Ola viajantes! (Hello Travelers)
I know we are all feeling a little grounded right now but I wanted to share some amazing experiences, FOOD and WINE from my recent travels to Portugal! The list of reasons why I love Portugal is long… very long. I had the pleasure of eating and drinking some AMAZING food the last two trips I’ve made to Portugal. Now, I wanted share some of the top traditional foods and wines of Portugal with you! Plus, I included one of my favorite recipes I found when I want a taste of Portugal at home.
First on our list is…
Peixe Grelhado (grilled fish)
The first time I ever tried this beautiful dish was in the little town of Setubal, which sits just across the bridge from Lisbon. Grilled fish like this is a stable of Portugal, you will find it throughout the entire country. I know that it can be a little weird when the whole fish shows up on your plate but trust me…it is worth it! Tip: don’t discard the charred skin or hardly anything for that matter; some of the tastiest flesh is in the nooks and crannies of the fish. Mixed with drizzles of olive oil, the crinkly skin is like fish candy!
If you’re like me, the first thing I thought of when I saw that sardines are a country’s staple you think of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”! I know it is silly but growing up in Alaska, I never really had a lot of chances to enjoy sardines. Trust me on this – it’ll change your whole perspective! This laidback meal is generally washed down with wine (red or white) or sangria. What is also fun, you can find this stable in fancy cans that also are collector items!
Francesinha (smoked meats and cheese sandwich)
Oh my LAWD!!! I ordered this on the riverside when we were in Porto and I will always remember my first experience with a Francesinha. Now, let me preface this with Portugal has some really amazing sandwich selections! But when you think they couldn’t get any better —here comes the Francesinha, a Porto institution.
Or you can try the variation that has ham, Linguica, and fresh sausage are layered in between two thick slices of bread and topped with melted cheese. The red sauce you see (in the image below) is a tangy beer sauce and sometimes topped with a fried egg. Versions vary from restaurant to restaurant, which all keep their beer sauce and special touch secret.
You might think that this is the same as the croque-monsieur but it is a little different. It’s believed the Francesinha (little Frenchie) was created by a Portuguese emigrant upon his return to Porto from France. The Francesinha is a glutton’s dream.
Did you know that there are more than 1,000 different Bacalhau (salted, dried codfish) recipes in Portugal!
The most common is Bacalhau à Lagareiro (roasted/grilled portions with potatoes and red bell peppers), Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (casserole of shredded cod, potatoes, caramelized onions, boiled eggs, and olives) and Bacalhau à Brás (shredded cod and potato strips fried with onion and scrambled eggs). Since the fish is processed with salting and drying the bacalhau has an intense flavor that can hook you for life, or be a tad too much. If you are able to pair it with sweet olive oil that counterbalances the saltiness – it’ll change your world! It certainly won’t be hard to find – it is served in every region!
Since moving to Spain I have gone out of my way to try all the different variations of octopus dishes…because it is delicious! And in Portugal, you’ll find it right up there with sardines! Living in Portugal’s fantastic waters, you can imagine that what you’re getting will be amazing high-quality stuff! You will find Polvo everywhere and in many forms too. As an appetizer, in salads, in rice, roasted, or grilled.
This little eggy, custardy delightful tart represents Portugal well around the world. In Portugal, they’re everywhere (lucky for me)…In Lisbon, you’ll find one of the oldest houses producing this pastry; it’s located in the neighborhood of Belem. The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém is a favorite of locals and tourists alike – be prepared to wait for them. When we were there the long wrapped around the block. But in this particular shop, the tarts here aren’t called Pastéis de Nata, they’re called Pastéis de Belem.
So now we’ve covered the food and your mouth is watering it is time to wet your whistle with some Portuguese wines.
When you visit Portugal, if you find a wine that you love – BUY A LOT OF IT TO TAKE HOME. Other than Port, it isn’t easy to find many Portuguese wines outside of the country. Much of the grapes are used in the production of Port (of course from the Douro Valley only) so there isn’t a lot left over.
- Vinho Tinto Red Wine
- Vinho Branco White Wine
- Quinta Wine farm. You’ll often find this word as part of a winery’s name on the label of wines from Portugal.
These wines are all going to differ depending on taste but I am going to list off some of my favorites:
- aragonez/aragonês – known as Tinta roriz in northern Portugal (and tempranillo in Spain), this is one of the principal Douro grapes prized for its rich tannins and aromatic, raspberry, red-fruit flavor.
- alfrocheiro – though not especially widely planted, this is a very promising variety beloved of winemakers for its deep-colored, well-balanced wines, but not liked by vine growers due to its susceptibility to rot.
- baga – mainly grown in Bairrada but found also in Dão this late-ripening variety can make lean tannic reds but in the right hands, dense reds with bright cherry fruit are made which are capable of long aging.
- castelão – one of the most widely planted varieties, particularly in the south where it is often called periquita, making fleshy, fruit, sometimes gamey reds for short or long-term keeping.
- touriga nacional – the backbone of many Ports and now appreciated for the quality of its red wines too. Small grapes give a high concentration of color, extract, sweetness, and aroma, which can make it ideal for longer-term aging.
- trincadeira – one of the most widespread varieties making flavourful, dry reds with blackcurrant fruit flavors and herbaceous, floral aromas.
- Alvarinho – mainly grown in the Minho (known as albariño in Spain), produces crisp, aromatic wines with notes of peach, apple and citrus fruits with a mineral character.
- Arinto – widely grown in northern and central Portugal producing dry, tangy wines with plenty of citrus fruit. Known as padernã in Vinho Verde.
- Fernão pires – known as maria gomes in Bairrada, this is a versatile grape making crisp, aromatic wines with lowish acidity and floral notes.
- Loureiro – the most fragrant of the grapes used to make Vinho Verde.
- Verdelho – the same grape behind medium-sweet Madeira also makes soft, savory full-flavored dry table wines. A success now in Australia and now also in Australian hands!
Polvo à Lagareiro
- 1.5 kg (3 1/3 pounds) octopus
- 1 medium onion to cook the octopus
- 800 g (1 3/4 pounds) small potatoes
- 8 cloves of garlic
- Parsley (to taste)
- 2 bay leaves
- Pepper (to taste)
- 250 ml (about 1 cup) olive oil
- Salt (to taste)
- Clean and wash the octopus. Put it on a saucepan with water and a peeled onion and cook over medium-high heat for about 45 minutes. When the octopus is cooked, put it on a plate and let it cool slightly. Cut the tentacles and set aside.
- Wash the potatoes very well with the peel. Put the potatoes in a saucepan with water seasoned with salt and cook over medium-high heat for about 25 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked, put them on a plate and let them cool slightly. Smash the potatoes slightly (give a small punch on each one).
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF).
- Put the octopus tentacles and the potatoes on a baking dish. Season with unpeeled crushed garlic, pepper and bay leaf. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until slightly golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Occasionally, drizzle the octopus and the potatoes with the olive oil.
- Turn off the oven, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.