Thursday, May 20, 2010


I was recently in Portugal for some much needed relaxation and lucky to have missed the volcanic ash chaos. Going from Porto to Lisbon, I realised how easily accessible Portugal is from London, that it's understated and has more to offer than cheap and chavvy holiday deals.

It doesn't however, feature highly on the European culinary landscape. Very simply, there aren't as many signature dishes as per Spain it's Latin neighbour and close cultural comparison. Plus its food gets repetitive very quickly. Enough grilled chicken already! And this comes from someone who adores grilled chicken!

I am however a fan of certain bites of what is characteristically and uniquely Portugese, and probably rather underestimated and even misunderstood. Here were my highlights:-

White Port: Come again? Surely not, you say. You can't even get past Red Port with Stilton at Christmas, let alone White Port. Made from the same method as red port but without the red skins and with white grapes, it is a refreshing, subtle little kick when served chilled as an appetiser. I beg you to try it. We visited Calem in Porto, just one of many port distilleries and tasting houses. Understandably, many aren't partial to the sweet and sometimes sickly treacle effect of ruby red port. Dry and medium whites however, have an uplifting effect. There's only one way to find out.

Piri-piri sauce: Cast Nando's out of your mind, this is the real thing. No-sir-ree, much higher on the Scoville Heat Units and wonderful with just about anything. A good compromise between chilli sauce which is sweet and that which is overwhelmingly hot, it has the initial zap but isn't a lingering pain or build-up of heat.

Francesinha: uh hoooo! Now this was the foremost discovery on my trip. Completely unexpected and by pure trial and error, we had arrived ridiculously late on the first night and all that was open on our street was a student-y cafe. And everyone ordering these. And all good foodies know that when in Rome....What looked like an inside out cheese toasty was what the doctor ordered for starving and tired travellers. Essentially a sandwich with a choice of filling inside (we went for meat which came with a Portugese blood sausage, slim pork fillet and bacon!), melted cheese on the outside and topped with a rich madeira sauce. Ever so naughty but infinitely satisfying. 

Let the volcanic ash cloud pass and you might make your own discoveries in this charming country. You'll read and hear plenty about bacalhao (salt cod that is rehydrated and cooked in a variety of styles), white beans with tripe (pretty much a white bean stew with porky goodness) and of course grilled meat and seafood. On average, two courses and a bottle between two was never more than £30 in total. Bargain! 

Other images from iweb and Google Images.

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