May 16, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Some British guidebooks tell their readers that eating salted cod is a strange Portuguese custom that they should avoid. There’s an historical reason for this point of view. When Henry V married Catherine de Valois in 1420, England was in the midst of the One Hundred Years’ War. Perhaps for this reason, the royal couple had a frugal wedding feast. The 600 guests ate boiled salted cod served on slices of stale bread. The meal was so bad that the British have avoided salted cod ever since.
April 28, 2013 § 2 Comments
Symposium is a Greek word that means drinking together. It refers to parties in which people sat around, drinking wine and talking about life. One of these parties, attended by Socrates, was immortalized by Plato in his writings.
You can easily recreate a symposium atmosphere in Portugal. First, invite some great friends. Second, procure three great ingredients: rustic bread, Azeitão cheese and Piriquita wine.
Azeitão is produced with sheep milk in small farms in the Arrábida mountain with the same techniques used to make Serra cheese in the Estrela mountain. But different pastures make different cheese, so Azeitão has a taste all of its own. Piriquita is a wine from the nearby Palmela region, produced with a grape varietal known as Castelão or Piriquita.
This wine and cheese are a heavenly pairing. So, you’ll have a good time, even if no philosophers show up. But, if you’re lucky, the conversation will be so brilliant that people will still talk about your party in 2500 years.
March 25, 2013 § 4 Comments
The “bola de Berlin” (Berlin ball) is deliciously simple: fried dough filled with pastry cream, coated with sugar. How can we enjoy this treat in an era of constant calorie counting? Here’s the strategy. You know those times when we’re annoyed by the small predicaments of life? We’re waiting in an endless line, lock our keys inside the car, step on a puddle of oil, loose our umbrella as it starts to rain. Instead of getting frustrated, we smile and think: we earned a bola de Berlin! We rush to a pastry store and ask without a trace of guilt: “uma bola de Berlin, por favor.” We then enjoy the bola for what it really is: a necessary moment of zen.
This Bola de Berlin is from Tartine, a wonderful new bakery in Chiado where you can enjoy breakfast, brunch and other light meals. Tartine is located on Rua Serpa Pinto, 15, Lisbon, tel. 213429108. Click here for their website.
March 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Fernand Point’s famous cookbook, Ma Gastronomie, includes two mackerel recipes. But in Portugal this fish, known as “cavala,” has never been popular. When fish mongers find mackerel mixed with other fish, they often give it away.
We worry that our national indifference toward the mackerel might make it swim to France in search of recognition. Luckily, chef José Avillez decided to pay tribute to this wonderful fish at his restaurant, Belcanto. His recipe starts with a traditional “salmoura”: the fish is soaked in water, salt and sugar. It is then sliced and marinated in an infusion of rice vinegar and green apples. Finally, the mackerel is seared and served with delicately pickled vegetables.
If you go to Belcanto, please order this delicious dish. Help us keep the mackerel on the Portuguese coast!
Belcanto is located at Largo de S. Carlos, 10 in Lisbon. Tel. 213-420-607.
January 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Portuguese restaurant waiters like to give all fish equal opportunity. Ask them about one variety and they’ll tell you that it’s very very fresh and very very good. Ask about another variety, and you’ll hear much the same.
After the waiter sings the praises of all fish on the menu, we usually choose a robalo. This species is known in English as “common snook,” but there’s nothing common about it. The robalo is a voracious, discerning foodie who loves to feast on small crabs. As a result, it has a really unique taste. Try it, and you’ll see that it is very very delicious.
December 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
During the Christmas season, Portuguese pastry stores transform many tons of flour, sugar, eggs, port wine, and candied fruit into the popular king’s cake (bolo rei).
Bolo rei was introduced in Portugal in the second half of the 19th century by Confeitaria Nacional, a pastry store in downtown Lisbon. It was based on France’s “gateaux des rois,” a royal cake forbidden during the French revolution until pastry chefs renamed it the “people’s cake” (gateaux des sans culottes).
Over time, Confeitaria Nacional’s recipe was imitated and adapted, and bolo rei became an integral part of Portuguese culture. So much so that, when the monarchy was abolished in 1910, the Portuguese parliament renamed it Republic’s cake. But the awkward name never caught on.
Pastry stores used to hide two objects inside the cake: a gift (a trinket or, in some cases, a gold coin) and a dried fava bean. The gift has been eliminated but the fava bean is still included. According to tradition, whoever gets it has to buy the next cake.
The custom of hiding a fava bean inside a cake originated in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. The person who found the fava bean became king of the Saturnalia and served as the festival’s master of ceremonies.
If you’re in Portugal during the Christmas season, make sure you try some bolo rei. It’s a sweet piece of European history.
December 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Oporto residents have been smug since 1933. That’s the year when Arcadia, a wonderful artisanal chocolate maker, opened its doors in that northern city. In France, chocolatiers compete for the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France and the winners receive plenty of fame and recognition. But these are not the ways of Portugal, where we often keep quiet about our great things. So, Arcadia remained under the radar for decades.
In 2010, Arcadia opened a shop in Lisbon and the residents of the capital could finally find out what they’d been missing. There’s a lot to catch up with, from dark chocolate made with São Tomé cocoa, to port wine bonbons, beautiful chocolate roses, and delicious “cat tongues.” No wonder Oporto residents were so smug!
Arcádia, Rua do Almada, 63, Porto, tel. 22 200 15 18, Av. de Roma 14D, Lisboa, tel. 21 840 8670, email email@example.com. Click here for the Arcadia website. You can also buy Arcadia chocolates at Portfolio, a store in the Lisbon airport. Click here for their website.
December 3, 2012 § 4 Comments
Bacalhau (cod) is a fish with a bland taste. But, once it is salted and dried in the sun, it becomes the perfect foil for garlic and olive oil. The Portuguese have enjoyed salted cod for more than two centuries. Lucas Rigaud, chef at the court of D. Maria I, included two cod recipes in his 1780 cookbook.
In 1778, Queen D. Maria eliminated the cod sales tax to help the fisherman and the poor. When the Queen returned from a boat ride on the Tagus river, she was greeted by ships decorated with garlands, overflowing with people cheering to the sound of music and fireworks. D. Maria was so touched, that she did the unthinkable. With tears in her eyes, the Queen sent away her coach and walked unguarded amid the crowd to the royal palace in Terreiro do Paço.
If you’re visiting Portugal, give salted cod a try. There’s something truly unique about food that can bring a distant queen so close to her people.
November 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
November 11 is the day dedicated to S. Martinho (St. Martin), a Roman soldier who gave half of his cape to a beggar during a heavy snow storm. Impressed by this gesture, the sun came out and melted the snow. Centuries later, the star still remembers the saint’s generosity and shines with gusto to give us a taste of Summer in Autumn.
The Portuguese celebrate these warm days with a feast called magusto (magoostoo). We gather outdoors to eat roasted chestnuts and drink a small glass of jeropiga, a fortified wine. It’s an ancient tradition that reminds us that there’s no place like Portugal.
October 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Marcel Proust could vividly recall the taste and smell of his aunt’s madeleines. Those memories inspired his masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past.
Joana Garcia remembered the taste and smell of the cheese she ate as a child with her grandmother in Alentejo. Those memories inspired her to recreate that long-lost flavor. She quit her job as a lawyer, moved to Alentejo and bought 500 sheep. After trying endless combinations of milk, salt and cardoon, she found the taste of her youth. Garcia’s masterpiece is called Queijo Monte da Vinha. It is a delicious, soft, buttery cheese with the precious taste of a distant past.
You can try Queijo Monte da Vinha at the wonderful Tasca da Esquina restaurant in Lisbon. You can buy it at Mercearia Creativa, a gourmet grocery store where you’ll find many other great Portuguese products (Av. Guerra Junqueiro, 4A, Lisbon, tel. 218-485-198). Click here for the Monte da Vinha website.