Remarkably successful seafaring Portuguese sailors discovered over two-thirds of our world’s lands many hundreds of years ago. This little Iberian country, blessed with extraordinary natural abundance, was once the wealthiest country in the world. Additionally, she was driven unselfishly by food – foods to both teach and learn. Food is Portugal’s history, as demonstrated by her food exchanges across the entire world, over many years of successful exploration.
Her mild, healthy climate plus a hardy fishing coast coupled with lush sub-soils, make this a nice place for just under ten million inhabitants today. Her major industries are fish canning, wine making and tourism. Agriculturally, she produces grain, potatoes, olives, grapes while she raises sheep, cattle, goats and poultry. Tropical and citrus fruits abound on her islands and along her shores.
Centuries ago, Portuguese navigators were literally food couriers, bringing New World foods to the Old and vice versa. A couple of other Mediterranean countries had their eyes on Portugal’s natural riches, as well. First came the Moors of northeastern Africa in the 13th century. They left behind further Iberian prizes, namely figs, apricots, lemons and oranges.
Then, in the 15th century, Portuguese seamen set out to claim for Portugal her Madeira islands, the Azores and the country of Brazil. Prince Henry the Navigator ordered his explorers to bring back fruits, nuts and plants from new lands and bid them to sow citrus seeds everywhere sailors traveled. The vitamin C in citrus fortifies sailors against scurvy. It was Henry who first believed grapevines from the island of Crete and sugarcane from Sicily would thrive in the Madeira Islands. Later in this century, Vasco da Gama uncovered the water route to the east, and this resulted in a wealth of new spices.
By the 16th century, the Romans showed their muscle to the Portuguese to no avail, however in the process they introduced onions, garlic, wheat, olives and grapes to the Portuguese people.
The exceedingly well-traveled Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to dock in the Mollucan spice islands in the Pacific. The same is true for China and Japan. This enable them to return with rice and tea. These fearless, food-trading sailors brought about the transporting of coffee and peanuts from Africa, also pineapples, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes from the New World. Brazilian cashews landed in both Africa and India, and Africa’s small peri-peri peppers comprise a sauce found on every dinner table in Portugal, even today.
Her viticulture is unique in Colares, where its “Ramisco” vines are planted on the sand beach in deep trenches dug out of the sand dunes to protect them from Atlantic winds. These produce both a red and a white wine.
Not only did the country have access to much seafood and grew fresh vegetables most of the year. It was a nation with a strong appetite for meat, especially pork and sausages. Note below how frequently more than one meat appears in traditional recipes.
LEGACY DISHES: (8 centuries of Portuguese food culture)
· Arroz de Pato: Roasted duck mixed with rice and roasted again
· Bacalhau com Natas: Fried cod with onions baked with a cream white sauce and diced potatoes
· Bife a Frigideira: rump steak with thick slice of ham on top fried in earthenware oval dish with slice of bread.
· Cabidela: “jugged chicken” with rice and the chicken’s blood plus vinegar, slowly cooked
· Caldo Verde: Soup with chorizo, potatoes, white beans and kale
· Carne de Porco a Alentejana: Fried cubes of pork and clams cooked with tomato and onion
· Coelho a Minhota: Rabbit marinated 24 hours, fried in small sections, served with tomato sauce
· Cozido a Portuguesa: Shin of beef, smoked sausage, other meats, cabbage, carrots, turnips and rice
· Ensopada de Borrego: Saddle of lamb, fried, served with onion, garlic sauce and bread
· Lombo de Porco de Moncao: Oven prepared pork with roasted, skinned chestnuts
· Lulas Rechadas: Squid stuffed with tentacles, smoked ham and seasoning
· Quiejo de Figo: Layers of stuffed figs compressed into a cake form flavored with crushed almonds, anis herb and cinnamon
· Rabo de Boi com Grao: Oxtail in thick sauce served with chickpeas
· Tripas a Moda do Porto: Calf’s tripe, veal shank, smoked sausage, streaky bacon and chicken