“It's called an assador de barro and it can either come in a plain, boat-shaped dish, or it can be in the shape of a pig. If you can get the pig, that would be best.”
It's our final day in the Algarve, we've just parked the car at the foot of the castle walls in Silves and there's a phone call from James at Inntravel. This has now become our mission, should we choose to accept it.
An assador de barro is, apparently, a small ceramic dish which is traditionally used in Portugal to cook chouriço at the table. You pour paraffin or white spirit into the body of the dish, then place slices of chouriço onto the narrow 'shelves' across its centre and light the paraffin to create something a bit akin to a Viking funeral for sausage. The marketing department at Inntravel have launched a competition as part of a campaign to promote their Algarve holidays and have decided that an assador de barro is the perfect prize for the winner. Now if they could only get their hands on one...
We climb the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, heading towards its impressive, 4th century Moorish fortress, popping into every tiny souvenir shop en route to scan for our pig but there's no sign. I can buy ceramic sardines by the bucket-load, they come in all shapes, sizes and patterns, but so far not a sniff of a pig. Leaving the castle ramparts, we descend the maze of streets towards the river, again calling into every souvenir and ceramics shop we can see but there's no pig to be found.
Leaving Silves, the next stop on our planned itinerary is Lagos, the closest town to our base in Odiáxere and the only place we haven't yet visited. A bustling town whose beaches, shops and restaurants attract locals and visitors alike, we feel sure its streets will yield our illusive pig, but we're wrong. Despite browsing every shop that could conceivably sell a piece of traditional Portuguese cookware, the closest we can find is a small, ornamental, boat-shaped assador de barro in a souvenir shop. Looking at it, I can imagine that any attempt to actually light it might result in a broken ornament and possibly a burning tablecloth into the bargain.
Mission failure is now looking inevitable as, not only do Marketing need the actual prize but they want a picture of it to go out in their newsletter the next day. I take a picture of the ornamental dish on the grounds that, if all else fails at least we'll have an image of a sort of assador de barro, even if it's not the actual prize. Feeling deflated, we head back to Quinta das Achadas empty handed and report our failed mission to Julio, our host, who promptly disappears into the kitchen and returns with two ceramic assadors de barro – one shaped like a boat, the other a pig. Filling the pig with paraffin, he then sets it alight to demonstrate how it works. It's a thing of wonder to behold.
The next morning Jack photographs both assadors and emails the image to Inntravel. Now they can send their newsletter and all we have to do is find our pig before we head to the UK in a week's time. Breathing space.
Back in Setúbal, we head to our local supermarket to stock up on essentials and there, amongst the pots, pans and casserole dishes, is an assador de barro in the shape of a pig. With grins the size of the Tagus estuary, we pop one into our basket triumphantly. The following week the pig is carefully swaddled in bubble wrap and placed in our hand luggage where, contrary to popular belief, it flies, all the way to the UK, and is ceremoniously handed over to the Marketing department.