While being related to the Mediterranean cuisine, the traditional Portuguese cuisine is dramatically influenced by the wide variety of spices used in cooking the specific dishes, a habit which has become a tradition ever since the colonial age, when Prince Henry the Navigator ordered his ships to bring back as many exotic fruits and vegetables from the New World as possible. As a matter of fact, if we keep this in mind, the Portuguese cuisine is one of the most influential cuisines in Europe – very few know that it was the Portuguese that brought and popularized the tomatoes and the potatoes, and even the tea, in Europe.
Nevertheless, the traditional Portuguese cuisine is best known for its fondness for ingredients such as piri-piri (very hot chili peppers) or black pepper, as well as cinnamon and saffron. One might say that the Portuguese are in love with these ingredients, as well as with olive oil, which they use for both flavoring and cooking.
Anyone can make an idea about the traditional Portuguese cuisine from their timetable. While breakfast consists only of coffee and bread (buttered or jammed, or with a slice of ham), lunch can last up to 2 hours, while dinner always begins after eight a clock – from this serious timetable anyone can see that the Portuguese mean business when food is involved.
Of course, the Portuguese cuisine varies across the country, but one can invariably find everywhere fresh fish and seafood. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the national dish is represented by the dried, salted cod, a specialty named “bacalhau”. This course has been around ever since the discovery age, when sailors caught the fish, salted it and dried it in order to make it last the long voyages between continents. As a matter of fact, there are 365 ways of making bacalhau: one way for each day of the year, to put it this way.
However, if tourists are not necessarily into fish or seafood, they can try another national specialty, a thick stew of vegetables and meat called “cozido a portuguesa”. In the north the roast suckling pig “leitão assado” is very popular, as well as “linguiça” and “chouriço”, the Portuguese sausages.
Traditional Portuguese specialties
Bacalhau, the Portuguese word for codfish, is deemed Portugal’s faithful friend, since – not once – this was the basis of the country’s economy. With a 500 years old recipe, bacalhau is the country’s major delicacy, being even more popular than any fresh fish on the market. Of course, over the centuries, the recipe has been improved, bacalhau becoming increasingly delicious as the time passed.
Even if the original recipe was considered the rich man’s stew, folks around the country quickly discovered a way of making a lower-priced cozido a portuguesa, while keeping the same delicious taste. In time, it became more and more obvious that this stew can have as many recipes as the number of the families in Portugal. Therefore, when it comes to making a stew with vegetables and as many types of meat as possible (pork, beef and chicken boiling in the same pot), the sky and the cook’s imagination are the limit.
Caldeirada is another traditional dish, and it is basically a stew with different varieties of fresh fish, seafood and vegetables. The secret of this dish seems to be the small amount of white wine and olive oil, and – of course – the spices used in cooking it. Piri-piri, black pepper, ginger, garlic, all combined to create an original flavor that can make this an even more appetizing experience. Caldeirada is best served with lightly toasted bread.
Tripas is yet another recipe that lasted across the centuries, its origins dating back to the 14th century, when the only available meat was tripe and internal organs. While for some people this can be a very difficult experience, they can take comfort in the fact this dish does not contain internal organs exclusively, but also white beans and various vegetables. Of course, the spices are a must, as it holds true with every traditional Portuguese dish.
Alcatra is a traditional dish that means expensive meat cut. However, it does not mean only that. This dish is especially popular in the Azores archipelago, where it is best known as being the meat that can be eaten without the use of a knife – alcatra is so tender that it melts in your mouth.
Whether red, white or “green”, wine is the traditional Portuguese drink. Introduced to the area by ancient civilizations, such as the Carthaginians and the Greeks, some might say that today’s Portuguese wine is the result of a centuries-old tradition. As a matter of fact, Portugal has been a major wine exporter since the Roman Empire.
The wine production is labeled by region, as it happens in every country in the world.
North Portugal is best known for the Duoro vineyards, which produce a very flavored, some might say meaty red wine.
However, Portugal is best known for its Port wine, a wine best served with desserts, which exudes a powerful flavor. This wine is obtained by adding brandy spirit before the fermentation ceases, a process which converts the sugar into alcohol. Despite featuring a very high alcohol content, the Port wine is still one of the best wines in the world. And, as said, it can be consumed with desserts. And it comes in both red and white.
Another well known wine specialty is the Madeira wine. While being essentially Port wine, an extra feature is added – the wine is heated at 50 degrees Celsius for about six months. It seems that this process stabilizes the wine, through the oxidation process.