10 Portuguese food discoveries
As well as trying new recipes, living here has brought us many pleasing day-to-day food discoveries. Moving to another country for a foodie is a bit like being reborn – along with the new dishes you discover you also find lots of little things in the shops to try – all the way from different cuts of meat to the kind of junk food the locals love. Here are ten of those discoveries:
1. Porco Preto: This “black pork” is, I believe, unique to Portugal. With a darker colour and richer flavour it is almost like discovering a different meat. It tastes exactly how pork should taste. We have devoured many different cuts of this delicacy from small tasty ribs (cooked in nothing but oil, salt and pepper – you wouldn’t want to waste the flavour,) to “secreto porco preto” – I have no idea what cut this actually is but it is succulent and delicious, marbled with fat. Perhaps someone could tell me what cut this actually is?
2. Chicken – Yes, I had tried chicken before, but Portuguese chicken does seem to be the perfect prototype which all other chicken tries to emulate.
Cheap and plentiful, every piece of chicken you buy seems to taste like the very best freerange, cornfed, organic chicken we used to pay a fortune for in Waitrose in the UK. From the classic piri-piri, to our current favourite, marinated in teriyaki, pepper and sesame seeds, every chicken-based meal in Portugal is a treat.
3. Fruit and Vegetables – You almost have to re-train yourself in produce when you move here from the UK. It is sometimes hard to get used to the fact that what you buy here isn’t perfect in terms of shape and colour and/or genetically modified to within an inch of its life.
There is also no guarantee that the supermarket will have always flown exactly what you are looking for thousands of miles across the world for your convenience. You are, however, left with tomatoes that taste like tomatoes and potatoes that, although looking quite ropey some of the time, taste sweet and perfect and seem to make the best jacket potatoes in the world.
Then there are the sweet carrots and onions that seem to find their way into almost every Portuguese meal, not to mention the local citrus fruits, figs, and creamy tasting walnuts from the Alentejo.
With all this in the winter, I very much look forward to the coming seasons!
4. Cockles – No, not the chewy things in vinegar – fresh cockles in their shells, cooked in oil, lemon, wine and garlic. Incredible. (Unless you get them from the restaurant we tried on the Isla De Tavira that had failed to purge them of sand – not good at all!)
5. Coffee – OK, not really a discovery, we already knew that Portugal’s long term links with Brazil ensure some of the finest coffee in the world, but this HAS to go on the list. Rich, creamy and rocket-fuel strong. It makes all other coffee taste crap. Oh yes, and it only costs about 60cents.
6. Brigadeiro – Cakes here are very very special, but it wouldn’t be imaginative to list Pastel De Nata – most people know the Portuguese make amazing custard tarts. These rich chocolate creations look like large rum truffles, probably contain half a days worth of calories, and along with a Portuguese “bica” espresso can cancel out the effects of too much wine after dinner. An absolute must for anyone with a sweet tooth.
7. Bacalhau A Bras – Bacalhau – dried salted cod – an essential Portuguese ingredient with a reported 365 ways to prepare it. I have to confess we were initially a little dubious about this recipe – salt cod, shredded potatoes, onions, olives and scrambled egg. We now eat this at least once a week. Real comfort food, with a texture which seems to us to be halfway between a chow mein and a special fried rice. Beautiful.
8. Bollycao – mass produced junk-food cake things in packets – these seem to be hugely popular and taste far better that you would expect them to.
9. Linguas De Gato – “Cat’s tongue” biscuits. Available in huge packets, these are hugely moreish sweet biscuits with, I think, a slightly orangey edge. As well as tasting great they smell like biscuits used to smell. Great with hot drinks too.
10. Iberico Presunto – I had tasted iberico ham before (like parma ham but made from pigs fed on a diet of acorns,) but it was, at best, an annual treat due to the extreme cost. Well, here in Portugal a small tray is only 2 euros and I think I am developing an addiction. A rich flavour that develops as you chew it, it is almost impossible to describe the deliciousness of this delicacy. I suggest you try some for yourself.