Earlier this week I told you all about my amazing Port drinking experience in Portugal. I feel the need to continue along the same vein this post and chat about all the fantastic food that I had during my stay. The food was so good that I put on several pounds during my vacation! No need to share actual numbers here folks; let’s just say that the end result has left me eating a lot of salads now that I am home. There were several recurring themes that helped get me to my new heavier shape; tapas, bakeries and seafood. There was lots of Port too, but we already discussed that :)
Most people consider tapas a Spanish style of meals, but it is extremely prevalent in Portugal as well. Tapas are small portions of various dishes that are meant to be shared. Most often during my stay we would choose what we wanted from a menu. The coolest experience that I had was a bit different. It was in a tiny restaurant located in an alley sized side street. This restaurant made 15 dishes a night and the menu changed so frequently that they had it written on a chalkboard. Once you were seated the waiter asked if you had any allergies, after that point you had no say in what you got. Each dish that was brought out was a wonderful surprise coming from the list of 15 things that were being made that evening. The portions are small in tapas so it’s a great way to try new things (since you don’t have to worry about being stuck with a giant plate of it). We worked our way through soft cheese, olives, fresh baked bread, salted cod, aged prosciutto, beans and cooked greens. The whole experience was amazing! We left stuffed and our bill was less than 30 euros.
The baked goods all over Portugal were unreal! Unlike in big North American cities, bakeries are still a part of day to day life in Portugal. Each city square I visited had at least one, and it was always busy! People would stop what they were doing and go into the bakery for their coffee and perhaps a treat. The whole coffee culture is different. There aren’t any take away cups, you stay put until your coffee is done. Drip coffee is only available in touristy areas; the locals drink a strong version of espresso. Having it with a sweet treat really helps to balance out the intense flavor (just in case you need persuading to eat pastries). My favorite treats to have with my coffee were natas. These tarts are filled with a delicious custard and are slightly brûléed on top. I think I had at least one every day that I was away! The bread was also fantastic. Bakeries supply local restaurants with fresh bread every day, so there is no need for ready-made, sliced bread. The difference in quality was impossible to miss. I never turned down an opportunity to get my hands on a bread basket.
I would be remiss to talk about food in Portugal and not mention seafood. Fish is a big part of Portuguese cuisine. Salted cod, known as bacalhau, is the national dish of Portugal. There is a saying that there are 365 ways to prepare it, one for each day of the year. After spending 10 days in Portugal I would believe it. Every single restaurant I ate in had at least one cod dish on the menu, some would have two or three! Often on tapas menus bacalhau would be made into fish cakes or fritters. The cod I enjoyed most was in a diner, located in yet another alley. Known locally as bacalhau a bras, it is cod with grated potatoes, scrambled eggs, onions and olives. It was warm and comforting after a day trekking up and down hills in the rain. Now that I am home I am hoping to recreate it. Luckily I am close to a large and very diverse food market that supplies all kinds of seafood. I’ll need to make a trip there soon.