Food and Wine-A Passion of Portugal
“I never beheld eaters and eateresses… lay about their food with greater intrepidity” this quote about the Portuguese people by a British writer, named William Beckford, encompasses how many writers describe the Portuguese people.
Other writers describe their favorite Portuguese foods and drinks not merely as “favorites” but as “obsessions”, “passions”, or even “manias”. This innate intensity of feeling is the same of every Portuguese person. A cup of coffee or a glass of wine can become that obsession. Any one of the several hundred dishes made with salt cod may well be described as a passion. And the Portuguese delight in rich sweets does indeed border on a mania.
Portugal is a country located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. It’s bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to west and south, and by Spain to the north and east. The largest city and capital of the country is Lisbon. Some of the main industries are: textiles and clothing. The most predominant religion in Portugal is Roman Catholic. They speak Portuguese, which is derived from Latin because of Roman and Lusitania settlers.
Portuguese cuisine is known for being robust and hearty. Because it is easy to prepare and is very simple, it is often referred to as peasant food. Some of the countries most popular dishes can be created in one large pot.
Breakfast is traditionally just a bread roll and coffee, but lunch is very large. It normally lasts up to two hours, and is served between noon and two o’clock, or one and three o’clock. Dinner is served late, around eight o’clock, with three courses, often including soup. The most common soup is caldo verde, with potato, shredded cabbage and chunks of sausage.
The Portuguese were the preeminent explorers of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. They helped map the globe and brought rare spices home for their people to enjoy. The Portuguese were among the first to experiment with cinnamon, pepper, cloves and nutmeg, modifying their native dishes to take advantage of these new flavors. Other common herbs and spices in Portuguese cooking are: parsley, hot chili powder, chili oil, cumin, rosemary, mint, oregano, bay leaf, saffron, fennel, coriander, paprika and of course garlic. All these spices and herbs reflect Portugal’s seafaring history and close proximity to Spain.
Wheat and corn breads are popular in Portugal, and bread is served with almost every meal. It’s not unusual to see a slice of bread used as a plate, and some of the most popular soups of Portugal use bread as a major ingredient.
Rich local cheeses, typically made with goat or ewe’s milk, are frequently served as hors d’oeuvres with crusty bread and fresh fruit. Although cheese is often used as an accompaniment to a meal, it is less commonly included within a dish.
Meat, often pork, is an essential ingredient in many Portuguese recipes and is served several different ways. In the north of the country, roast-suckling pig is popular, along with pork sausages called chouriço or linguiça. Chicken is also used frequently, and to a lesser degree, beef, turkey, veal, lamb, kid and rabbit. A national dish, cozido á portuguesa is a thick stew normally made with vegetables and various kinds of meat. Even some desserts make creative use of meats as thickeners, and fish dishes are often cooked in pork lard or topped with meat.
Portugal has a long coastline and a passion for seafood that includes tuna, sardines, swordfish, cod, sea perch, shrimp, crab, clams, octopus and eel. One critical piece of fish in Portugal is bacalhau, or salted dried cod. Said to be prepared 365 different ways, one for every day of the year, bacalhau is consumed at the rate of 100 pounds per person per year. Two dishes are particularly notable. Bacalhau á Gomes de Sá, essentially a casserole of cod, potatoes and onion, is considered perhaps Portugal’s greatest bacalhau recipe. The second is bacalhau á bras, scrambled eggs with salted cod, potatoes and onion. English fishermen gathered huge catches of cod off the grand banks of Newfoundland, salting and drying the fish for preservation. With little market for the cod in Great Britain, the English tried elsewhere and so began to barter with the Portuguese -red Portuguese wine for dried salted cod. The English called the wine Red Portugal. This early trade formed the basis for strong English-Portuguese ties and is known to this day, some 500 years later, as the Port Wine trade.
From the north to the south, the country is wealthy in good wines, apart from the unique Port and Madeira, there are more than one hundred different varieties of wine, ranging from table wines to special ones, all of them reflecting the individual character of their respective soil.
•Port: Port is a sweet fortified wine from Portugal’s upper Douro Valley; shipped from Porto, brandy is added to partially fermented grape juice, stopping fermentation and producing a strong sweet wine that is then matured for years.
•Madeira: The fortified drink known as Madeira comes from the small island of the same name that lies in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the vines were introduced into this island in the 15th century, the modern Madeira people drink today was only refined to its present state in the 18th century.
Sweets are so prized that they are sometimes offered as meals in of themselves for breakfast, lunch or as an afternoon snack. Cinnamon is a favorite flavoring in Portuguese desserts, typically in rice pudding, flan and caramel custards. Egg yolks and sugar are used liberally to make these sweet indulgences. Many of the country’s outstanding pastries were created by nuns in the 18th century, which they sold as means for income. A particularly delicious pastry is pastel de nata, a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon.
The Portuguese attitude toward food is simple and imaginative, traditional and inventive. They are people who express love, faith and friendship through their cooking. Portions are large, and guests are always welcome at the table. Indulging is encouraged, and if there are leftovers, so much the better; there will be another dish to make tomorrow.
This essay was written by my 16-year-old daughter for a cultural foods class. She was also required to present two Portuguese recipes that she prepared herself, a savory dish and a sweet one. Bacalhau a bras, which is an egg dish with salted cod and potatoes, was the savory dish and for the sweet, rice pudding.