Cuisine

Portuguese cuisine is characterized by rich, filling and full-flavoured dishes that are cheap to prepare. The influence of Portugal's former colonial possessions is clear, especially in the wide variety of spices used. These include piri piri - small, fiery chilli peppers, as well as cinnamon, vanilla and saffron. There are also Arab and Moorish influences, especially in the south of the country. Garlic is widely used, as are herbs such as coriander and parsley.

Portugal is a sea-faring nation at heart, and this is reflected in the amount of fish and seafood consumed by the Portuguese. Foremost amongst these is bacalhau, or salted cod, which is the Portuguese national dish and of which it is said that there are more than 365 ways to cook, one for every day of the year. Among other popular dishes are sardines, especially when grilled as sardinhas assadas, as well as octopus, hake, lamprey and a variety of shellfish.

Meat is widely used, especially chicken, pork and kid. Roasts and stews are the most common ways of preparing these. There is a frugal approach to ingredients, with nothing wasted. This emphasis is evident in the large number of dishes that make use of offal and the more unusual cuts of meat. This can be best observed during a matança do porco, or pig killing festival, where dishes are served using all parts of the animal. What cannot be served immediately is turned into a wide variety of cured meats, especially spicy sausages. These include linguiça, a seasoned pork sausage with onions, garlic and pepper, and chouriço, a spicy dried sausage.

Vegetables that are popular in Portuguese cookery include tomatoes, cabbage and onions. There are many starchy dishes, such as feijoada, a rich bean stew, and açorda, a thick bread-based soup. Rice is widely used, as are potatoes.

The Portuguese have a very sweet tooth, and especially enjoy rich, egg-based desserts. These are often seasoned with spices such as cinnamon and vanilla. Perhaps most popular is leite-creme - a set egg custard. Also popular is arroz doce - rice pudding, although aletria - a similar dish, this time based upon a kind of vermicelli - is preferred in the north of the country. These are often decorated with elaborate stenciled patterns of cinnamon powder. Other custards include pudim flan - a kind of crème caramel. Cakes and pastries are also very popular. Most towns will have a local specialty, usually egg or cream based pastry. Originally from Lisbon, but popular nationwide, as well as among the diaspora, are pasteis de nata. These are small, extremely rich custard tarts, which are best eaten with an espresso.

Portugal formerly had a large empire, and the cuisines has influences in both directions. The Portuguese influence is strongly evident in Brazilian cuisine, which features its own versions of Portuguese dishes such as feijoada and caldeirada (fish stew). Other former colonies include the Indian province of Goa, where dishes such as vindaloo shows the Portuguese influence in its pairing of vinegar and garlic.