Portugal’s colourful history is woven into today’s food landscape. Especially Bacalhau, Açorda, Cataplana and Pateis de Nata are integral to modern Portugal, showing how necessity, exploration, and religion all intertwined to create a contemporary food culture as diverse, satisfying and, sometimes, decadent. I get much joy showing my custom culinary tour clients this magical land and one of the great food cultures of Europe.
BACALHAU, dried salted cod
Historically, a ready supply was critical since lack of refrigeration and transportation meant that only those living near the coast could eat fresh fish. Back then Portugal was largely agricultural with meat a cash crop, affordable only to the wealthy. A hungry population and a ready supply combined helped bacalhau become revered at the tables of rich and poor alike, inserting itself deep into the nation’s cultural psyche.
Where to eat Bacalhau:
Newfoundlanders know salt cod almost as well as the Portuguese do. My friend Gary ate Bacalhau à Bras throughout Portugal but declared that Naval Club, in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, makes the best dish.
Address: Av. da República, 8900, Portugal
AÇORDA, the ‘Dry’ soup
Açorda is Portugal’s thousand year old legacy from the conquering Moors. It’s a hearty soup of stale bread, garlic, cilantro, olive oil and boiling water. Today Açorda is turned into a fancy one pot meal with the addition of optional eggs, bacalhau, shrimps or bits of meat. But it always harkens back to the hard scrabble days of subsistence living when simple, well-combined ingredients produced great food.
Where to eat Açorda:
Try Açorda Shrimp at Restaurant Abano
Address: Abano Beach, 21 miles from Lisbon, on a clifftop near Cascais.
CATAPLANA, the Algarvean treat
It appears that Cataplana was initially created by fishermen to quickly cook a hot meal using bits of food lying around. Today Cataplana is made with meat, fish, or seafood. Tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes are frequently added. It has become a chic dining delight, available throughout the country. As a former regional specialty, Cataplana is now widely popular, integrating another slice of Portugal’s complex social history into modern tastes.
Where to eat Cataplana:
I love the traditional take on Cataplana that my friend Paulo at Olhos D’Agua Restaurant produces. He’s fussy about his ingredients and won’t make Cataplana unless the freshest ingredients are available. Call to see if he’s cooking it! Address: Rua 25 de Abril 42, 8200-647 Olhos de Água.
PASTEIS DE NATA
In 1821, convents had to find new revenue sources by selling this exquisite dessert. Back then few homes had ovens or the finances to make sweets. Today, Pasteis de Nata, sinfully delicious little custard tarts, are ubiquitous throughout Portugal.
Where to eat Pasteis de Nata:
Pastelaria Aloma is proud to have won the “Best Pasteis de Nata in Lisbon Award” three years running. Located in the trendy Campo D’Ourique neighbourhood, the place offers a delightful mix of creamy custard and crispy, buttery flaky pastry, plus a dash of fragrant cinnamon. Address: Rua Francisco Metrass, 67, Lisbon.