Culinary Basics: Portuguese Cuisine

Portugal is landlocked with Spain and north of Morocco.

By Holly Holloway
Credit: Pxfuel

Portuguese cuisine is a mystery to most outside of its borders. It would be easy to throw it in with other Mediterranean cuisines, but that wouldn’t do it justice. Portugal might be a part of the Mediterranean, but its history, culture, and climate make it a unique mystery that’s worth exploring. 

The first thing to know about Portugal is its influence on international cuisine and culture. From introducing chili peppers to Asia and tempura to Japan, it even hooked the English on its now infamous habit of tea drinking. Simply put, Portugal, historically made waves. 

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An Origin Story

One of the best-known treats from Portuguese cuisine is pastéis de nata, which is an egg custard tart made with egg yolks, milk, and sugar, baked in a shortcrust pastry and dusted with cinnamon. These tarts are popular throughout western Europe, parts of Asia, Brazil, and Macau. 

Pastéis de nata is not a new culinary treat and was actually created pre-18th century by Catholic monks who used egg whites to starch clothes. The left-over egg yolks often became cakes and pastries. As religion changed in Portugal, the monks sold sweets to earn money, but in 1837 the recipe was sold to a sugar refinery and its owners opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. A business that is still run by descendants of that sugar refinery today.

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Portuguese Cuisine Today

The relevance of this rags to riches style story is that it symbolizes Portuguese cuisine to this day. There’s tradition rooted in its recipes and what may have started as cookery for survival, has evolved into something special, hidden from the limelight often shined on neighboring European cuisines. 

Thanks to wonderful ingredients from the Atlantic Ocean, and the nations differing climates between its north and south Tagus river divide, Portugues cuisine has been secretly perfected. So, if you’re looking for that hidden gem culinary experience and love bread, rice, spices, sausage, and seafood, especially cod, the Portuguese cuisine is not to be missed.

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Dishes of Portugal

Migas de couve: A simple recipe of boiled cabbage, cooked until soft, and then sauteed in garlic, butter, and diced chouriço (a fermented, cured, smoked sausage). This mix is then served on cornbread and topped with grilled pork or deep-fried mackerel. 

Carne de Porco à Alentejana: A traditional dish where pork is marinated in white wine, with paprika, red pepper paste, garlic, and coriander before being fried. Once golden brown, clams are added. The dish is then served with a variety of potatoes. 

Bacalhau à Brás: A combination of scrambled egg with shredded salted cod, onions, and diced fried potatoes. All served with black olives and parsley. 

Portugal shares a border with Spain and is north of Morocco. 

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