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26 November 2013

There's more to Portugal's rich culinary heritage than piri-piri chicken,

Portuguese cuisine is largely unknown outside the Portuguese speaking communities and does not have the same high profile as other European cuisines which is a pity because even though Portugal is a small country, it offers such an incredible culinary culture.  Portuguese cuisine is based on hearty peasant food consisting mainly of grilled fish, seafood and meat, hearty stews and casseroles and of course bacalhau (salt cod) and all served with rice, potatoes and salad. There is such an emphasis on seafood because of Portugal's long Atlantic coastline.  

There are, of course good exceptions to the norm in every town and area, crispy suckling pig from the local grill house, sardines straight from the boat and slapped on the grill, a slow-cooked ragout of wild boar in a country tavern, and these are the kind of simple, earthy dishes that Portugal excels in. 

Most restaurants are also extremely good value, especially around The Quintassential and in the Loule area.  Portuguese wine, and not just the famous port everyone knows about, enjoys a growing worldwide reputation.  If you’re not yet familiar with Portuguese wine, then you will soon come to relish a refreshing glass of vinho verde on a hot day, or a gutsy Alentejo red or full bodied Douro wine with your red meat or hearty dishes.

One of the best ways to truly experience a country whilst on holiday is to sample the local cuisine, and the best way to do this is to go to restaurants where the locals eat, rather than expensive tourist restaurants serving under rated food and very little on the menu that is actually Portuguese.  We at The Quintassential have over the past ten years tried out all the local restaurants, and is shows on the waistline and there is a comprehensive list of all good local restaurants within the accommodations.  If you plan on trying all of them, may we suggest a very extended holiday!!!

In Portugal, food plays a VERY important role. Traditional Portuguese dishes are often made from simple ingredients, based on regional produce with an emphasis on fish. The former colonies in Africa, India and the Far East have influenced Portuguese cuisine making it very different from the nearby Mediterranean countries in particular our neighbour Spain. Many herbs and spices such as pepper, saffron, ginger and coriander were introduced into Europe by the Portuguese, as were coffee, pineapples, potatoes and rice amongst other ingredients.

Portuguese recipes are characterised by their use of a wide variety of spices, for example, piri piri (a spicy chilli pepper), vanilla, cinnamon and saffron. Southern Portuguese cuisine has Arab and Moorish influences and an old tradition of almond and fig sweets.

Portuguese cuisines varies from region to region, but fresh fish and shellfish are found on virtually every menu. The national dish is "bacalhau," dried salted cod. The Portuguese have been obsessed with it since the early 16th century, when their fishing boats reached Newfoundland. The sailors salted and sun-dried their catch to make it last the long journey home, and today there are said to be 365 different ways of preparing it, one for each day of the year.

Grilled sardines and horse mackerel are also popular in the coastal towns, and a mixture of other types of fish is put into a stew called "Caldeirada."

The country is full of specialty seafood restaurants, many with artistic displays of lobsters, shrimp, oysters, and crabs. To try a mixture of these, have the rich seafood rice, "arroz de marisco" or here in the Algarve a "cataplana" 

Another national dish, but made with meat, is "cozido à portuguesa," a thick stew of vegetables with various kinds of meat. The favourite kind is pork, cooked and served in a variety of ways. Roast suckling pig ("leitão assado") is popular in the north of the country, as are pork sausages called "chouriço" or "linguiça."

After a low key breakfast which is traditionally just coffee and a bread roll, lunch is a BIG affair, often lasting up to two hours. It is served between noon and 2 o'clock or between 1 and 3 o'clock, and dinner is generally served late, after 8 o'clock. There are usually three courses, often including soup. The most common soup is "caldo verde," with potato, shredded kale, and chunks of sausage. 

The most typical desserts are cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding, flan, and caramel custard, but they also often include a variety of cheese. The most common varieties are made from sheep or goat's milk, and the most popular is "queijo da serra" from the region of Serra de Estrela

Many of the country's outstanding pastries were created by nuns in the 18th century, which they sold them as a means of supplementing their incomes. Many of their creations have interesting names like "barriga de freira" (nun's belly), "papos de anjo" (angel's chests), and "toucinho do céu" (bacon from heaven). A particularly delicious pastry is "pastel de nata," a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon.

Before any meal at a restaurant, try the bread placed on the table -- Portuguese bread is delicious.  Here in the Algarve is comes accompanied with butter, olives, sardine fish paste and sometimes Algarvian carrots.

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