As you maybe already got to know, from the previous posts, one of my favourite activities during travelling is trying local specialities. I love food and I enjoy new tastes at every possible occasion.
Currently, I am living in Portugal. During the last 3 months here, I had enough time to explore the magic of Portuguese cuisine. I tested many local dishes and drank many kinds of wine. If you love food and want to get to know more about the gastronomy of Portugal, continue reading.
The new tastes and the national dish
When in a new country, I always want to know what the locals eat as it is an essential part of every culture, what are the traditional dishes and what is a must to try. How is it in Portugal?
The national dish is bacalhau = codfish. Basically, every restaurant is offering it and you can find it prepared in many ways.
Very popular, and beloved among Portuguese are also grilled sardines.
The fact that Portuguese enjoy fresh seafood is not so surprising. What was a bit of a shock for me, though, are the mixes used for some of the dishes. This is actually very interesting and I think I have never experienced so “creative” combinations in any other European country so far.
Here are a few examples of meals mixing different tastes and unexpected ingredients I wouldn’t even dream of. I consider them very strange and specific. At the same time, I need to say that most of them are not too bad. So take the courage and give them a try. I think it is worth it.
It is a kind of a sandwich made with toast bread, ham, sausage and meat with a melted cheese on the top. It is poured by with a spicy tomato beer sauce and served with french fries. Sometimes you can find it crowned with a fried egg. This meal is typical thing for Porto where it has its origins. Therefore, once you are there, order it. Porto is not the only place where you can get it, but it can be difficult to find it that easily in other areas.
· Feijoada de marisco
This is a a mix of white beans and seafood, a meal typical for the coast part of the country. It is cooked with onion, garlic and bay leaf (such a Middle-european combination). Portuguese are also adding coriander to it (so Asian). When I heard about this dish for the first time I was shocked. I would never expect beans used in Portuguese cuisine and especially not in the combination with seafood. I like seafood and I like beans, so I decided to try it. And I have to say I was not disappointed.
· Favas Guisadas com Entrecosto
As I said, Portuguese like and use beans in their gastronomy. This dish is made of fava beans, spare ribs, sausage and it is sometimes served also with a poached egg. It is spiced up in a very similar way as the previously mentioned meal – with garlic, onion, bay leaf and the coriander. This meal looks very unattractive. I would call it 'Shrek's beans' since it is greenish and the beans have a very specific smell, stronger during the preparation phase (some would say they stink badly). I liked the fava beans very much, the dish itself a bit less than the one served with seafood because I am not such a fan of meat.
·Carne de porco à alentejana
It is yet another fascinating dish which combines pork and clams flavored by garlic, white wine, bay leaf and pickles. It has its origins in the southern Portugal it is served with fried potatoes. I need to admit that I didn’t enjoy this meal so much. The combination of clams and pork is not for me. The combined tastes of pork and pickles were too strong for me, killing the gentle taste of clams.
· Acorda de Mariscos
It is a very specific dish which is, to keep it short and simple, a seafood soup thicken with old bread. That makes the appearance very bad and not tempting at all. The taste is interesting but, to be completely honest, I still don't know what to think about it. I can't say I didn't like it but it didn't amaze me that much at the same time.
· Cozido à Portuguesa
It is a stew containing different kind of meat (chicken, beef, pork, various Portuguese sausages) and vegetables (carrots, potatoes, cabbage and turnips). This dish is very popular for the Carnival but you can find it on menus of many restaurants during the whole year. First, I didn’t believe it is one of the most typically Portuguese things. It reminded me so much of a Middle-european cuisine. My first thought was – cabbage, potatoes and turnips – sooo Polish! When I think about it I can see some pattern there… As I have already mentioned I am not enjoying meat so much. Nonetheless even I have to admit that one of the reason why to try this meal is the variety of sausages, and how they play together with the rest of tastes.
The last dish I would like to mention is probably the least strange combination of those I am mentioning. Bitoque consists of a grilled pork loin, fried egg, rice and french fries. It is a very popular food and you can find it easily on a lunch menu in many restaurants. It reminded me a bit of a fast food, done in a specific Portuguese way. My opinion it this case - good but nothing special. There is also the question of putting rice and french fries next to each other on one plate, which is still very confusing for me (I never eat the rice, just the fries).
A famous snack
If you are not so hungry, you can try bifana. It is a simple sandwich made from good bread and pork steak. Bifana tastes differently in every spot, depending on the seasoning of the meat. You can add a souse inside of the sandwich – people are usually adding mustard. The best bifana we had was in Fátima where it is prepared from a piglet meat.
Don’t forget about wine (or beer?)
Once you will be ordering your meal in a restaurant, don’t forget to have a wine with it. Portugal is famous for Porto wine but even when you go with an ordinary, house wine it is usually great. What is more, it is generally not expensive!
If you are not a fan of wine, you can try beer. Portugal is not a country famous for that alcohol. The most common are two brands – Sagres and Super Bock. For me, the taste of both of them is very similar. When I was ordering a beer for the first time here in Portugal, I laughed because the typical served amounts are 2 or 3 dl. For a person coming from the Czech Republic it is kind of a joke. Nonetheless I enjoy the Portuguese beer very much. It is not too bitter and I like its refreshing and not so heavy taste.
Coffee and pastel is a must
After every meal, a coffee is a must. Portuguese are caffeine addicts and you can see them drinking espresso couple of times per day. The drink here is of a very high quality, which is a national pride, and normally very strong.
After a meal, there come also deserts. The most favorite one is the famous pastel de nata – a delicious custard cake. Portuguese sweets are a chapter itself and I am definitely going to give them one of the future posts.
At the end, if you feel like something stronger, order ginga – a traditional cherry liqueur. It will warm you up and make you smile even wider.