To a lot of our friends and fellow travellers food is an important part of travelling
The thing is… food shows a side of a country and its people better than any guidebook. Especially when you travel and are ‘forced’ to eat with other people (one of the reasons why we don’t stay in AirBnB’s when we travel for pleasure).
It’s through the new tastes, new smells, new colors, new vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, seafood and all the other ingredients you get an insight into the conditions that define the culture.
In Nepal and India most people are vegetarians – not only because of religion – but more important because people are too poor to buy meat. The main items are curries, rice, lentils and rotis made from things people grow themselves. The food is pimped up with achar – a kind of pickle, often fermented – not because of a refined way of ‘cooking’ – the fermentation takes place because they keep the vegetables in jars in the sun – something that happened as a coincidence generations ago, but now is a taste that has become a part of the culture. Same with the French bistro classics Confits and Rillettes that originally were ways to preserve meat before people got fridges (or ice boxes). Or in Peru where you prepare your fish in lime, chili and salt because you in big parts of the country don’t have access to firewood – and due to the energy you get from the way you prepare the fish you don’t eat chevichi for dinner. The Tiger Milk would keep you awake all night… 🙂
From our travel scrap book
To us food is more important than sights and nature
We remember our travels from what we eat, people we eat with, restaurants we’ve been to, markets where we have shopped, tastes, colours and smells.
New and exotic ways of preparing and serving the food is almost as exiting and thrilling as even the most popular tourist sights. The inspiration you get is the best souvenir you can bring back home
So what about the Portuguese kitchen?
Most travelers who stay in Portugal for a few weeks will like the local kitchen – it’s plenty and it’s cheap. And it’s always inspiring to eat in the Portuguese restaurants – because unlike most other European capitals the restaurants are usually packed with locals. Especially during lunch where most people eat out. Or in the weekends where most tables are occupied by families who eats their cozida or bachalao, or both.
We have eaten in hundreds of restaurants in all categories all over Portugal in the more than 20 years we have traveled here. And we still eat out at least twice a week. And we still love it.
But it’s not because of the food. We love it because of the ambiance. It’s where you get the gossip, and where you get friends.
When it comes to the Portuguese Kitchen our feelings are mixed. On one hand we understand why tourists love the food.
In how many western countries can you get a lunch or dinner with a starter, main course, drink and coffee for 6,50€ to 10 €?
On the other hand we find the menus very boring, repetitive, lacking variation – and ‘heavy’.
Portugal is not a rich country – people want value for money when they eat out – so most portions are served with rice and some kind of potato. And believe it or not – sometimes also boiled cabbage.
The meat you get is hammered flat as paper and either roasted dry as sand or overcooked (together with potatoes and/rice). The same goes with the fish.
Nutrition and health don’t exist in the Portuguese kitchen. And don’t even mention organic food…
Vegetarians have hard times here.
After 2 years in Lisbon our frustration about the local food grows day by day
We’re still waiting for all the approvals from the authorities before we can start building Tings. So we have a lot of time – time we use for planning, researching, networking and preparing things and routines for Tings so we’re ready and prepared, when the house is finished.
Part of that is working on the food items we want to serve in Tings Tea Lounge. Based on the same principles as in Kathmandu, where our menu isn’t based on a special tradition, but on what’s available in the market according to the season. So our menu in Nepal is made from the typical Nepalese meat and vegetables, but prepared according traditions we know from the French, Italian, Danish, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, American or another foreign kitchen. We call it world food.
In Lisbon we have found the best Olive oil in the world… still all restaurants serve the same.
In the vegetable market the tomatoes & cucumbers competes with the coriander, parsley and basil to get our attention by ‘throwing their fragrances after us’ – very far from the very sad and non smelling salad we get in most restaurants.
Same with the fish and sea food. Every time we visit the fish market we get ideas for fish tatare, cheviche, sashimi, bouillabaise etc. Dishes that are easy to make and at prices most people can afford. Still its the same 5-10 fish and seafood dishes we get everywhere. And don’t mention the meat dishes…
Going to our local market is an abundance of super vegetables, fish & Seafood, all kinds of meat, not to mention the cheeses and cakes. We cant wait to play with all these delicacies.
Knowing what’s available just makes our frustrations bigger.
Why can’t you get all the fantastic vegetables in the restaurants?
Why is it so hard to find vegetarian restaurants?
Why can’t you get all the meat cuttings we get at the local butcher?
Why is the quality of most of the ingredients so bad?
Whether you eat at a cheap local 7€-per-menu-restaurant or you eat in one of the new, pretentious and expensive restaurants in Chiado, you get the same standard olive oil! Why do all restaurants serve dishes with chickpeas (and other items) from jars/cans, why is the quality of the rice the same lousy quality as the potatoes – something we wouldn’t serve at home…
A month ago we shared my frustrations with our local friend Myles.
People can’t afford it – we don’t have the tradition. We want something that fills our stomachs.
If 6,50€ is the price the majority of the restaurant customers can pay, it’s a problem.
Still it doesn’t explain why you always get tinned chickpeas instead of saving the money (and increasing the quality) by making them from scratch! And it doesn’t explain why so few kitchens try to differentiate themselves by serving better qualities of olive oil, vinaigre, bread etc.
Last week our friends asked about our favourite restaurants
As mentioned – we eat out a couple of times every week. We have our Graca favorites. Small local restaurants with Portuguese classics in super quality. We also have a very local Cervejeria & Marisqueria we prefer. And we even have a bistro that serves French & Spanish style tapas.
The Portuguese love their food
People think that Portuguese food means grilled chicken. Perhaps with a little bit of peri-peri – thanks to Nando’s for the stereotype! It’s true that the Portuguese love their grilled chicken, but our cuisine goes way beyond that and in this article we’d like to focus on things that are muito Portuguesas, that is, oh so very Portuguese! We care for meats but we also take our fish very seriously, as we’re a country by the sea.
Vegetarians don’t get as lucky around here though. But for everyone else, let’s get the juices flowing…
From Travel In Portugal – Eat Good Food on BackPackMe
But when it comes to finding new innovative places we have problems.
Cheap or expensive – we only have a handful of places where we feel challenged – not necessarily because the food is fantastic BUT because the kitchen plays with the menu and try to challenge their guests like Rotas da Ilhas Verde in Ponta Delgada on San Miguel (Azores) or the 1 year old Café com Calma in Marvila.
We haven’t been eating at one of the Michelin restaurants yet (but eating expensive isn’t really the challenge). But we have tried a lot of the more expensive ones – always a disappointing experience. Maybe not disappointing at the first visit, but at the second when we come back with high expectations and the quality is inconsistent.
But the biggest mystery is why the food has to be so fat and unhealthy… Before we got our own kitchen, we both gained weight faster than we ate – despite the exercise from walking the hills of Lisbon.
Maybe our disappointment with the Portuguese kitchen is due to Copenhagen where we during the past 2 decades have been blessed with chefs who have revolutionized the international kitchen and inspired a lot of young chefs to open high quality restaurants with honest food at affordable prices.
Or maybe its just because we love a kitchen where the focus is on the quality of each of the ingredients – like the Italian where the dishes are very simple, like an excellent tomato served with slices of buffalo Mozzarella, Basil leaves and a good olive oil. Or the French bistro classics like a steak tartare or simmering dishes like a coq au vin.
A few ideas we’re working on
Our menu at Tings will be very small, healthy and based on seasons
None of us are chefs. Our cooking skills are average – we only make what we’re capable of making and we only make thing we like ourselves. So don’t expect Haute de Cuisine.
We’re still working on the menu and we’re fare from making decision – but we already have a few ideas for a couple of items. One of them inspired by all the chickpeas you find in a lot of Portuguese dishes – a chickpea – or hummus/patee -plate. Another item Steak Tartare – both Tings Style. Both are possible to make at affordable prices – and both healthy, homemade and – if possible – organic.
Why a small menu only?
We don’t want to be a restaurant – we want our guests to go out, get inspired and get lost in the Portuguese Culture in the small and good local restaurants we have in Graca.
And forget about our comments about gaining weight. Most tourists get more exercise than they’re used to because of all the hills 🙂
Love & Bom Apetite
Annette & Thomas