If we think about the Portuguese cuisine, the typical Mediterranean cuisine immediately comes to our mind. But in the reality it is not exactly like that. Portugal was for history and geographical position, on one side linked to the Mediterranean and on the other to the Atlantic ocean, cradle of many different civilisations and a place of passage for countless cultures, thus preserving over the years the many gastronomic influences that today constitute its identity in the gastronomy. If in the second century BC, the arrival of the Romans radically marked Portuguese food habits, introducing foods such as wheat, onion, garlic, olives (olive oil) throughout the peninsula, the Arabs, in the eighth century AD settled in the southern part of the peninsula, spreading new foods and influencing the techniques of food preparation and cultivation techniques. They introduced new irrigation systems that allowed to transform arid soils into hospitable places for almond trees, figs and citrus plants. Spices and new cooking techniques were introduced, one of which is still practiced in the south of the country, the Cataplana (cooking in a copper pot). In the fifteenth century the expansion of the empire led to the knowledge of new spices and condiments, such as coriander, saffron, ginger, pepper, parsley and nutmeg, and new products, such as tomato, potato, the pepper, the bean, the chili, the turkey and the avocado, coming from the New World. And it will be the era of the great journeys that will introduce the undisputed king of Portuguese gastronomy on the Lusitanian tables: the cod. Spread in its dried and salted variant, before being cooked, the cod needs to be immersed in water, ideally for three days, changing the water every 5-8 hours. At this point, after having rehydrated and having spread an intense odor in your kitchen, it will be ready to be cooked. Among the many recipes (one for each day of the year, according to tradition) there is the Baccalà a Gomes da Sà, a casserole with cod, potatoes, onion and hard-boiled eggs, and the Baccalà a Bras, which consists of eggs scrambled, cod, potatoes and onions. Cod is not missing even on Christmas Eve, when it is served boiled, with boiled potatoes, boiled eggs and savoy cabbage. And what remains is recycled on Christmas day in the traditional “old stuff” combined with vegetables, potatoes and boiled eggs, passed in a pan.
A first fundamental, then, in the Portuguese tradition are the soups, such as the Caldo Verde (Green broth), soup made from cabbage, with potatoes, containing a slice of Chouriço (sausage), the Caldeirada, a fish soup, tomato and potatoes, Canja de galinha, which is a chicken broth, and Açorda, a soup made of bread, garlic and coriander.
Finally, we cannot talk about Portuguese gastronomy without mentioning the “petiscos” (appetizers), the Portuguese equivalent of Spanish tapas. Among the many croquettes with cod, shrimp or meat, salads with tuna, fish roe, octopus and meia-desfeita (cod and chickpeas with onion and garlic) and in summer, the traditional caracóis (snails).
And if you only have time for a quick lunch, don’t miss the Portuguese street food: a bifana (sandwich with marinated pork, also served on the plate), also available in the version with beef (prego) and suckling pig (leitão) and, to accompany, a beer.
A gastronomy to be discovered therefore and, as the writer Eça de Queirós said: “The man puts a lot of his character and individuality in the kitchen as he does in art”