For some reason, Portuguese food is not as distinctive a group in Europe as say, French or Spanish food. Although it is full of Mediterranean influences, its food is closely tied in with its history and the colonies it controlled. Many people consider it to be simply paella and piri piri, but the truth is it is much more complex than that. Black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and saffron are staple spices imported from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and perhaps unsurprisingly olive oil, garlic, coriander and parsley often appear as garnishes.
Salt cold is prolific in Portuguese cuisine. Previous to the advent of refrigeration, fish had to be dried and salted before beaten – a tradition which is commonly held in the country today. Although tourists fresh off the flights to Faro may be put off by the amount of salt cod dishes, it is simply a staple ingredient used in thousands of varied recipes. This means that while it may be eaten two or three times a week it is by no means repetitive.
In terms of comfort food, it’s not as far from warming English food as you might think. A staple dinner consists of just potato, onion, olive oil, kale and chorizo in a kind of stew. Cozido à portuguesa is a commonly known stew containing beef, pork and smoked sausages with cabbage, carrots and turnips, with added rice and potatoes for starch. Many Portuguese meals will include a side of rice, potatoes or salad with the main course, and can be served with olive oil. Cheeses are also popular in the region, made from goat or sheep milk and sometimes a combination of the two. One of the most popular cheeses is São Jorge which is made from cow’s milk and has an unusually spicy taste.
A traditional accompaniment to the evening dinner is Vinho Verde, which literally translates to “green wine”, although its name is no indication of the colour but instead of it’s youth. It can be made in red, white or rose, but must be drunk within a year of bottling, unlike other wines which get better with age. Desserts are typically made from sugar and egg yolks – legend has it that nuns used to use egg whites to stiffen their habits, forcing them to create yolk-based food with sugar from the colonies. Rich custard tarts are a classic dessert, made with cinnamon from Asia. The popularity of tea in Britain can also be traced back to Portugal, or more specifically the 17th century princess Catherine of Braganza whose love of tea made it fashionable in court upon marrying Charles II.