Slow travel through the country of red roofs
In 2015, I took a holiday to Portugal. It will always stay with me as I quite simply enjoyed a slice of Portuguese life. I didn’t 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. To put my whole two weeks of food in Portugal, into one blog post, may not be doing it justice. With this piece I want to get you to eat like the locals in Portugal!
Always on a food trail
While travelling, the food of the country is integral to the experience for me.Hence, important for me to eat like the locals! Portugal is a meat lover’s paradise, the smells and tastes all much lighter and juicier than 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 think is wholly European.
My Portuguese welcome!
I was lucky to have a friend who was based in Lisbon, who I could travel a with. Mark is born and raised Indian, however, I feel he is someone who is versatile. 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. This 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 become your friend.
But coming back to the food. As soon as I landed Mark gave me the Portuguese welcome. I started my culinary adventure with ‘Pastel De Nata’ the most important sweet of Portugal. And 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 to convince me, to try this and the other Portuguese sweets for breakfast.
Agape in Portugal!
As I started my journey, I travelled with a group that was from around the world. We had Mark’s flatmates who were originally from different islands near Portugal, and two German girls who were backpackers. All of them students on various forms of break, meant my travel was quite budget. And therefore we were definitely watching what the locals were eating.
The best place for local cuisine in Lisbon, are places called ‘Tashka’s, equivalent to our local Udupi joints. 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 come to your table. They are charged for and the waiter will not tell you. You may start missing the Indian service after this.
For my first dinner in Portugal I tried ‘Beef Bitoque’. The dish consists of rice, veggies and potatoes with a nice beef steak at the bottom, commonly eaten by the locals. The Portuguese eat veggies and potatoes with everything. As we went through our culinary journey we had ‘Bacalhau’ 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.
More local dishes to try
I also tried the Fibras do porco or Pork fillet again accompanied with rice, veggies and potatoes. Not to forget the beef burger buns to eat on the go. They were so good and as cheap as two Euros. An equivalent back home, would be Frankie’s but of course sans the masala. These burgers are smaller and the bread is like our local ‘pav’. The cool part I discovered, you will find guys 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!
Some special Portuguese dishes!
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 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.
And of course you cannot leave without tasting the Chorizo Assado, not to be missed, when in Portugal! The Pork sausage is cooked with spirit, and comes to your table with the flames rising up. This gives it a smokey effect, definitely improving the flavour. 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. I am certain that anyone who wants an authentic dining experience in Portugal can start with these dishes. I hope I get to go back some day to explore some more. Viva Portugal!