OBRI­GADO, POR­TU­GAL

Gwynne Con­lyn con­sid­ers the culi­nary ties that bind the Por­tuguese com­mu­nity all over the world, and in SA specif­i­cally

Financial Mail - - LIFE -

Ev­ery week­end in Por­tu­gal there’s a fes­ti­val that cel­e­brates saints — and along with them, al­ways, food. Cui­sine has ce­les­tial-sized sig­nif­i­cance in that cor­ner of the Ibe­rian penin­sula.

SA’S doyenne of Por­tuguese cook­ing, au­thor of sev­eral cook­ery books and con­sul­tant for many years to the Nando’s group of res­tau­rants, Mimi Jardim, says: “For in­stance, ba­cal­hau is so im­por­tant in Por­tu­gal — and to the lo­cal Por­tuguese com­mu­nity — that there’s even a Ba­cal­hau Academy in Jo­han­nes­burg, now in its 50th year, which meets on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.” No sur­prise then, that this salted, dried cod dish goes by the nick­name of Fiel Amigo (loyal friend).

As far as the SA Por­tuguese com­mu­nity goes, a large num­ber of im­mi­grants came from the is­land of Madeira (an au­tonomous re­gion of Por­tu­gal), look­ing for work. Men who were mainly farm­ers be­came mi­grant work­ers in the fish in­dus­try and many worked in SA ports.

Their at­ti­tude to hard work is solidly en­trenched in John Morte’s psy­che. He is the charis­matic owner of the award-win­ning Impala Meat Cen­tre in North­cliff, Jo­han­nes­burg.

“My fore­fa­thers had to go to mar­ket at 4am six days a week to buy stock. There was noth­ing lucky about their suc­cess. It was all due to hard work.

“My fa­ther was in re­tail. Be­fore I could even see over a coun­ter­top, I was be­hind it. If we didn’t have sport on week­ends, we’d have to go help in the fam­ily shop. I was the un­paid counter hand and till op­er­a­tor. The Por­tuguese are fo­cused on keep­ing the ball rolling. It’s a sur­vival thing.

“Our fore­fa­thers were will­ing to do what oth­ers wouldn’t: stand in a fish and chips shop from four in the morn­ing to 11 at night. And do that seven days a week for 10 or 20 years.

“Our grand­par­ents were sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies back home and worked in SA un­til they had enough money to bring their fam­i­lies here. They opened shops, started to trade, and saved money in or­der to do so.”

The Por­tuguese first ar­rived in SA in large num­bers in the 1920s. By 1938 the com­mu­nity was flour­ish­ing, though the largest in­flux was in the 1950s.

Morte’s butch­ery is fa­mous for its pro­duce. Its con­tem­po­rary in­te­rior and fridges stacked with trendy wagyu beef steaks have not re­placed tra­di­tional solid ser­vice and goods. Homemade peri-peri bast­ing, chicken livers — you’ll find them there. “We Por­tuguese peo­ple love meat, es­pe­cially pork,” he laughs, “and we be­lieve whole-heart­edly in the head-to-tail use of the an­i­mal.”

This “head to tail” cook­ing means you use ev­ery­thing; prime cuts for the best dishes, then the trim­mings for chorizo, for in­stance and black sausages. “We also cure a lot of our meats.”

In ru­ral ar­eas fam­i­lies keep pigs and chick­ens and grow veg­eta­bles, no mat­ter how small their gar­dens. Taken that ev­ery part of the an­i­mal is used, meats like the spicy chorizo sausages are cured and hung in fire­places to dry out.

I visit one of my favourite Por­tuguese res­tau­rants, 1920, in an unas­sum­ing shop­ping cen­tre in Fern­dale, Jo­han­nes­burg, look­ing for a plate of caldo verde (lit­er­ally green soup) — the go-to starter among many Por­tuguese din­ers. When it ar­rives the soup is the green­est I’ve seen any­where. Jardim tells me her se­cret is to add the steamed kale at the end so as to not over­cook it and to use — al­ways — Por­tuguese olive oil, a small pool of it driz­zled over the soup just be­fore serv­ing.

The menu also fea­tures amêi­joas (clams braised in white port and tomato), much-loved prawn ris­soles and lu­las (cala­mari). The Por­tuguese cook hun­dreds of their favourite fish

The Por­tuguese first ar­rived in SA in large num­bers in the 1920s. By 1938 the com­mu­nity was flour­ish­ing, though the largest in­flux was in the 1950s

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