Portugal is very small, a slim slither of a country clinging on to the side of the Iberian Peninsula, battered along its western coast by the most magnificent of Atlantic breakers, its interior parched under a southern European sun. The strip along the bottom is a tourist haven, its capital, Lisbon, one of the most fashionable destinations in Europe right now, and its second city, Porto, looking set to steal that crown.
It’s a wonderful country, with a varied and elegant cuisine that’s indebted to both the mighty Atlantic and the scorching Mediterranean.
Here, salt cod is king, vast slabs of bacalhau hang in every grocers, ready to be rehydrated and turned into salt cod fritters or cakes, patties of cod fried in breadcrumbs until irresistible. Then there are sardines, grilled over charcoal on a beach in the Algarve, served with nothing more than a little too much salt and a good squeeze of lemon, or preserved in brightly coloured cans, each a work of art in its own right. There’s chorizo from Spain, and olive oil, and cakes and pastries, the famous pasteis de Nata, the very best of which come from a shop in Belem, a short tram ride outside Lisbon, the shop with the blue awning, whose pasteis will change any day for the better.
Portugal is an excellent place to visit and an excellent place to eat.
Edita Vieira’s book, The Taste of Portugal, was originally written in 2000, and is now in its fifth edition, and there’s good reason for that.
Vieira’s book is as comprehensive a collection of Portuguese classics as you could hope to find. There’s plenty of salt cod, plenty of sardines, but also the taste of the country, stews of rabbit and chicken, kid marinated and cooked slowly in red wine, suckling pig.