How Por­tu­gal im­pacted world foods, while Por­tuguese food was in­flu­enced by the wider world

Oi Vietnam - - Contents - Text and Im­ages by Zara Quiroga

How Por­tu­gal im­pacted world foods, while Por­tuguese food was in­flu­enced by the wider world

TRAV­EL­ING AROUND THE WORLD, I’ve re­al­ized how lit­tle is known about Por­tuguese food abroad. When peo­ple think about South­ern Euro­pean cuisines, Ital­ian and Span­ish are more likely to come to mind. As tourism to Por­tu­gal is in­creas­ing, things are slowly chang­ing. Por­tuguese food is fi­nally start­ing to get the recog­ni­tion it de­serves!

In the 15th cen­tury, af­ter peo­ple from Europe and the Mid­dle East had al­ready spread their in­flu­ence across Por­tu­gal, the Por­tuguese de­cided to go be­yond their bor­ders. Even though the Por­tuguese ex­plo­rations across the At­lantic are well known, it all started in the north­ern coast of Africa. Be­sides quench­ing their thirst for gold, it was in the African con­ti­nent when they came across black pep­per.

This is when the Por­tuguese started devel­op­ing their taste for spices. If by the be­gin­ning of the 15th cen­tury the Por­tuguese were exploring Africa, by 1498 they had reached In­dia and by 1500 they were al­ready in South Amer­ica. Be­tween colonies, trade posts and re­li­gious mis­sions, Lis­bon was now connected to Africa, South Amer­ica, the Mid­dle East and Asia.

The In­flu­ence of Por­tu­gal on World Cuisines

Chilies are widely as­so­ci­ated with Asian cuisines. For in­stance, it is im­pos­si­ble to pic­ture a steam­ing bowl of bun bo Hue, with­out the heat in­duced by the chilies. But it was only in the 16th cen­tury that Por­tuguese sailors brought chilies from Mex­ico to Asia. World foods as we now know them wouldn’t be the same with­out the ex­change of in­gre­di­ents that the Por­tuguese trade fa­cil­i­tated. When Por­tu­gal took over Goa, In­dia, they did so think­ing about its strate­gic lo­ca­tion for the spice route that they were ea­ger to dom­i­nate. This is when they in­tro­duced chilies, which In­di­ans started in­cor­po­rat­ing into their cook­ing. From here un­til the rest of Asia de­vel­oped a taste for these pow­er­ful pep­pers, it was just a mat­ter of time.

Be­yond chilies, Por­tu­gal was re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing some well- known`` in­gre­di­ents from the Amer­i­cas into Europe, Africa and Asia. The most widely used in­clude potatoes, ca­cao, toma­toes, beans, peanuts and corn. At the same time, the Por­tuguese took other prod­ucts to the Amer­i­cas, two of the most notable ones be­ing wheat and sugar, which changed the way lo­cals ate for­ever. Asia, on the other side, was the source of many of the spices that we now take for granted in the West, af­ter the Por­tuguese brought them in: cin­na­mon, gin­ger, car­damom and clove, amongst oth­ers.

In Por­tu­gal, folks en­joy a cup of cof­fee (from Ethiopia) af­ter ev­ery meal, and tea mostly when they’re feel­ing sick. Still, it was also by the hand of the Por­tuguese that tea (from China) be­came a com­mon bev­er­age in Europe. Even though it’d be easy to as­so­ciate the Bri­tish love for tea with their pres­ence in In­dia, drink­ing tea ac­tu­ally be­came fash­ion­able in

Bri­tain af­ter Cata­rina de Bra­gança, from the Por­tuguese no­bil­ity, got mar­ried to Charles II of Eng­land. Even though the East In­dia Com­pany was al­ready sell­ing

tea in Lon­don, Cata­rina pop­u­lar­ized the very Bri­tish habit of af­ter­noon tea.

Af­ter sev­eral cen­turies of food ex­changes all over the world, what were once upon a time new in­gre­di­ents are now so as­sim­i­lated that we tend to for­get about their ori­gins. Still, while trav­el­ing, I rem­i­nisce about the in­flu­ence that my coun­try has had on sev­eral cuisines around the world. Tem­pura, one of the stan­dard cook­ing tech­niques in Ja­pan, comes from Por­tu­gal, from the habit of bat­ter­ing and deep-fry­ing veg­eta­bles like green beans.

In any given In­dian restau­rant around the world, I come across vin­daloo, and I can’t help but think how this strong dish is the In­dian adap­ta­tion of Por­tuguese Carne

de Vinha D’al­hos (meat mar­i­nated with wine and gar­lic), which Goans adapted sub­sti­tut­ing the wine with vine­gar. In

Asia, it will be im­pos­si­ble for me to bite into an egg tart, with­out crav­ing a Pas­tel

de Belém, which is the orig­i­nal Por­tuguese cus­tard tart.

The Taste of Tra­di­tional Por­tuguese Food

Tra­di­tional Por­tuguese dishes re­sult from the ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion of Por­tu­gal, tucked be­tween the At­lantic Ocean and the Mediter­ranean Sea, with a no­tice­able in­flu­ence from the wider word, notable when it comes to the use of spices.

De­spite the im­pact that the Age of Dis­cov­er­ies had on Por­tuguese food, the main char­ac­ter­is­tic of most tra­di­tional Por­tuguese recipes is still sim­plic­ity. Sta­ples such as olives and olive oil, toma­toes, bread, var­i­ous meats and plenty of fresh seafood are pre­pared in ways that high­light the orig­i­nal fla­vor of the in­gre­di­ents, with­out dif­fus­ing them.

While the north of Por­tu­gal is more meat fo­cused, giv­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to pork, the south of the coun­try is more seafood ori­ented. Por­tu­gal has the high­est per capita con­sump­tion of fish in Europe, eaten mostly grilled (sar­dines, mack­erel, sea bass, sea bream, tuna from the Azores Is­lands, among oth­ers) and stewed.

Still, noth­ing says Por­tuguese food like

Ba­cal­hau, that is, salted cod fish. More than 365 prepa­ra­tions in­volv­ing salted cod are said to ex­ist, one for each day of the year. While ev­ery fam­ily vir­tu­ally has its own cod recipe, the most com­mon across the coun­try are Ba­cal­hau à Brás (shred­ded cod sautéed with string potatoes, onions and eggs), Ba­cal­hau à Gomes de Sá (cod fish casse­role) and Pastéis de Ba­cal­hau (cod frit­ters).

Back in the day, the heavy use of spices was seen as a sign of wealth. When these sea­son­ings be­came wide­spread and af­ford­able, their us­age started de­creas­ing. But if there are two spices that the Por­tuguese still can't live with­out, those are piri-piri from Africa, and cin­na­mon from Asia.

Piri-piri is used to condi­ment the fa­mous Por­tuguese char­coal grilled chicken, which has very lit­tle to do with Nando’s, the South African chain that pop­u­lar­ized this typ­i­cal Por­tuguese dish in­ter­na­tion­ally. In Por­tu­gal, where peo­ple would tra­di­tion­ally eat at home or sit­ting down at a restau­rant dur­ing spe­cial oc­ca­sions, Frango no Chur­rasco (grilled chicken) was for many years one of the few take-out food op­tions. Along with fried potatoes, and an ex­tra splash of peri-peri sauce for those who like is hot, it’s still one of the most beloved foods in the coun­try.

The most im­por­tant spice still be­ing used from the times of the Spice Route is un­doubt­edly cin­na­mon, used to fla­vor the vast range of Por­tuguese pas­tries and desserts. Por­tuguese sweets tend to be egg-based. About 500 years ago, many of the now typ­i­cal Por­tuguese sweets were in­vented by nuns and monks in con­vents. Those who had de­voted their life to re­li­gion, used egg whites to starch their clothes, leav­ing them with large amounts of egg yolks which they didn’t dis­card. In­stead, they de­vel­oped recipes in which they could use them, such as Leite Creme

(eggs cus­tard), Pudim Flan (eggs pud­ding) or Pudim Abade de Priscos (ba­con pud­ding). The fa­mous Pas­tel de Belém (widely known in Asia as Por­tuguese egg tart), is the most iconic pas­try in Por­tu­gal and, ar­guably, the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive Por­tuguese food in the in­ter­na­tional con­text. With­out a gen­er­ous sprin­kle of pow­dered cin­na­mon right be­fore bit­ing into it, Pastéis de Belém wouldn’t be the same!

Dig­ging into Por­tuguese cui­sine is one of the most in­ter­est­ing ways to get to know our coun­try. While I would def­i­nitely rec­om­mend an ex­tended ex­plo­ration, I know most trav­el­ers’ free time doesn’t match their ap­petite or de­sire for dis­cov­ery. This is why I al­ways rec­om­mend who­ever vis­its my coun­try to spend a solid amount of time in Lis­bon. Be­yond the pop­u­lar land­marks and pic­turesque neigh­bor­hoods

Re­gional cheeses and cured meats of Por­tu­gal

Clock wise from topleft: Peix­in­hos da Horta, Por­tuguese Olives, Polvo a La­gareiro

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