Eat like the locals in Portugal!
To put my whole two weeks of food in Portugal, into one blog post may not do justice to the whole experience but I must try. This blogpost was lying as a rough draft for nearly 6 months and my mind went to it constantly. The holiday will stay with me, as quite simply, I enjoyed a slice of Portuguese life. I didn’t simply travel around ticking off things on a check list but took it slow and explored the food, culture, history and music like the locals would.
Let’s start with the food.
While travelling, the food of the country is integral to the experience for me. Portugal is a meat lover’s paradise, the smells and tastes all much lighter and juicier than India. Somehow it is easier for me to draw contrasts, to the food back in India. In Portugal it is more about the cuts of meat or fish than the spice, it is about the taste sneaking up on you rather than something you cannot miss- in one word ‘understated’ a trait that I would think is wholly European.
Last year on my trip to Portugal, I was lucky to have a friend, based in Lisbon, who I could travel around with. Mark is born and raised in India. However, I feel he is someone who is truly global. Not because he knows the history and facts of the place better than most of us, which is true, but because he has a heart that connects. After travelling with him to different countries, I realise he has a genuine ability to fit in rather than stand out. And for once this is a good thing because it makes people more open and brings to your table new experiences. When locals know you are there to soak it in and not to analyse or compare they pretty much become your friend.
The Portuguese sweet tooth shows!
Coming back to the food. As soon as I landed Mark gave me the Portuguese welcome. This meant I started my culinary adventure with ‘Pastel De Nata’ the most important sweet of Portugal. And do the Portuguese love their sweets! They start off their day with different cakes and strong coffee. The ‘Pastel De Nata’ is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. Having a sweet tooth, it didn’t take too much convincing for me, to try this and the other Portuguese sweets for breakfast.
As I went on my journey, I travelled with a group that was from around the world. We had Mark’s roommates who were originally from different islands near Portugal, and two German girls who were backpackers. All of them students, taking various forms of a break, meant my travel had to be within a budget. And therefore we were definitely watching what the locals were eating. However in between all of that I still managed to have my fill of all the Portuguese dishes that truly delight.
Some tips to help you plan how you eat!
The best place for local cuisine in Lisbon, are places called ‘Tashka’s, equivalent to our local Udupi joints but naturally the food is far from similar! Found on every corner, Tashka’s are basic places with affordable, authentic, food. You can even stand at the counter top and have a meal for half the price of being served at the table! Also beware about eating the accompaniments like bread and butter that comes to your table. They are charged for and the waiter will never tell you. You may start missing the Indian service after this!
A Carnivores Delight
For my first dinner in Portugal I tried ‘Beef Bitoque’. This is commonly eaten by the locals. It has rice, veggies and potatoes with a nice beef steak at the bottom. The Portuguese eat veggies and potatoes with everything. As we went through our culinary journey we had ‘Becalhau’ or the salty codfish which is the national fish of Portugal, an acquired taste (I didn’t acquire it!). I tasted the Alheira which is a type of Portuguese sausage, made with meats other than pork usually veal, duck, chicken, quail or rabbit and bread. I also tried the Fibras do porco or Pork fillet again accompanied with rice, veggies and potatoes.
Not to forget the beef burger buns or Beefana to eat on the go. They were so good and only two Euros! The buns are bite sized and snackable and the bread is like our local ‘pav’. The cool part I discovered, is that you will also find locals selling them late at night, in the party district, once the pubs close down and people are heading back home. It definitely makes a perfect midnight snack!
One of the best meals of the trip.
One day when the students were exploring on their own and we were feeling quite rich, we tried the most delicious Carne de Porco à Alentejana. We ate this at a beautiful outdoor café in downtown Lisbon that had views of the entire city. Literally translated the dish is Pork with Clams Alentejo Style (this means coming from the Alentejo region). I could never think of that combination. But it certainly does work! Lightly flavoured but succulent pork, with fresh clams that seemed to be just picked. This was definitely a meal highlight.
Don’t forget the Chorizo Assado.
And of course the Chorizo Assado, cannot to be missed, when in Portugal! The Pork sausage is cooked with spirit, hence it comes to your table with the flames rising up, from it. This gives it a smokey effect, definitely improving the taste. Peppery and flavoursome, we ate it at an outdoor garden area, at the LX factory accompanied by Portuguese beer, which was indeed a fitting end to my sojourn through the country.
In fact the wines and beers in the country are also worth a write up and I will write a separate blog on those shortly. I am certain that anyone who wants an authentic dining experience in Portugal can start with these dishes to feel the Portuguese vibe. I hope I get to go back some day to explore some more. Viva Portugal!