel and his staff butcher and prepare it for different dishes. They also source offal, including livers, testicles, brains and hearts, from other butchers.
One of his aims is to reduce the impact of our eating habits, specifically our meat consumption, on the environment. “We want [people] to eat better meat, with a positive impact on the environment, as well as vegetables that are seasonal and animals that are raised in an ethical way. We also want to cut down waste and show people how to do it. Perhaps if they see and taste it here, they might want to do that at home,” Miguel explains.
“We want [people] to eat better meat, with a positive impact on the environment, as well as vegetables that are seasonal and animals that are raised in an ethical way.”
The wines – many of them natural – are also carefully selected, and the bottles that line the walls reflect the relationships Miguel has built with his suppliers: “I have the privilege of knowing the people behind all of these [bottles] and behind the food that is in the pantry. It’s not something from an unknown origin, we know them and we know their ethics.”
Miguel, who often works closely with other chefs at events and special dinners, believes that his generation is more united. “We share with each other the good producers and sources we find whereas previously this wouldn’t happen. It’s actually better for the producer if more people have access to his produce,” he says.
Looking back, Miguel knows that Pigmeu is very different now from when it opened in 2014. “We were more like a sandwich place with some petiscos [snacks] but soon we realized people didn’t think of the restaurant as a place to get a meal,” he says.
Gradually he began to change the menu, adding more small plates and decreasing the number of sandwiches. Now, only their bifana (pork sandwich) remains, although it has become known as the porcalhona, which translates to something like “filthy” – it’s delightfully messy. Each component makes us go into adjective overload: the soft, velvety bread (made with fermented sweet potatoes), the abundant sauce (made with a stock simmered for four days with pork bones and vegetables) and the delicious meat (different cuts of pork, tender and succulent). The one danger, though, is that after eating this, you’ll never look at a traditional bifana the same way again.
The menu has also croquets, seasonal greens with chouriço, a brioche with pata negra ham, liver salad, and different petiscos adapted to include offal or black pork. The most unexpected of these snacks might be the scrambled eggs with brains, deceptively called ovos à Aníbal (Hannibal’s eggs).
Miguel was one of the first chefs to start takeaway and deliveries during the Covid-19 lockdown, first offering his dishes and later groceries, which eventually became the main business. “When we opened the grocery shop we thought we would be helping just the neighbors but it turned out to be a huge success,” he says, explaining how they provided organic vegetables and meat to customers in Campo de Ourique and beyond. “Because of this we were able to exit the lockdown without any debts.”
Due to the circumstances, they have only resumed the dinner service – lunch is not available at the moment. But it’s possible to stop by in the afternoon for a petisco and a glass of wine, since they open their doors for the night at 3:30 p.m.
Miguel has halted the online grocery shop and deliveries for now, but a small selection of his favorite items can still be found in a corner of the restaurant, including pork, eggs and vegetables from Freixo do Meio. We’re glad to have them available, but we’re even happier that we can make our selection on a full stomach, after taking some inspiration from Miguel’s kitchen.
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