Nonsense about Portuguese food

To help, we asked Baena to talk us through the highlights of Portuguese cuisine, which, he insists, don\’t include piri-piri chicken: \”It\’s part of Portuguese cuisine, but it doesn\’t represent it. It\’s known abroad, but in Portugal we don\’t eat that much.\”

It\’s the standard takeaway food. As with fish and chips in England. Not something you normally cook at home but something bought in as a treat or when time runs short.

And just like England a few decades back, it\’s often the only take away food you can get. If a place is too small (or poor or whatever) to have more than one outlet, it\’ll be chicken piri piri.

On the other hand he gets two things right:

Black Iberian pigs, known in Spanish as pata negra, are reared on both sides of the border. In Portugal, the best come from the Montado region of Alentejo. Farmed in oak forests and fed on acorns, the pigs, like Japanese kobe beef, develop layers of intramuscular fat that results in a sweet, moist meat. In Portugal, pork is widely cooked confit-style, in dishes such as rojões, a northern favourite. At Notting Hill Kitchen, confit pork cheeks will be served with truffled bread and bacon crumble.

Those cheeks of black pig (chaps I think in English?) are indeed delicious. A very different flavour to the pork and our local does them grilled in garlic butter on a skewer. Yum, Yum.

I think vinho verde [young ,\”green\” sparkling wine, from Minho], will be appreciated here.\”

Indeed, great quaffing wine. Young, petillant, not very strong, perfect for a cooling draught on a hot day. Think the picnic in the park on that one day in July when England is actually perfect.

23 thoughts on “Nonsense about Portuguese food”

  1. Surreptitious Evil

    The problem is that that day is normally a Thursday. And you have a meeting in Central London. Which turns out to have been postponed but nobody bothered to tell you.

  2. Maybe I was unlucky but I couldn’t get on with Portuguese food, far too salty for my taste. To be fair that’s based on one 2-week holiday in Cascais and a couple of meals in Lisbon when I was on business, so I’m happy to be corrected if that isn’t the norm.

    Tim adds: It can indeed be very salty. All that bacalhau helps of course. Couple of common pork dishes have clams added etc.

    It’s certainly not an haute cuisine, much more like Italian, good healthy peasant food.

  3. What is it with the Brits & piri-piri? Cuz raves about it so I get dragged to some shack full of tourists stuffing themselves. It’s chicken with a very basic marinade, FFS! It’s what any culture would do with those ingredients. I’ve made it myself, without even hearing of the dish. Nevertheless, worth eating if you can find a place uses chickens been scratching around in the yard rather than supermarket battery.
    The pig cheeks are an entirely different matter. Seriously to kill for.

  4. Iberico pork is absolutely amazing. It shows just how degenerate our supermarket “pork” has become – quality* is ignored entirely as low price is the only thing that matters these days.

    *: Other than the industrial definition of “quality” that is. Meaning each batch of something is entirely indistinguishable from any other batch of the same thing. And the only way to achieve that is to produce products that are entirely undistinguished.

  5. @BiS
    If you’re eating piri-piri chicken in a place full of tourists, you are likely eating it in the wrong place.

    Proper piri-piri (hopefully in the restaurant’s own marinade) has been marinaded for 24 hours and is crisp and juicy when done, full of different flavours when done.

    You’re right though, it’s easy and profitable to do with a simple shop-bought hot-sauce slathered on the surface for the passing trade who won’t be back for another year or two and want a quick hit of chillies.

  6. I tend to think of piri-piri chicken as African (Mozambiquan) rather than Portuguese. Certainly it is ubiquitous in Maputo, whereas in Lisbon it is merely easy to find. Nandos, the fast casual food chain that has taken it to much of the world is South African (with one of its founders being Mozambiquan and the other being Jewish, I think). It’s something that has come back from the colonies, like Indochinese influenced food in France or Indian influenced food in the UK. (Of course, the interplay between the food of the colonial powers and the colonies is never straighforward or one way).

    There are two big piri-piri chicken chains in Australia. One is the aforementioned Nandos, and the other is named Oporto, which (unsurprisingly, given the name) was founded by Portuguese immigrants who came to Australia from the north of Portugal. The food is similar but also in some ways quite different, due I suspect to being “Portuguese” in not quite the same way.

  7. “If a place is too small (or poor or whatever) to have more than one outlet, it’ll be chicken piri piri.”

    My in-laws have a flat in Guia, which has about ten piri-piri places from what I remember of it. Not sure what it says about the town!

    Tim adds: You’re about 10 km down the road from us then.

    “Chicken piri piri” often translates into Portuguese as “frango estilio de Guia”. Erm think I’ve got that right. But Guia is supposed to be the root of the basic cooking style. Thus all the places in that town. Bit like going to Cornwall for pasties etc (although the very best are of course made in Devon).

  8. “@BiS
    If you re eating piri-piri chicken in a place full of tourists, you are likely eating it in the wrong place.”

    The preparation of version I do begins with a “squa…” You really can’t beat authentic raw materials.

  9. @John Price

    “That pork is yummy. Does anyone raise it in the UK, I wonder?”

    Rumour has it the eco-terrorists running Sussex have introduced wild pig into the Ashford Forest, so in theory, yes. Plenty of acorns & the odd rambler to eat, there. Bearing in mind our local one’s killed a bloke not so long ago, my feelings on them are mixed & involve a sawn-off & #3 buckshot.

  10. I’ve never seen piri-piri chicken on the menu in the Alentejo (I’m from Campo Maior). I’d say it is very much an Algarve dish. Tim’s right though the takeaway dish of choice is normally chicken.

    SimonF. I agree Portuguese food can be very salty. Portuguese beef isn’t all that good in my opinion; they don’t hang it for long enough, but the pork is the best you will find anywhere as are the soups (caldo verde or açorda for winter, gaspacho for summer.)

    I will admit that Spanish pata negra jamon de bellota is far superior than any montado presunto. We always cross the border to shop for jamon.

    If you get the chance, try slow-roasted suckling pig. We occasionally take a suckling pig to our local baker, who puts it in his bread oven after he’s finished baking and it cooks on the residual heat. The meat doesn’t need carving, it just falls off the bone with a fork and is the most succulent tender pork you’ll ever taste.

    Tim adds: I’m using “chicken piri piri” in an extensive sense.BBQ chicken with some sort of sauce. The sauce might be garlic heavy, herb, chili, whatever. But that’s what I mean here: grilled chicken is the , as you say, dish of choice.

  11. “If you get the chance, try slow-roasted suckling pig. We occasionally take a suckling pig to our local baker, who puts it in his bread oven after he

  12. A local Chinese takeaway does excellent fried fish; pity their chips are rubbish, but to get decent fried fish this far south (Cambridgeshire) is something of a miracle. Why, it’s like getting decent cakes this far south. Although there’s nothing local as good as Iberico ham, some of the local bacon is excellent. Mind you, I used to live in North Yorkshire where there were wonderful pork pies: I’ve had nothing in the south or in Scotland to compare with them.

    As for Portugal: we’ve had excellent beef in Madeira; we were told that it came from the Azores. And shouldn’t someone mention the little custard tarts?

  13. Dearieme, If you want proper fish and chips make your way to the high street of Melbourn. (Its on the way to Royston.) The chippie is run by a chap from Madeira. He and his wife had their sons in Venezuela, before ending up here in Royston.

    So, I am in lucky position to be able to try my Spanish out whenever I go there, he has seemingly no problem in understanding me, given the time in South America.

    Sorry Tim, I’ve been to Portugal a number of times, and compared to Brazil, the USA v UK equivalent for Portugal, the food is not so good.

    The barrotos negros y cabra, the main regional dish of the Minas Geraies state, beats anything the old world offers.

  14. Thanks for that, TJGM. To be fair, Petrou Bros in Ely do excellent Fish and Chips: I’ve not tried their Chatteris or Cambridge branches.

    Melbourn here we come!

  15. I think Portuguese food is vastly underrated – in our experience ( 6 trips over 10 trips to same hosue in Sesmarais ) even most tourist places in the Algarve use good quality basic ingredients to make simple unfussy good quality grills etc Espetada (kebabs) of pork or beef are usually good (even better in Madeira on bay twig skewers). Roast kid if you can get it is marvellous At the deli counter the variety and quality of cheeses (especially sheep cheeses from the mainland and cow cheeses from the Azores – Sao Jorge is like a good mature cheddar and ham is fantastic – even supermarkets will have 6 or 7 grades of air-dried ham (Presunto) often from the black pigs that rival or better Parma ham. Bread is very good – both the light little papas seco rolls ( excellent with honey and fresh peaches in the morning- and they have great honey especially rosemary and orange blossom) and the heavy sourdough country bread. Fish is always good especially Dourada but my favorite fish is Octopus on spinach at O Marinheira (Sesmarais – not far from you Tim?). Pudim flan ( thick creme caramel is the universal dessert) but I have had excellent Crepes and Blackberry and Aguardiente sorbet at O Marinheira too. Pastais do nata are the little caramelised custard tarts ( brilliant) but a coffee shop will also have a range of other delights (like Torte Amendoem, almond tart) to go with your mid morning expresso and a shot or either aguardiente or brandy. Not haute cusiine but plenty for the foody in Portugal – take me back…..

  16. I just lopve the way a non-Portuguese feels free to expound on Portuguese food. And then seals his ignorance by saying that piri-piri chicken does not actually mean piri-piri-chicken but just any kind of grilled chicken in any sauce you care to mention. just goes to show that Tim Worstall is no anthropologist, linguist, ethnologist…..etc And he probably cannot work a cooker either.

  17. Curious. Everything I’ve ever read about Portuguese cuisine, stressed that it was primarily based on salt cod. Is that out of date? I’ve only ever had piri-piri chicken once, and it took the metal plating off my fork.

    Tim adds: Salt cod is certainly important. They’ve more recipes for it than days in the year for example. But “based upon”? No, like most Euroepan peasant cuisines it’s based upon pork.

    Rice, potatoes, bread (the Ps eat more bread per head of population than anyone else) fish (of which salt cod is an important part) and pork. And soup (again, peasant cuisine).

    As to chicken piri piri. As above, I’m using the word in a slighly different manner. Grilled or BBQ chicken with a “molho” or sauce. All of these are olive oil based (except for butter which is of course just butter). And every place that does it will have their own “molho”. Most of which will have some “piri piri” in it, which is really the name of a small chili. But the proportion will vary greatly. Nando’s etc are making a chili sauce out of it. My local place has two sauces which he then mixes upon serving. One is really garlic and salt in oil, the other piri piri with a good dose of paprika (another, sweeter, form of chili).

    Posh Portuguese cuisine does emphasise the salt cod. But perhaps a better way to judge is what the local restaurant serves for lunch. The prato do dia. €6, maybe €7, aimed at the daily customer. Glass of wine, soup, plate, desert. The plate will usually have a fish or meat choice. Of the fish, sardines, salt cod and something like dourado or robalho (sea bream and sea bass) will, roughly, alternate. At least, in the Algarve they will. Maybe chocos (erm, cuttlefish?) or lulas (squid).

    On the other hand, salt cod used to be cheap as a source of protein. Now it’s €8 and up in the supermarket per kg (and that is for the cheap stuff that many recipes won’t use). When pork is €4, it’s not so cheap any more.

  18. As a Portuguese recently arrived in the UK (Edinburgh) I was really delighted when I found this post and just had to read all the comments.

    I must say that I’m completely biased as I believe we have an amazing cuisine… and if you want to reconsider the peasant part, just go to a gourmet restaurant (40/50€ for a 3 course meal and wine) and testify the exquisite way in which we’ve reinvented our traditional cuisine!

    Actually I don’t agree that it’s mostly based on pork… remember that even though we’re a poor EU country we were much poorer once and that, with due patience, you could get fish almost for free. And yes, we do have a huge variety of fish and in that part I believe we beat Brazil by a large margin! You can eat amazingly fresh and utterly delicious fish by the sea and very cheap, too! A 3 course meal with wine for around 15€ if you pick the right restaurant.

    Yes, salt cod is not a important as it once was… that said it still plays an important role in our cuisine and you eat it in lots of different ways all over Portugal.

    Ok, piri-piri chicken then: Nando’s just sucks compared to the chicken you buy on the typical Portuguese take-away… and there you buy a whole chicken (enough for 2 adults and a small kid) by the price of a main course at Nando’s.
    Regarding Guia’s style chicken (in Portuguese “frango ao estilo da Guia” – “da” instead of “de” because Guia is a feminine noun) or “frango da Guia” as we usually call it, there’s a main difference to the one usually sold at the take-aways: it’s typically much smaller and tastier and, in my opinion, Guia (a small city in the middle of Algarve) is the best place in Portugal for eating piri-piri chicken.

    I guess I would be repeating previous comments too much, so I’ll just say that I completely agree that Black Iberian Pork (PT: “porco preto”) is the best pig I’ve already eaten anywhere… and I did a fair amount of traveling.
    Actually my wife and I are quite disappointed about the quality of pig in Scotland. Even the cheapest ham in Portugal tastes probably better than the best ones in here. Reading the comments I begin to understand why.
    And yes, slow-roasted suckling pig (we usually call it “leitão” – though word to pronounce for an English speaker :P) is a must-try!

    Beef meat in Madeira is absolutely amazing as well as the swordfish (“peixe-espada”) and the bananas. If you go there do try “bolo do caco” which is a kind of quite unique bread.

    About salt… you’re right, we put more of it in the food than we should.

    Pastry wise we have the ubiquitous “pastel de nata” (the little custard tarts) but also a lot of other regional specialties all around Portugal. In Algarve there’s a special kind of pastry based in almond and eggs (whose name I can’t recall) that are very, very good.

    And yes, there’s also a huge variety of delicious cheeses (you just have to go to a big supermarket in Portugal to understand the variety you get compared to a supermarket in the UK) and a whole range of smoked meat products, some of them made with Black Iberian Pig.

    The bread is just amazing. Perhaps a bit salty by UK standards, but I can’t find words to express how much we miss it!

    And I almost forget to mention the wines… In my opinion they are better then the Spanish ones and rival the French and Italian.

    Well… if someone actually read this loooong text, I’ll just drop my email here in case you want any info on Portugal, I’ll be glad to help: “venk lar AT gm ail .co m” (just replace the at and remove the white spaces).

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