Portuguese food is… well, it kind of reminds me of Newfoundland food. Lots of potatoes. Lots of cod. Tons of cod, actually – the Portuguese are the greatest consumers of this fish and they never eat it fresh. Apparently their cod comes from Norway – or they know that’s how to answer the question when asked – and it’s salted and dried as soon as it’s caught.
Once the cod is purchased, it needs to be “de-salted” and re-constituted with water so that it can be used for cooking. Grilled, baked, fried, boiled… the Portuguese are fond of saying that there are 1,000 ways to prepare the codfish.
I was staying at the Goodmorning Hostel, a homey spot that had a big focus on food. There was the chouriço night, which is the Portuguese spelling of chorizo, and the “Moustache Experience” which consisted of cooking class/demonstration hosted by a hostel employee, named João, who had a moustache. There was a group hostel dinner, which was only €10 and hosted at a local restaurant – it included lots of wine, beer or sangria and multiple courses – cheeses, sausages, cod (of course), chicken… everything was served family style and I was sitting beside a relatively rude, grabby guy so there are no photos. I apologize.
Chouriço night was run by one of the hostel employees and he did the preparations during halftime of a World Cup soccer game. This seems to be strictly in the ‘do not do this at home’ category as he poured a generous amount of alcohol in the bottom of a casserole pan with a grate on top, then set it on fire to grill the sausages. The common room was full of North Americans at this point and we all looked at each other before someone helpfully suggested that maybe the burning casserole dish be located away from the hard plastic of the TV projector.
I’ve been eating a lot of chorizo, usually just in slices handed to me at a bar as part of a tapas plate, and none of it had the grilled fiery goodness of this offering. Despite the seeming lack of interest in fire safety… good job, Goodmorning hostel.
During the walking tour, the guide suggested that we try a popular drink known as gingha. This is a cherry liqueur that may, depending on the preferences of the drinker, be poured into chocolate cups. It’s a match made in heaven – chocolate and cherry – and the suggested gingha establishment used small, reasonably sized cups so that you got two pours for under €2.
The guide told us that his favourite way to enjoy gingha was to sip a bit of the drink and then cram it all into his mouth so that he had chocolate cup and cherry liqueur creating an icky, gooey mess. I took his advice on the second pour and felt as though my effort was well rewarded.
I should also point out that the Portuguese have quite the sweet tooth. I used to think that I did, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m only really into cheesecakes and chocolate baked goods like brownies, cookies and cakes. I tried a famous pastry, the travesseiro, at an equally famous Portuguese bakery in Sintra… and I was pretty much over it by the third bite. Everyone raved about some sweet pastries in a Lisbon neighbourhood and I really just couldn’t be bothered.
Food in Sintra was insanely expensive as the town is nothing more than a big tourist site. I was just about to breakdown and buy a bag of potato chips to avoid spending €15 on a sandwich – this is not an exaggeration – when I found a small, slightly dingy looking bar that had a cheap cheeseburger, fries and salad combo plate on offer. As you can see from the photo, I’m assuming that the bun was extra.
The Moustache Experience, the cooking workshop offered by the hostel, was only five or six euros and included the workshop, the meal and a glass of sangria. The best part of this experience, beyond the personable chef, was seeing what is considered traditional in Portuguese cooking.
João told us to be careful about adding salt to any dish involving cod (assuming that we’re using the salted, dried cod) as it is impossible to remove all of the added salt during the “de-salting” process. He said that you have to keep tasting everything as you cook to ensure that the seasoning is correct – and that salt, if needed, should be added sparingly and only after the chef is absolutely certain.
Another reason to be careful about adding salt? Two words, one ingredient: Potato chips.
Yes, potato chips. This was considered a base ingredient of the dish that we made and potato chip sticks were added in roughly a 1:1 cod to potato chip stick ratio, after the cod was cooked in milk. Diet food (and moderation) is apparently not a Portuguese strong point as João took a particular pleasure in watching our shocked expressions. I consider potato chips a guilty pleasure, not a base ingredient and when we asked if there were healthy alternatives (or while we brainstormed alternatives), João said that we could grate the potatoes ourselves and then fry up the pieces before adding them. I think he misunderstood our discussion regarding health.
Also, I’m not going to lie about this… but I had to break down and hit up McDonald’s. Portuguese food is exhausting.