The A to Z of Portuguese Food – Part 1

Rice in Portugal

So, here we have the first part of her A to Z of Portuguese food and drink. 

A is for arroz

As a child, I never ate rice (arroz). In fact, I grew up thinking that I hated it. Since moving to Portugal I’ve realised just how wrong I was.

Rice in Portugal

Rice in Portugal

Rice is a staple part of the Portuguese diet – it’s cheap, filling and works beautifully when flavoured with tomato and onion. It’s commonly found on the side of a plate of meat, often occupying the space where as an English person you might expect to find a serving of vegetables.

It’s the dishes with rice as the main ingredient where it truly comes into its own. From arroz de pato (duck rice) to arroz de tamboril (monkfish rice), these Portuguese classics take very simple ingredients and turn them into uniquely Portuguese culinary delights.

B is for bacalhau

The Portuguese love bacalhau (salted cod fish). It can be found stacked in the supermarkets, ready to be bought, taken home and slowly de-salted in oft-changed pails of water over a number of days.  Once free of salt, it’s cooked in any number of ways – there are reported to be as many bacalhau recipes in Portugal as there are days of the year.

Bacalhau in Portugal

Bacalhau in Portugal

In December, the bacalhau in the supermarkets is tied with pretty ribbons around the tails, ready to be taken home and made into bacalhau da Consoada (Eve’s cod) on Christmas Eve, as the centre piece of the Portuguese family feast that traditionally takes place on that date.

Although I haven’t yet tried all 365 recipes, the bacalhau I have tried has always been delicious, whether cooked with shredded potatoes and eggs in bacalhau à Brás, cooked as a simple fillet or baked with cream (bacalhau com natas).

C is for conquilhas

Conquilhas (cockles) are another food that I didn’t eat before moving to Portugal. My husband would bravely fight off the seagulls to eat the little pots of them on sale at the seaside, but a container of cold, ugly-looking chewy things simply didn’t appeal to me.

We ate one of our first meals in Portugal in a tiny café in the village of Santa Luzia. We wanted clams. They didn’t have any, but the waitress said she would bring us some cockles instead. I was apprehensive, but full of the sense of adventure that moving to a new country brings, so figured I would at least nibble one before making my husband eat the rest.

The plate of food that arrived could not have been more of a surprise. Hundreds of delicate little shells were piled into a heap, tempting us with their tasty-looking contents while clouds of garlicky, winey, buttery steam made my stomach rumble. A few thick lemons wedges and slices of crusty Portuguese bread were all that was needed to complete the dish. I liked them so much that, as the plate began to empty, I resorted to the rather underhand tactic of hiding them under my bread to ensure I got the last few.

Conquilhas have since become a routine part of our summer diet – no trip to the beach would be complete without slurping our way through a plate of them. I’m still too nervous about my cooking abilities to buy the live ones from the old man with the bucket who stands outside the supermarket, but I’m sure it won’t be long before I pluck up the courage.