Bolo de arroz

Bolo de arroz (rice cake) is a simple rice-flour cake with a cylinder shape and a crusty top. It goes great with coffee and it is perfect for times when we need some extra sweetness in our lives.

Manuel Ferreira’s 1933 treatise, A Cozinha Ideal, includes recipes for all the classic Portuguese cakes and pastries. There’s usually one recipe per item; in a few cases, two or three variants. But, when it comes to the bolo de arroz, Ferreira took no chances and wrote down four recipes. So, whether it’s hot or cold, rain or shine, Portuguese pastry shops can always make this indispensable pick-me-up.

Have you tried salted cod?

Bacalhau

Bacalhau (cod) is a fish with a bland taste. But, once it is salted and dried in the sun, it becomes the perfect foil for garlic and olive oil. The Portuguese have enjoyed salted cod for more than two centuries. Lucas Rigaud, chef at the court of D. Maria I, included two cod recipes in his 1780 cookbook.

In 1778, Queen D. Maria eliminated the cod sales tax to help the fisherman and the poor. When the Queen returned from a boat ride on the Tagus river, she was greeted by ships decorated with garlands, overflowing with people cheering to the sound of music and fireworks. D. Maria was so touched, that she did the unthinkable. With tears in her eyes, the Queen sent away her coach and walked unguarded amid the crowd to the royal palace in Terreiro do Paço.

If you’re visiting Portugal, give salted cod a try. There’s something truly unique about food that can bring a distant queen so close to her people.

A perfect weekend in Oporto

Perhaps you need a change of scenery to recharge your batteries, but lack the time and energy to plan a perfect weekend. If that’s the case, we’re here to help!

Book a flight to Oporto, a city in the north of Portugal. Then, reserve a room at the Freixo Palace, an aristocratic hotel where you’ll be treated like royalty. Next, check the program at Casa da Música, a great performance center designed by Rem Koolhaas, and buy tickets if there’s a show that interests you.

After checking into the hotel, relax with a glass of white port while enjoying the panoramic view of the Douro river. Then, walk to Aleixo for a lunch of laminated octopus and roasted veal. In the afternoon, visit Serralves, a modern art museum designed by Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect who won the Pritzker prize. For dinner, choose Pedro Lemos or DOP, two restaurants that combine traditional inspiration with great artistry.

On the second day, go on a cruise of the Douro river. You’ll see many Oporto landmarks, such as the Dona Maria bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. Enjoy a “cimbalino” (that’s what Oporto residents call an espresso) at the Majestic Café. After coffee, the obvious next stop is Arcadia, an artisan chocolate maker.  Don’t leave Oporto without seeing the Lello bookstore, the place where J.K. Rowling found the gothic inspiration for Hogwarts.  Enjoy a lunch of simply great food at Adega S. Nicolau and spend the afternoon visiting one of the port-wine houses.  For dinner, go to Paparico, a restaurant that always surprises and delights.

You’ll go back ready for a fresh start with sweet memories of a wonderful weekend.

Click here for Freixo Palace’s website and here for Casa da Música’s website.
Casa Aleixo, Rua Estação 216, Tel. 225 370 462.
Serralves, Rua Dom João de Castro, 210, click here for website.
Pedro Lemos, Rua Padre Luis Cabral, 974, click here for the website.
DOP, Palácio das Artes Largo de S. Domingos, 18, click here for website.
Majestic Café, Rua Santa Catarina, 112, click here for the web site.
Arcadia, Rua do Almada, 63, click here for website
Lello bookstore, Rua das Carmelitas 144 , Porto.
Adega S. Nicolau, R. São Nicolau, 1, Ribeira. Tel. 222-008-232.
O Paparico, Rua de Costa Cabral, 2343, click here for web site.

Chestnuts roasted on an open fire

November 11 is the day dedicated to S. Martinho (St. Martin), a Roman soldier who gave half of his cape to a beggar during a heavy snow storm. Impressed by this gesture, the sun came out and melted the snow. Centuries later, the star still remembers the saint’s generosity and shines with gusto to give us a taste of Summer in Autumn.

The Portuguese celebrate these warm days with a feast called magusto (magoostoo). We gather outdoors to eat roasted chestnuts and drink a small glass of jeropiga, a fortified wine. It’s an ancient tradition that reminds us that there’s no place like Portugal.

All pigs are equal

But some pigs are more equal than others. There is a clear hierarchy among Portuguese pigs. The black pig is at the top of the heap. This aristocratic swine feasts on acorns and is often exported to Spain to be turned into Iberian ham. Restaurants use fanciful names to describe cuts from this animal: secretos (secrets), presas (prey), and plumas (feathers).

Next on the social scale, we have the “leitão,” the famous suckling pig that is roasted to perfection in the Bairrada region and served with sparkling wine.

The rank below is occupied by the “porco bísaro,” a pig with big ears that is a cousin of the wild boar. Its tasty meat has made it all the rage in the north of the country.

The normal pig is at the bottom of the snout ladder. But the meat from this humble animal is essential to sublime preparations, such as pork with clams and presunto (Portugal’s version of prosciutto) with melon. It just goes to show that we should ignore social conventions and treat all pigs as equal.

Island cheese

Queijo da ilha is a wonderful cheese that has been produced in the Azores archipelago since the 16th century. The most famous variety comes from the island of St. Jorge. It is hard and has a sharp, spicy taste.

What makes queijo da ilha so unique is that it is produced with the milk of cows that roam freely on the pastures of Azores. Farmers spend their days following their cows in order to milk them. It is not unknown for cows to wander into a bookstore or a museum, perhaps looking for the famous Andy Warhol cow paintings. It is a privilege to taste cheese that comes from animals who are such free spirits.

How to cook fresh octopus

When you eat octopus in a Portuguese restaurant, it is always tender and delicious. But, when you buy fresh octopus and cook it at home, it often turns into a rubbery disappointment.

Portuguese chefs stage an elaborate disinformation campaign to keep secret their cooking technique. They tell you to cook the octopus with an onion, a cork, or a nail; or leave it in the pot until the water is cold; or cook it in red wine or in red vinegar; or beat it three times on the kitchen counter; or “scare” it by raising it from the boiling water. All these tricks produce inedible, chewy octopus.

So, how do you tenderize this eight-armed mollusk? You freeze the fresh octopus before you cook it! That’s all. But please don’t tell anyone; it’s a secret.