Portuguese cuisine: a little disappointing but has potential…

salt cod-fish dumplings)
Accras de Morue (deep fat-fried: salt cod-fish dumplings)


I realize that I cannot judge a country’s cuisine after only 4 days and only visiting one region, but I must say I was disappointed with the Portuguese cuisine.  I may not have been to the finest establishments in the country, but visited a variety of different restaurants both in Porto city and in the Douro Valley.

In writing this, I am aware that only 35 years ago, Portugal was just emerging from a crushing dictatorship and that modernity and change take time.

The cuisine is based on simple ingredients that are not expensive: sardines, salt cod, pork and potatoes. (To their credit, the Portuguese potatoes have a lot of flavor, more than usual, for some reason.)

My frustration with the cuisine is threefold:

            Traditional preparations are quite heavy and stodgy.

            There was a lack of vegetables in the cuisine (which probably contributed to the heaviness)

            The cuisine was not one that goes well with Port wines.

A future posting on this blog will report some of my suggested dishes that were inspired from these frustrations. My goals were 1/ to create recipes that marry well with port, avoiding the classics of blue cheese and deserts with caramel, coffee and chocolate and 2/ to use the staples of a Portuguese diet. 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. My exposure to Portuguese cuisine has been second hand, though Jean Anderson’s cookbook ‘The Food of Portugal’. I too noticed the decided lack of vegetables, and also the emphasis on salt code. I’ve never tried salt cod, and am quite curious about it!

    However, the 4-5 dishes I have made out of the cookbook were all quite delicious, albeit rustic, especially a fresh coriander soup. yum!

  2. Thanks for the heads up on Jean Anderson’s book. I had not heard of it.
    I myself worked with salt cod for the first time last week in my port-marrying-food project. Those recipes will be going up very soon.

  3. Ana says:

    First, here in Portugal the cod fritters are called Pastel de Bacalhau, not Accras de Morue (which I believe is Fench). Second, portuguese cuisine is much more varied than you what you seem to have tried in Porto. Despite being a small country, each region has a very distinct cuisine and I can assure you that all kinds of vegetables are used as well as an immense variety of fresh fish and meat. Perhaps, you just didn’t stray too far from the usual tourist spots. Since you seem to be interested in writing about food, maybe you should, come back and try different things. And last, you say that the cuisine does not go well with Port wine but please note that Port is only a dessert wine, sometimes, an appetizer; therefore, port not suited to accompany the main course itself. Typical portuguese meals are long affairs so you have the time and disposition to enjoy every bit of the meal. So, please, do come back. You may change your mind.

  4. saltpepperlime says:

    Thanks for your comment, Ana, I appreciate your passion.

    You’re right; I should go back to Portugal. I’d really like to.

    All of the culinary experiences I had there, except one, I was with Portuguese people who chose the foods and the restaurants because they wanted to show me the traditional, typical foods of Porto and the Douro region, so I believe I managed to avoid tourist traps.

    Good port is not a cheep wine. And in today’s’ world there is more expensive and good wine produced than there are prosperous enough individuals who want to drink good wine. The producers of Port that I visited told me, like you, that Portugese people drink port at aperitif and with desert. I was so impressed with the immensity, beauty and quality of the terroir of the Douro as a vineyard growing area, along with the quality of the wines, that I thought that one of the ways of contributing to the safeguard one of the greatest jewels of AOC vineyards in the world was to create recipes that could multiply the occasions and the uses of port wines.

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