By Sara Payne
From shoes to post cards, almost anything can be found made of cork in Portugal. Traveling through the country, it is obvious that the people effectively use what is available to them.
When it comes to food, it’s no different. The Portuguese have a supply of fresh food because of the location and climate of their country.
Along with cork trees, Portugal is home to many olive trees. A typical meal usually starts off with bread and a tray of these salty snacks. Olives are also used in more creative ways such as an olive and orange salad served with roasted duck thigh. The sweetness of the olives is a great match for the saltiness.
Odete Oliveira,the tour guide for our group in Lisbon, said Portuguese cooking style is influenced by the Mediterranean. It includes fresh salads with the typical lettuce and tomato. Salads are often dressed with the ever-present olive oil.
“Our food is very healthy,” she said.
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, seafood can be found throughout Portuguese menus. The most popular ocean creature is cod, which the people joke that there is a different way to prepare the fish for each day of the year. A common preparation of balcalhau, or cod, is dried and salted.As seen with salads, simple preparations of cods often involves a drizzling of olive oil.
When it comes to dessert, custard pastries are found in every nook and cranny. Each town has its own specialty, with each pastelaria, or pastry shop, competing to have the best. The most popular in the country are pastéis de nata, which come from Lisbon. These small desserts have a thin, flakey crust filled with a rich custard.
In the Medieval town of Sintra, the local pastry is the travesseiro, which means pillow. Travesseiros are rectangular, airy pieces of dough covered in granulated sugar. They make a mess to eat, but the sweetness is just right. These “pillows” are filled with a cream made from eggs and almonds.
If the name doesn’t give it away, Port wine is a specialty made in Portugal. This drink is a fortified wine, which means a distilled spirit is added. The alcohol content is boosted by something similar to brandy. A small glass of the Portuguese drink smelled more like drinking a liquor than wine. As the group learned at a welcome reception at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, the strong wine pairs well with the traditional sweets of Portugal.
The final night in Lisbon, the group had a dinner at a fado venue. We were greeted with bread and butter as well as a bottle of red wine. The waiters then brought an appetizer tray of cheese, sausage and (once again) olives. Between each course, the crowd was silenced to focus their attention on the music – and the food. A thick bean and vegetable soup was served next, showcasing the country’s fresh produce. In what I believe was an effort to satisfy everyone’s tastes, we were served a fall-off-the-bone chicken rather than a more traditional seafood dish.
A typical dessert in Portugal is caramel custard, which was the final course of the meal and the trip. While the flavor was perfect because it is not too sickly sweet, the texture was just too thick for some of the group’s tastes. It could be compared to the skin that forms on top of a homemade pudding.