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Portuguese Cuisine and Recipes

Information about Portuguese Food, Cooking and Recipes



Cooking by Country - October 2004




Go to:-   Portugal  Featured Ingredient  |  Portugal Speciality Dish  |  Cooking by Country Main Page




Situated in South Western Europe, Portugal has borders with Spain plus a 1,793 coastline on the North Atlantic Ocean. Its temperate climate ranges from cooler and rainy in north to warmer and drier in south. 


Although it has a mountainous region north of the Tagus River, the rolling plains to south are ideal for grazing livestock and the areas of woodlands and forests are the ideal habitat for wild game.


Portuguese cuisine is often confused with  neighbouring Spanish cuisine however  it is actually quite distinct due to its cultural isolation and historical background.




Ancient Times, History and Influences on Portuguese Cooking



With such a large coastline,  it should not come as any surprise that the sea has always been one of the main source of food  in Portuguese cuisine. Although not much is known about early culinary habits, archaeological evidence does show that by the end of the Palaeolithic period, about 7000BC the valley of the Tagus River was populated by hunter/gatherer/fishing tribes. The remains of shellfish and crustaceans, as well as the bones of oxen, deer, sheep, horses and pigs have been excavated from this period.


By 3000 BC Neolithic peoples had begun to practice agriculture and were practised in the use of polished stone tools and ceramics however it was the arrival and settlement of Celtic peoples by  600 BC which was to have a more profound culinary influence - more so even than it's Spanish neighbour. The peoples occupying Portugal took advantage of the fine pasture-land, both for raising livestock and farming although wild game, shellfish and honey formed the basis of their diet. They also gathered nuts, in particular chestnuts, which they roasted and made into bread.



The arrival of the Romans had an effect on the dietary habits in this area.  By the 2nd Century AD their building of new roads meant that food could be transported more easily, thus introducing new ingredients such as wheat to the different parts of the country.  It is thought they also introduced olives (therefore olive oil), onions and garlic - three ingredients which are indispensable in Portuguese cuisine.


The Arabs who occupied the southern parts of Portugal  from the early 8th Century AD also had a huge effect on Portuguese cooking, not only in the types of foods grown and eaten,  but also on the preparation of foods. They introduced new irrigation methods which turned  otherwise barren areas into agricultural land enabling fresh and new produce (such as almond trees, figs and citrus)  to be grown. They also introduced new ingredients such as rice and spices and at least one cooking technique which still features in Southern Portuguese cuisine today,  namely the Cataplana. You can read all about it in the Speciality Dish section.


By the early 15th century,  Portugal's sea-faring explorers were to add another dimension to the cuisine. The expansion of their empire lead to them introducing spices such as coriander, saffron and ginger to Europe, as well as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and many other ingredients from The New World. Further driven by the desire to find exotic spices, it was a Portuguese, Vaco da Gama who discovered the sea route to India and the far east. It was also around this time that what many think of as being the national ingredient of Portugal, came into popularity. Salted Bacalhau (cod)  was used as a supplement to the usual cured pork to feed the sailors on the long voyages to the far east. You can read more about it in the Portuguese "featured ingredient".



Click here for lots of Portuguese Recipes


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