Week One: Portugal – Portuguese Food

Portugal Flag

Apparently, this is me relaxing under a palm tree in the Algarve with a cocktail. I have a pretty fierce tan but that drink looks very cool.

And we’re off! Our first destination – Portugal and a day of Portuguese Food. We’ve chosen at random from around 50 country flags that you can see on my About page. The mission – to create an authentic breakfast, lunch and dinner from a randomly chosen country every week. To try out new techniques, new flavours, new ingredients and new customs and do it all with an appropriate soundtrack.

I’ve been to Portugal several times, both to the north near the medieval capital Oporto and to the holiday haven of the Algarve. The food we ate there was rustic but generally delicious – grilled sea bass with chips, ubiquitous grilled sardines and big porky stews with sometimes identifiable bits of pig innards floating around. All served with a chilled bottle of Lancers wine that tastes great in the heat and salt of a beachside restaurant in Villamoura but absolutely crap if you try and bring it home to a grey, drizzly town in the South West of Britain.

Piri piri sauce

Quinta D’Avo piri piri sauce – the best kind

Some things don’t travel well… but then there’s frango piri piri, which you can find virtually everywhere in Portugal and, thanks to Nandos, at multiplexes throughout the UK. Not that I’m snotty about Nandos – it’s pretty good for a fast food joint. There was no way I would let a Portuguese meal go by without doing some kind of piri piri dish – it’s probably the best known Portuguese food in the rest of the world. I like the Nandos piri piri sauces but my favourite by far is Quinta D’Avo (http://quintadavo.com). It’s incredibly moreish, not too hot and balances hot, salty and sour flavours really nicely. That said, there was no way I would get the kids to eat it!

Half Portions?

One year, before a holiday close to the Douro valley, I took six weeks of Portuguese lessons at Lambeth College. Lots of people asked me why I was bothering for such a short time but I learned a few basics – bom dia, chamo me Derryck – that kind of thing. Not enough to persuade a beautiful Portuguese girl to marry me like Colin Firth in Love Actually but enough to keep things pleasant with the locals.

One of the first phrases that came up was how to order a “half portion” of something – uma meia dose. “Why the hell would I ever want to order a half portion of something?” I wondered – until I experienced the size of the meals in the rural village we were staying in. Gargantuan slabs of lamb or pork, mountains of rice AND beans and salad. I was even wondering how I would say a quarter portion. Portuguese food portions are a force to be reckoned with.

Meals generally started with soup – caldo verde, a tasty kale soup with chorizo and would be followed by these vast platters. We would never make it to dessert but everywhere would generally have a pudim flan, a kind of creme caramel and rice pudding on the menu.

IMG_9616Pass The Port

Port is an absolute must and I’ve got a very nice bottle of Warre’s 1977 – apparently a very good year – but really for a night in with the wife and kids it didn’t seem appropriate to neck a whole bottle of vintage port on my own. Although…

Keeping it lighter, I took advice from Nigel at Totnes Wines (http://www.totneswine.com/). He suggested a bottle of Taylors Chip Dry Port white port, with mint and soda. A spritzer by any other name but all the rage apparently and extremely refreshing, especially after the fourth or fifth glass at which point I became extremely refreshed and wasn’t really worried about the kids staying up past their bedtime.

Cod Almighty

There can be little doubt that the Portuguese love cod. No surprise really given their seafaring tradition. Long before Francis Drake established old Blighty’s nautical prowess, the Portuguese were roaming the oceans with impunity. Long before Colombus discovered America, Henry the Navigator was opening trade routes through West Africa, designing faster ships, rediscovering Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde islands, while also searching in vain for the mythical Prester John.

What is unusual is that despite having access to nearly 600 miles of Atlantic coastline and, one presumes, a vast number of fresh fish they tend to prefer their cod salted and dried. There are said to be 365 different ways to eat salt cod – bacalhau – and so deservedly it’s become the national dish.

A Bucket Of Vindaloo

As I’ve said, the Portuguese were off colonising the New World and the Far East while England was still in short trousers, empirically speaking, and Portuguese cuisine has influenced and been influenced by their colonies in Africa, India, the Far East and Brazil. Feijoada, a pork and bean stew, is the national dish of Brazil, for example, and chicken piri piri originates in Angola and Mozambique.

You may think that because chicken tikka masala might (or might not) have been invented in Glasgow, we Brits have got some kind of claim to be curry lovers but let’s not forget that it was Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese sailor, who discovered the sea route to India in 1498, paving the way for one of the greatest curry dishes of all time – the Vindaloo. The word itself is a contraction of Vin (wine) and Alho (garlic).

All very interesting but on with the dishes.

 

 

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