Does Portugal offer Gourmet food? Portuguese food is particular. Recently the controversial food critic for the times, Giles Coren, criticized the typical cuisine badly. He based his review on a one off experience in a London based Portuguese restaurant.
The country was in uproar as an attack on their food causes particularly strong emotions in Portugal.
Giles had his reasons, I’m sure. He didn’t understand the many nuances of Portuguese food. Had he understood what he was eating, he could have turned the review into what it was, a bad restaurant review.
Where it all starts
First of all it starts with the basic. The freshness of ingredients combined with subtle seasoning.
Going to the market in Portugal. You’ll notice people take their ingredients very serious. The first step to great food is meticulously analyze, inspect and compare the products.
Ingredients will generally be the best available and seasonal. Outside of the cities many still grow their own vegetables picked just before cooking. This healthy practice also guarantees tastes are at their best. A old habit that is gaining popularity in some restaurants and eco resorts.
Types of traditional dishes
Understanding the Portuguese Cuisine, its history and basis and how it differs from others.
The internationally most famous of the Portuguese dishes are grilled sardines and salted cod. Neither of these fishes are subtle in taste. Both can be prepared in various ways. Bacalhau or salted cod is used in hundreds of traditional recipes. In my opinion neither should be eaten to often.
Common dishes less known internationally are octopus, clams, shrimp, sea bass, dourada, goat meat and cheese, black pork, local cabbages and beans.
Comparison across Europe
The French kitchen in Comparison to the Portuguese
The modern French cuisine has undergone much modification over time. Typified by complexity it has richness and diversity. Like the Portuguese cuisine it was once regional, seasonal and simple.
Similar are the Processing of food such as cheeses, cured meats, dried fruits and other delicacies developed from the foods gathered during the summer to help survive the winter.
Southern European foods relations
French, Spanish and Italian cuisines came from similar backgrounds, Related by climate and travel inspired ideas and ingredients. Each country devloped through personal paths to create original dishes that vary from region to region. according to habits and circumstance.
Regional and local influences in Portuguese Gourmet
Due to Portugal’s many sub climates. Its proximity to sea and fast changing landscapes all contribute to a large selection of produce.
Rice is one of the products seldom expected as one of its crops. Cactus fruit, capsicum, citrus fruits, almonds, pistachio may be others.
Not all produce is as exotic as these and the cooler months and areas produce many more Northern vegetables with a heightened sweetness.
The Atlantic ocean has established Portugal as one of the main sea food countries in the world. Whereas its internal waters provide many unique sweet water fish and even more unique fish dishes.
As for meat goat, pork, beef and lamb are the more common.
Travel abroad has introduced newer flavors
Colonization and discovery travels helped introduce more exotic dishes and flavorings.
Modern innovation and the reinvention of traditional dishes is revolutionizing the Portuguese kitchen to current demands.
Typical Portuguese produce
Iberia produce the largest amount of citrus fruits in Europe. As a result many, are used in Portuguese dishes, mainly in the many desserts and pastries. read on below
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Hardly known as a cheese country, Portugal produces many cheeses from young cottage cheese style to ages and matured cheeses. In Portugal, cheeses are produced according to unique and old processes. These processes help produce unusual cheeses not comparable to those found abroad.
Portugal has its own label for high classified cheese. DOP cheeses like in France are well established and currently more than 80
As one of the main producers of Olive oil, its influence on food is very evident. Used for more or less everything, Portugal is also one of the largest consumers of olive oil.
Much as cheese, olive oil comes from local sources often with a limited supply. DOP versions are becoming ever more popular as oils are being refined and exploited in positive ways
As a result of the influence of the sun combined with the plentiful winter rains have given opportunity for unique cabbages. Couve Portuguese, Grelhos, Galaga are just a few of the most common. The Portuguese cabbages end to be more delicate and sweeter than Northern cabbages.
Portuguese Cabbage is commonly served as side dishes but also the main ingredient of many typical soups.
Beans and other leguminous vegetables
Widely used, leguminous vegetables have helped create many typically Portuguese dishes. Originally from the former colonies of Brazil, Macau, Angola, Mozambique and Goa (India) they are responsible for original twists that have become uniquely Portuguese.
Portuguese cuisine is based on a comparable history as the French, Spanish and Italian and is based on local regional food that differs very much from North to South, Inland to coast.
Gourmet food from the Algarve tends to be more adventurous in flavor. Maybe the Moorish and Spanish influences have helped play a part in this. The most famous Algarvian dish is the cataplana or fish stew. Cooked in its own copper pan it is a popular dish even locally.
Central Portugal’s menu
The “horta”, vegetable garden of Portugal concentrates in the fertile lands of the center of Portugal. Due to its more damp environment alternated with extended sun hours the land produces in abundance. In addition to its abundance, Its grassy, large valleys are the home of beef and its many internal waters the home of many unique fishes.
Migas and Magusto are 2 examples based on sturdy local bread and mixed with olive oil, garlic, beans and cabbage. Other ingredients added could be Bacalhau, Shrimp or Bacon. The resulting unique dish resembles risotto and is much loved in the region.
Found in this area Stewed eel and fried eel .
The North and Porto
Because the Northern districts have older roots in the Nordic countries, many Jewish influences and influences from the vast international trade that took place over the centuries based on their Port wines. They also went through much poverty over the centuries which has given rise to some very typical dishes, one being the famous Porto Tripas or tripe.
Bacalhau didn’t enter the Portuguese cuisine before the 17th century. Today its a much loved ingredient in the traditional kitchen
Introduced into Portugal from the colony of Goa, Piri Piri chicken spicy chicken
South America help bring Bean dishes such as Feijoada
As in other European, bread was made with sourdough, not yeast
You may not know that Portugal was the first location in Europe for grape cultivation and wine production
Not to forget Petiscos are Tapas Portugal has a large range of typically Portuguese tapas. Little delicacies enjoyed as a social food.
Tourist restaurants are not particularly good at serving Portuguese food. Therefore you could easily imagine that the Portuguese live off sardines and bacalhau, chips and rice, which is as true as claiming the Italians live of Pizza, the French like Brie and the Spanish only eat Paella.
The uniqueness of Portuguese food
To summarize Portuguese food: Freshness of ingredients come first. In second slow and elaborate cooking processes and thirdly traditionally intensive preparations.
There are influences from its former colonies and travel to its neighboring countries.
Its climate and landscapes which help produce a very large diversity of ingredients.
Modern Portuguese gourmet foods
Just like other European countries, Portugal is also going through a gourmet revolution. With thanks to Michelin starred chefs, modern innovation and young talents, traditions are being reinvented.
The newest modern tendencies in Gourmet cooking are exciting and refer back to older principles refined and updatd. Local ingredients and traditional cooking methods, freshness of produces and subtle flavoring are the best to describe the food.
All of this is what Giles didn’t understand and his analysis caused quite a commotion in Portugal.
For those who didn’t catch the The original article from Giles that inspired this one, it can only have been been written by someone who hasn’t yet really tasted Portuguese food. Tastes will always be personal but as much of it is winning prices everywhere it deserves some credit It was slightly rewritten since 2015 but still not correct The original article by Giles can be found here
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