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Portugal - Food and Drink

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There are a wide range of traditional alcoholic drinks found in Portugal as well as popular non alcoholic beverages. The national drink is known to be port, made in the Douro region in the north of Spain. The drink is not only consumed by locals but is a proudly exported local product. Another traditional drink is jeropiga, an alcoholic beverage made from fresh grape juice. Locals enjoy sipping this drink whilst snacking on chestnuts (castanhas). An interesting drink which is sour to taste is ginjinha, a drink consisting of ginja berries infused in alcohol. When the drink is consumed it is sipped from a shot glass with a few of the berries lining the bottom. Beer(cerveja) has been drunk since the Roman times with modern day brands of Super Bock and Sagres commonly found throughout the country. Portuguese wine is a very common sight alongside salted cod dishes with vinho verde ( red or white) favoured by the locals.

The Portuguese love their hot drinks namely the espresso (um cafe), a tall foamed espresso with lots of milk (um galão) or an espresso with a dash of milk (um pingo). The Portuguese are very specific about their coffee, ordering it in a variety of sizes, strengths and even specifying if they want instant coffee (um nescafe) which would be comparable to an Americano coffee. Before bed, some locals enjoy the sweet zesty taste of carioca de limão (lemon tea) which is hot water with lemon peel and the option of honey and sugar to taste.

Portuguese cuisine involves the recycling and pairing of a scattering of the the same flavour combinations. Their simple mediterranean based cuisine is often made with traditional recipes and similar ingredients to yesteryear. On a menu, main dishes will include hearty casseroles and stews, meat and potato dishes plus a variety of fish dishes with the renowned salted cod (bacalhau) being a regular favourite. Side dishes rarely vary from salads, rice or potatoes. Portuguese food for the most part hasn’t strayed too far from its roots, aside from the contemporary interpretations in modern day restaurants. At the heart of the community and on dinner tables all over the country the food is still simple, homely and unfussy. Whilst the local cuisine reigns supreme to natives, over time other cuisines have caused a stir with Russian, Italian and Spanish style restaurants proving popular.

Sweet food is the intricate, more fussy and indulgent side of Portuguese food. Found in the form of quick bites such as small pastries and cakes from street vendors, chocolate and custard filled tarts, grand and fashioned cakes in patisseries and doughy treats dusted with sugar in bakeries; there really are endless sweet treats to suit any palate. A very famous tart in the country is the Pastel de nata (egg tart) notably made in the Pasteis de Belem cafe using a recipe hundreds of years old passed down by Monks of the nearby monastery. Another favourite is arroz doce (rice pudding) which is flavoured with cinnamon and rice. The queue is often out the door, but locals and foreigners alike are more than happy to line up to get their hands on what is deemed to be the tastiest egg tarts in the country. Bolo de Bolacha is a sumptuous biscuit and condensed milk cake very popular to sit down and savour with those on the go grabbing a pastry like the twisted sweet pastry of Pastel de Tentúgal, inside oozing with rich yellowy cream.

Savoury recipes

Caldo verde (kale soup)
Caldeirada (Grilled sardines)
Wine and Garlic Marinated Black Scabbard (Espadarte em Vinho d’alhos)
Bacalhau á Gomes de Sá (Salted and potato casserole)
Salted cod and fried potato (Bacalhau Brás)
‘Piri Piri’ sauce for chicken or shrimp

Sweet recipes

Arroz Doce (Cinnamon rice pudding with mandarin)
Pastéis de Nata (Egg custard tarts)
Leite Creme (Creamy Milk. creme brulee)
Salame de Chocolate (Chocolate salami)
Bolo de Bolacha (Cookie Cake)

Breakfast is eaten around the usual European hours of 7-9am. It isn’t generally considered one of the most important meals so it consists of something small and easy to prepare. There is not one set breakfast consumed by all with variations of bread with cheese or jam, yoghurt or pastries eaten with espresso coffees, milky hot drinks or juice. Lunch is eaten between 12pm and 3pm and if eaten out may consist of a little white wine, cheese as an entree, a soup such as caldo verde (cabbage soup) as a starter, a main dish of Bacalhau (cod) and a final dish of arroz doce for dessert. Lunch is generally considered to be when the largest meal is eaten. Snacks throughout the day if having a drink can be Portugal's version of tapas known as Petiscos. Dinner is eaten from 7pm-11pm and if eating out, it gets busy at 9pm so book either before or after this time. Restaurants often stay open until 2am as meals are lingering and slow. Locals eat meat or fish with potatoes or maybe local specialities such as Açorda de mariscos (stewed shrimp in a bread bowl), Lulas recheadas à lisbonense (A Lisbon dish of stuffed squid) or perhaps Bacalhau á bràs (salted cod, potatoes, onions and scrambled eggs).

When it comes to tipping, tips in restaurants and bars aren’t included in the bill so expect to pay 10-15% on top. In a bar setting, wine and beers are popular with mini beers in bottles becoming more widely drunk, measuring 20cl. The largest beer size you can get is a caneca usually found in a jug with handle and measuring 500ml. Wine is found in standard measurements, though ask a local or the barman to recommend you a wine to best suit your taste as the extensive list can be bemusing. Drinking after work isn’t part of the Portuguese culture but if it were to happen, expect a local to drink slowly and be more interested in conversation than inebriation.

The general attitude towards drink is Portugal is one of tolerance though locals are fairly conservative and may be offended by certain drunken behaviour. Portuguese authorities are not afraid to instil new regulations and amend bar closing times in areas which have become popular drinking hotspots if in a residential area. This happened in Lisbon with bars now closing at 2am and clubs at 3am in Barrio Alto; drinking in the streets has been capped to 1am. Children often try a sip here or there of local wine and port growing up at home, more for an understanding of local produce and the general couplings of white wine and white fish for example.

The Portuguese are pointedly enthusiastic and patriotic when it comes to their local cuisine. It is common to hear locals say how fantastic their food is, considering it the best in the world. Taking an interest in it will be very warmly received. When it comes to eating out with locals, being more than 15 minutes late is considered rude. Leave a little on your plate as finishing it all may raise some eyebrows. Expect meals out to be long and filled with conversation. Don’t be surprised to see the television on with the volume up during your dining experience as this is very common practice for bars and restaurants.

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