Food of PortugalGastronomy and Tradition
A moderate and healthy climate, a rich fishing coast, and smooth, protected valleys… Not surprising therefore that Portugal, wealthy in olive and wine, had already been grudgingly coveted by the Romans. In the 8th century, during the Moorish occupation and thanks to the techniques of irrigation, tree and garden culture developed considerably. Early in the 15th century, the Portuguese built their first caravel and sailed away to discover Madeira, the Azores Islands and Brasil. In 1498, Vasco da Gama discovered the maritime route leading to the valuable spices up to then treasured in the Far East.
The Portuguese will introduce coriander, pepper, ginger, curry, saffron and paprika in Europe. Thanks to the expansion of their overseas empire, they will also actually be the first European to dock in the Mollucas, in China, in Japan and in Ethiopia. They will bring back with them many other exotic products up to then unknown to Europe, such as rice and tea from the Orient, coffee and peanuts from Africa, and, of course, pineapples, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes from the New World.
A Paradise of Fish and Crustaceans
The neighbouring Atlantic Coast naturally lead to a sea product oriented-gastronomy. There is, however, a first and unavoidable dish that is part of the Portuguese everyday menu: soup. The most popular soup in Portugal is the "caldo verde", emerald green like the province of Minho where it was first conceived. It is definitely a must. The recipe is rather simple - green cabbage shredded in very thin strings and cooked in a light stock of potatoes and olive oil, spiced with a few slices of Portuguese pork sausage ("chouriço").
Woman making Chouriço
You will also enjoy the "cozido", the actual national dish, very similar to the Irish "beef and cabbage", and the tasty "caldeirada", prepared with the best fish in the country.
Nonetheless, let credit be placed where it is due: dried codfish, "bacalhau", finds its place of honour several times a week at every table. Traditionally, it is said that there are as many different ways to cook it (more or less sophisticated) as there are days in the year. Among other fishing specialities, you will relish the sole ("Iinguado"), the red mullet ("salmonete"), the swordfish ("peixe espada") and the conger eel ("eiroz"). And last but not least, one of the less expensive but more tasteful fish - the sardine ("sardinha"), an essential delicacy in the barbecues and outdoor celebrations throughout the whole country. Unless, of course, you prefer the succulent stuffed crabs, the excellent mussels ('mexilhões") or the Algarve clams cooked in the "cataplana" with sausage, bacon and herbs.
As far as freshwater fish is concerned, you can savour the lamprey ("lampreia") and the salmon ("salmão") from Minho, the exquisite trout ("truta") from the Serra da Estreia or from Madeira, or the shad ("savel") from the Tagus and the Douro rivers.
Meat, fowl and game: In the Kingdom of Fancy
In spite of the quality and wealth of their fish market, the Portuguese love meat and they cook it according to the most varied and flavourful recipes. The sautéed or grilled steak ("bife à Portuguesa"), very often cooked in a Port wine sauce, is served throughout the whole country. Just as popular is the kebab ("espetadas"), marinated in wine and garlic that add their special relish to the meat as it cooks. To the mutton ("carneiro") you will prefer the delicious kid ("cabrito") or the sucking lamb ("borrego"), either stewed ("ensopado") or marinated in spices and then baked.
Roast Kid (Goat)
Pork meat is also very popular. The pig enjoys the acorn and white truffles widely spread in the cork oak groves of the Alentejo. Do not miss the famous "carne de porco a alentejana", made with diced marinated pork meat with red peppers and clams or the roasted piglet ("Ieitão assado"), golden and crunchy as desired. The sausages are excellent and you can delight with the smoked ham ("presunto") and the smoked pork sausages like the "paio" and the "salpicão". For those who like tripe, the Portuguese have a dish that will totally seduce you! The "Tripas à moda do Porto" is a popular dish made of veal and chicken tripe, sausage, smoked ham, dried beans, onions, smoked pork sausage ("chouriço"), herbs and spices
In the fowl section, there is a dainty turkey ("peru"), the duck ("pato"), the partridge ("perdiz") and the pigeon, all of which each region prepares according to its own original recipes and local traditions.
Cheeses of Portugal
The most popular Portuguese cheese, the "Queijo da Serra", is a sheep cheese, made in the Serra da Estrela region, where the highest peak of Portugal is located. Its smooth consistency and delicate flavour are very much comparable to the best Bries. You must also taste the delicious creamy little cheeses of Azeitão, especially popular in the spring. And rejoice in flavouring the "Serpa" from the Alentejo, sweet and unctuous when it is fresh, and stronger and dryer after one or two years of aging in a cool environment. Unless you prefer the "cabreiro", a strong goat cheese, or the "Queijo da Ilha", an extraordinary cheese from the Azores Islands that is also used grated (like parmesan) in numerous regional dishes.
The Desserts: Eggs, Sugar and Fantasy!
Portuguese people have an incredible sweet tooth! Their specialities include a least two hundred different types of pastries. This national taste to sweets seems to have originated during the Moorish occupation; and in the 15th century there was the sugar cane planted in Madeira. Later on, in the 17th and 18th century, the convents became famous for their pastries, as can be told by the allusive (!) names of their specialities: "toucinho do céu" - heaven's lard, or "barriga de freiras" - nun's belly. The best among the egg paste pastries are the "ovos moles", originally from Aveiro. They play a major role in Portuguese pastrymaking, and you can find them in little shells, complementing tarts and pies or decorating cakes: sometimes these are sprinkled with cinnamon or with grated walnut or almond.
In this Portuguese paradise of daintiness, all you have to do is let yourself be carried away by the endwise varieties of "pão de ló" (light sponge cake), by the delicious "palha Abrantes" (golden thin strings of egg yolk based paste), by the rich "pastéis de nata" of Belém, by the marvellous almond paste (marzipan) of the Algarve, or yet by the "pão de rala" of Évora, made of white pumpkin candy wrapped in almond paste.
Do you prefer fruits? Well, if that is the case, here you will find sweet and flavourful canteloupe and grapes, pineapple from the Azores, juicy oranges from the Algarve or bananas from Madeira. If you are searching for exoticism, you can also try the mangoes, the acid passion fruit or succulent soursop.
The Wines of Portugal:
With an alcohol content of 19 through 22 percent, this wine is subject to very strict production regulations, and it is classified according to the grape crops, the sugar content, the amount of added alcohol, the age and the type of wood of the barrels used in the aging process.
Port Wine Cellar in Porto
From the North to the South, the country is wealthy in good wines and, apart from the unique Port and Madeira, there are more than one hundred different varieties of wines, ranging from table wines to special ones, all of them reflecting the individual character of their respective soil.
"Tinto" (red) - It is a young wine, rich in colour and sweet.
Tinto aloirado" (rubis colour) - It has aged for a few years, has a golden red colour, equally sweet and with a strong fruity bouquet.
"Aloirado" (golden colour) - It is an older wine, the result of the combination of several special wines: it has a hot topaz colour: semi dry and sweet: it can be of very first quality.
"Aloirado claro" (lighter golden) - This is a wine which has reached the last stage of the aging process in barrels. It has reached the peak of its career: aged golden colour. These are the more common types of wine, but there are also numerous varieties of white Port Wine, especially within the dry and extra dry sector. The Port wine Institute assures the authenticity of any Port wine, whether it proceeds from a blend of several crops, or whether it is a vintage, a reserve, or a 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old Port. The Institute provides certificates of origin to all exported Ports and warranty seals to all Port wines bottled in Portugal.
Sweet and mellow ("Malvasia"), dry and austere ("Sercial"), sombre and semi-dry ("Verdelho") or semi-dry, rich and full ("Boal"): all the varieties of this wine have a refined fruity bouquet that you will relish as a dessert or as an appetiser.
It is a light bubbling wine, hardly sweetened and with a low alcoholic content (appr. 10 %); you will find it sometimes refreshing and other times warm; the white Vinho Verde is the perfect companion for seafood, fish and liver pate.
The fruity are wines of excellent quality, with strong colours and very y relishes. The white wines are also served with fish and liver pate. The red ones are served with game, fow1 and strong cheeses.
They have an alcoholic content ca. 11-13 percent, and have a fine and velvety flavour. The red ones have a beautiful ruby colour, and can be harmoniously combined with game, spicy meat and cheese. The white ones are light, with a citrus tone, and are usually served with game, grilled meat and the strong cheeses of the region. The white wines are refined and aromatic.
The most famous vineyards of the Alentejo region are those of Borba, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Vidigueira, Cuba and Alvito. The white wine production is more Important than that of red wine. Nevertheless, both types are ideal companions for the delicious regional specialities.
The red wines are a perfect complement to game and red meat, whereas the white should be served chilled with fish, pasta and powerful cheeses.
Very acid when young, and dry after aging; they should be served with not very spiced fish.
The "moscatel" grape is grown in this region. The wine produced from such grape is smooth and perfumed, like honey, when it is five years old, or richer and even more subtle after reaching twenty five years of aging. It is to be served as a dessert wine.
These wines are light, velvety, fruity and not very full-bodied; its alcoholic content is higher than 13 percent. The red wines are served with grilled meat and codfish. The white ones are the perfect appetiser.
At the end of a meal, do not miss the hot burning 'bagaço" (distilled liquor) or the local liqueurs, such as the "amarguinha" (made from sour almonds). And do note that the bottle corks are of the finest quality. Two thirds of the cork used world-wide comes from Portugal: it is the cork that conceals the mystery surrounding the best special wines in the whole world.