Culinary experiences in Portugal

Postcard from... Lisbon

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The Independent Online


You can taste the sea in almost every dish you eat in Lisbon – and you don’t even need to like fish to experience it.

While there are obvious  examples, like the rich rice stews studded with tender octopus tentacles, or the sardines straight off the boat and onto the charcoal grills, you can also find the influence of the oceans in more unexpected dishes.

While I tucked into a bowl of clams and shrimp on a recent holiday to the Portuguese capital, my boyfriend chose a rabbit stew. With the first few forkfuls of the thick red wine sauce enveloping the tasty flesh came the mild but unmistakable tang of a curry. A few more forkfuls and we worked out that the flavour was powdered coriander, a nod to the days when the Portuguese ruled Goa, their sailors bringing back boatloads of spices.

Portuguese explorers reached their tentacles across the oceans far and wide, with colonies in Africa, Asia and South America. Everything in this stunning capital-by-the-sea seems to reference the prosperity the oceans blessed it with. In a church, columns meet the roof like waves rocking boats. Maritime motifs adorn the tiles on the walls of many homes.

Think of one of the most  famous Portuguese dishes: Piri-Piri chicken. The chillies were brought back from South America, then the name came from trade with the African colonies. And I can think of no better way to end an evening than with a Brazilian caipirinha cocktail, another import from across the seas which the Portuguese adopted as their own.