By: Nikki Nies
I was blessed with the opportunity with a last minute trip to Portugal. For the week that I was there, not only was I welcomed by all, but I truly enjoyed myself and walked away feeling I embraced the culture.
Yes, I had already traveled to Spain, the neighboring country to Portugal, this year, but the two ‘sibling’ sisters are quite different. Below are some of the ‘staple’ foods the Portuguese are proud to call their own and that are often found in their dishes.
- Carob: a tropical pod that contains a sweet, edible pulp and inedible seeds; the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean; aka St. John’s bread and locust bean; at a 1:1 substitution ratio, carob can be a great replacement of cocoa powder if you don’t want the caffeine or are out; carob can be found in chip, powder or flour form in supermarkets and is a great addition to cookies, breads, cakes, muffins and candies; 1 T of unsweetened carob powder contains 25 calories; 6 g carbohydrates; 0 g fat; no saturated fat or cholesterol. 1 T of unsweetened cocoa powder contains 12 calories; 1 g fat; 3 g carbohydrates; no saturated fat or cholesterol
- Prunes: dried plum; able to remedy constipation, provide antioxidant protection, prevent pre-mature aging, promote cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of cancer and osteoporosis;
- Figs: found in the traditional Algarve cake including carob and almonds as well;
- Almonds: not only are almonds a staple product produced in Portugal, but they can be found in a lot of the traditional Portuguese dishes.
- Quince:while similar in appearance to pears, quince is inedible when raw. Once it’s been cooked, quince can be eaten as is, baked in a tart, churned to make a sorbet or added to your breakfast parfait!
- Sardines, Mackeral and fresh fish: I made a point to eat local fish at every meal! To my pleasant surprise, I had no complaints about any of the meals! The first night, I had a traditional seafood cataplana. A cataplana is a type of copper cookware in the shape of two clamshells hinged at one end with the ability to clamp it sealed on the other side. Cataplanas are traditionally found in the Algave region. Other nights, I tried black scabbard with a side of bananas and sea bream. Who knew fish and bananas would be such a great tasty combination? I certainly was amazed! My friend and I took a motorcycle tour around Portimao and this tour included tapas at Maria do Mar. I was hesitant to try the sardines sandwich presented to me, but I had to as to not be rude to the kind restaurant for having us. I’m glad I tried it! Unlike the canned sardines, these fresh sardines were delicious! If ever presented with fresh sardines again, I’ll be sure to grab a plate and dig in.
- Oranges: since the oranges are as fresh as you can get, they must be eaten within days of purchase. Driving directly from the airport to hotel, I mentioned to my driver that I wanted oranges and he allowed me to stop and get a whole sack of oranges for 2.50(~$3). Thankfully, in the week that I had the oranges, only one of them went bad before I could eat them!
- Coffee: like many other European countries, portions of coffee are quite small in comparison to what Americans are used to, there aren’t ‘sizes’ to choose from, besides espresso and ~8 fluid oz cup of coffee; Starbucks isn’t as ubiquitous as it is in America. I’ve started collecting Starbucks country mugs as a gift to my dad. When I arrived in Portugal, I looked up the closest Starbucks to my hotel and only found 3 Starbucks within a few hour radius. I’m not complaining! I’ve always enjoyed exploring local coffee shops more, so it was refreshing to see that Starbucks isn’t as big of a monopoly in Portugal as it is elsewhere!
Unlike America, all of Portugal’s food is fresh and organic. I didn’t have any qualms about the quality of produce, with stalls and stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables beaming at me to be purchased. Like many other European countries, the Portuguese frequent the grocery markets more than once or twice a week, as they stock up on food on a regular basis. The quality of produce is superb, but without the preservatives or pesticides that we may be familiar with, much of the produce has to be used within days of purchase.
My friend learned the hard way that Portugal is not the place of frozen food or margherita pizza. When we went to the grocery store to stock up on breakfast foods for the week, she opted for empanadas, margherita pizza and fish sticks, yet, to her avail, none of these tasted what she thought they’d be. I guess it’s a good to know that you don’t go to Portugal for ready to eat foods, their food is so fresh and available, why would they invest their time and energy in producing locally made ready to eat foods?
Due to my own food preferences and exposure to Portugal, I’m sure there are other traditional foods I didn’t encounter, but for the most part, again, I walked away confident that I got a better idea of the traditional Portuguese food. If you’ve been to Portugal, what experiences and/or foods did you encounter that you have to share? I’d love to hear!