From Sardines to Sausages: Exploring Portuguese Cuisine

ES guest writer Faith brings us the food travel lowdown on the savory land that is Portugal.

From freshly caught grilled sardines and salted dried cod dishes to hearty smoked sausage stews and the famous piri-piri chicken, Portugal has some seriously flavorful food. Paprika, garlic, bay leaves, chili and olive oil are popular additions to many Portuguese dishes, and the resulting flavors will leave you coming back for more. These popular dishes make this a culinary destination that deserves to be better known.

1. Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese Egg Custard Tarts

Pasteis de nata

The Pasteis de Nata is a creamy, flaky, egg custard tart, topped with sugar and cinnamon. The tart originated in Lisbon in the 18th century at a bakery in the Santa Maria de Belem parish, and the bakery itself has now become a popular tourist attraction, serving over 10,000 tarts a day. Lines are inevitable, but it’s well worth the wait to try this distinctive treat from its original source.

2. Pão – Bread

Traditionally, Portuguese meals were served on a slab of crusty bread to soak up all the juices and to provide a filling meal. Today, plates have replaced this method of serving food, but bread is still an integral part of most meals. Bread also varies widely from region to region, with each having its own speciality. Pão de Centeio is predominantly found in the North—this is a rye bread, which is dark and dense. The sweet Bolo de Ferradura loaf can be found in the Ribatejo region, combining unusual flavors such as star anise and lemon. It is often horseshoe-shaped and served at weddings to bring good luck. Pão com Chouriço is the Portuguese substitute for the American hotdog, but more delicious as it is made with Portuguese smoked sausage and fresh dough.

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Sandwiches in the City

New Yorkers are obnoxiously proud of our lunchtime options. We don’t do chains because we don’t have to. Not when you can find everything from banh mi hot dogs to Brussels sprouts sandwiches for under $10. That’s exactly why I’ve been so bothered by the rapid proliferation of Cosi, Pret a Manger and the like across Manhattan in recent years. Are New Yorkers really lunching at these places now? Sure, these semi-upscale sandwich chains are better than Subway or Quiznos, but I’d still take a Boar’s Head bodega roll any day of the week.

Recently entering the midtown sandwich contest and blowing the chains out of the water is City Sandwich, a Portuguese-style sandwich shop from chef Michael Guerrieri. Now, you foodies may be noting that there’s not really any such thing as a Portuguese-style sandwich. This is true. Like most refined Europeans, the Portuguese prefer to sit down and eat their meals with knives and forks. So Guerrieri, who was born in Naples, raised in New York and spent 13 years cooking in Lisbon, has taken traditional Portuguese meals and turned them into an array of newly-invented sandwiches.

The crispy bread is brought in twice daily from a Portuguese bakery in New Jersey; the insides scooped out to make room for fillings and to ensure the sandwiches aren’t too heavy. Each one is spread with high-quality olive oil and built using unique ingredients you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other sandwich shop in the world. For example, the Bench Girl, pictured above, contains alheira, a smoky, spicy sausage that was pioneered by Portuguese Jews during the Inquisition. In an effort not to stand out among their pork-eating compatriots, the Jews invented this chorizo-like link that is actually made from chicken, but looks enough like the real deal that no one could guess they weren’t dining on swine. Apparently, back in the day on the Iberian peninsula, not eating pork was enough to get you burned at the stake. Today, a little bit of pork has managed to sneak into most versions of alheira currently produced in Portugal, but it’s still a superbly rich and flavorful sausage that’s not quite like any other. It’s paired here with an omelet, grilled onions, spinach, and melted mozzarella, for a savory breakfast-y sandwich that is appropriate any time of day.

For a look at City Sandwich’s other inventive, Portuguese-influenced sandwich creations, keep reading after the jump.

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It’s Better Than the Pill

It’s better than the pill, Amanda tells me. I believe her because she knows about food, she loves slimy, oily fish and she’s really pretty. Her slight Southern accent punctuates the truth: eating actual fish is much more beneficial than swallowing a supplement.

Earlier this year I learned about my elevated cholesterol. I started on fish oil pills immediately. But I also tried to eat foods that would lower my level, not just avoid foods known to perk it up. I dined on oatmeal and lentils through the winter, filling my hunger but leaving plenty of dough in my now very-empty bank account.

But that was winter. I can no longer allow the stove top to fire up my kitchen for a full 45 minutes.That’s when I found Amanda at a backyard party, proclaiming the joys and healthful uses of tiny fish.

I lunched at DC’s Estadio, ordering a decidedly oily sandwich of sardines. Sardines, butter and thinly shaved onions. And suddenly I didn’t feel so terrible, so old, so holy-fuck-I’m-30. I found a legitimate reason to order fishy sandwiches. I will, I will, I will lower my cholesterol deliciously.

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