The thing is… food shows a side of a country and it’s 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 ceviche for dinner. The Tiger Milk would keep you awake all night… 🙂
We remember our travels from what we ate, people we ate it with, how we ate it, 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 exciting and thrilling as even the most popular tourist sights.
The inspiration we get is the best souvenir we bring back home – often together with cooking utensils so we can practice ourselves.
Most travelers who stay in Portugal for a few weeks will like the local kitchen – it’s plenty and it’s cheap. Especially if you come from Northern Europe where fish and seafood are expensive.
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 on Sunday afternoons where most tables are occupied by families who eats their Cozida Portugueza – one of the most traditional dish people don’t make themselves at home any more.
We have eaten in hundreds of restaurants in all categories all over Portugal in the more than 25 years we have traveled here. And we still eat out at least twice a week.
And we still love it – but mostly because of the ambiance.
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 less than 10 €? Not many!
On the other hand we find the menus very boring, repetitive, lacking variation – and often too ‘heavy’.
Portugal is not a rich country – people want value for money when they eat out – so most portions are served with rice, 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. Today this only happens rarely – to get juicy and soft tasty meat we always ask the kitchen to prepare it mal pasada which literally means ‘badly’ roasted or rare… 🙂
Nutrition and health don’t exist in the traditional Portuguese kitchen. And don’t even mention organic food… its still decades behind Northern Europe
Vegetarians still have hard times here – especially in the traditional Portugese reastaurants. But here things are getting better – and fast.
It happens very often friends or guests ask us about where we eat – or if we have a list of the best restaurants in town. They know our love for food, that we love cooking ourselves and know the difference between good and OK ingredients, and that we as mentioned go out for lunch or dinners at least a couple of times every week.
Most of the time in Graça – and at least once a week at Penalva da Graça where we have eaten for almost 8 years. They know us very well – what we like, how we like it and our curiosity.
The area 15 minutes walk from our door is slowly but surely becoming one of the best places to eat in Lisbon. New restaurants, cafes, bars, craft beer bars etc open every week. In all nationalities and in all price range. And you can still get the cheap set menus you read about.
It IS possible to get a menu with drinks and coffee etc for less than € 10. Just remember that like at home price and quality also goes hand-in-hand in Portugal.
We advice people to instead of being a cheapskate eat the things you never can afford at home. That’s very cheap if you come from Northern Europe 🙂
But remember – the best restaurants are the ones you find yourself!
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.