Vegetarian Portuguese foods – the ultimate guide
Although a country with a strong meat and fish based cuisine, you’ll find that vegans and vegetarians can eat their way around the country without starving. Here are some of our vegan and vegetarian Portuguese foods.
Yes, our local dishes are mostly heavy in meat, I don’t quite believe this has always been the norm, as we have a few vegetarian Portuguese foods that are very traditional.
For many decades, Portugal was ruled by a very severe fascist regime, led by the old president Salazar which impoverished the country. According to my parents and grandparents, people were generally poor and couldn’t afford much meat or fish dishes which were used on special occasions or on Sunday after church.
People living in the country side, like my mother’s family, had a few chicken roaming around and could gather a few eggs, but according to her, her family grew up as vegetarians. Not by choice, but because of the extreme poverty. They were so poor, my grandmother couldn’t afford to buy shoes for all her children, let alone buying expensive meals.
Portugal was never involved on the II world war, but it suffered from the shortage of food during those times. I believe the modern excesses of meat consumption, has a lot to do with an idea of wealth. Specially among the older generations, who want to forget how poor they once were.
One thing Portugal is famous for: it’s pastries. They’re varied and very popular and if you ever visit any of the Portuguese old colonies, like Goa (India), Macau (China), Angola, Mozambique or Cabo Verde (all in Africa), Brazil, Malacca (Malaysia), Timor-Leste, you’ll find the strong Portuguese influence.
A GUIDE TO THE VEGETARIAN PORTUGUESE FOODS
Probably the most traditional of all vegetarian Portuguese foods – the Caldo verde soup.
This soup is original from the north of Portugal, from the region of Minho and Tras-os Montes, where my mother’s family is from. This was the traditional and staple food for poor people, the only thing they could afford. It’s a very simple soup with very few ingredients; Couve Portuguesa (a very typical Portuguese cabbage), potatoes, onion and olive oil. Traditionally this soup has a couple of slices of chorizo, for the flavor, since people couldn’t afford to buy much meat.
Caldo verde used to be cooked on the fireplace in big metal pots, at every northern Portuguese home. There was no electricity back then, so the fire places had a double functionality of warming up the house and as a cooking tool. If you go up north to a small village of Tras-os-montes, you’ll still find this old form of cooking. People used to eat it in clay bawls or plates. In some restaurants you might be served the Caldo verde in a clay bawl.
You’ll find this soup at every restaurant or cafe in Portugal. They’re very cheap and famous, but be aware to ask if they contain chorizo or not!
SOPA DA PEDRA
This is a very traditional Portuguese soup from the region of Almeirim. It literally means “the stone soup”. I love the story of this particular soup, which is not part of the traditional vegetarian Portuguese foods, but it’s often veganized.
The legend says that a poor monk was doing a peregrination and was feeling really hungry. Once he arrived at a house to rest, and being too proud to beg for food, he immediately told the owners: “I wish I could make a stone soup”. Filled with curiosity, the hosts asked what was this soup about, which he replied: “it’s one of the most delicious soups ever!”. They invited him to use their kitchen and prepare this so called stone soup they never heard of.
The smart monk, put an apron on, placed a small stone inside the metal pot that was placed at the fire and immediately said: I’ll have to put some flavor to this soup! The host gave him some salt, but he suggested it would taste better with some chorizo. He then asked if they didn’t have something to thicken the soup, like potatoes, beans or any left over from their previous meal. So he kept on adding ingredients non-stop; carrots, beans, potatoes, cabbages, meat… everything he could put his hands on. With all these ingredients (unusual for a poor country which only had simple soups) this was an excelent rich meal! The hosts were amazed!
So the young monk ate as much as he could, saved the “magic stone” in his pocket and moved on to the next village, where he did the same trick to get fed!
This is actually a soup which needs no recipe, you just drop everything inside, including the left overs. If you ever visit th city of Almeirin, you’ll find the monks statue there as a tribute to this soup.
Most Portuguese soups are vegan and you can find them everywhere for about 1.15€/ $1.60. They’re really delicious and always cooked freshly from scratch.
A basic part of our culinary and our traditional vegetarian Portuguese foods companion. You’ll notice that Portuguese people always eat bread during the main meals, and this is because bread, olives and wine are the core of our Mediterranean diet.
Broa de milho (Corn bread)
This is a typical bread from the north of Portugal, region of Minho and Traz-os-montes. A wonderful bread for people who can’t tolerate gluten. Be aware that nowadays, most bakeries mix the corn flour with Wheat flour to make it lighter and softer. Ask the bakerers if it’s pure Boa de Milho and check how heavy it feels. If it’s too light, then it might be mixed.
This bread is usually bright yellow inside, although you can find varieties of white corn bread. It has the typical sweetness of the corn flour and you should definitely try this delicious bread once you’re here.
With a very singular shape, the Pao Alentejano, as the name shows, is originally from the region of Alentejo. A delicious bread with a particular flavor, this is one of Portugal’s favorite breads.
CASTANHA ASSADA (baked Chestnuts)
For all the vegans and vegetarians visiting Portugal during fall or winter time… everybody’s favorite delicacy are the baked Castanhas. You’ll find street vendors everywhere, selling the famous “castanha assada” very typical from Portugal.
Bread, olives and Porto wine… Nothing is more Portuguese than this vegan snack. Add cheese if you’re not vegan and you’ll be tasting the best local olives in the world! People often ask me how do I manage to look so young… I always reply: Bread soaked in olive oil!” Yes, that’s basically my favorite snack, better than chocolate.
PASTEIS DE BELEM / PASTEIS DE NATA
It’s believed that Pasteis de Nata were created before the 18th Century by Catholic Monks at the Jeronimos Monastery, in Belem. During the Portuguese medieval history, the monasteries and convents produced large amounts of eggs. It was quite common for these Portuguese convents and monasteries to produce many confections with the leftover egg yolks, resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Pasteis de Belem are one of the most famous Portuguese pastries and you can head to Belem for the authentic ones, or just ask for Pasteis de Nata in any pastry shop across the country.
Bolo rei, literally means King Cake. It’s a Portuguese cake, usually eaten around Christmas, from December 25, the day of the kings (a reference to the three kings) in January 6.
The bolo rei is baked from a soft white dough with raisins, various nuts and crystallized fruit. You’ll find this typical cake at every Portuguese family’s home during the holidays.
Arroz Doce, which literally means sweet rice, is usually cooked in milk an sugar. The rice can be cooked directly in the milk or in water with sugar, adding later on condensed milk and sprinkled with cinnamon powder. In Denmark they add almonds to the recipe and in the Philippines they add fruits and chocolate, lots of flavors and even Pandano and pirinee leaves as the recipe from the Maldives.
QUEIJADAS DE SINTRA
The Queijadas de Sintra can be traced to the middle ages. There are official documents, kept at at Torre do Tombo, stating that in 1227, during Sancho II reign, they were used to pay part of the fixed-rent of landed properties in Sintra area.
Supposedly, queijadas de Sintra were born in Ranholas, a small locality near Sintra. The production of the queijadas has always been linked to the Sapa family. It is said that they were the first ones to produce them. Years later, during the XVIII century, Maria Sapa, born in 1756, was responsible for the industrialization of the queijadas production. On Sundays the queijadas de Sintra were transported on donkeys to Sintra where they were sold.
Queijadas de Sintra small-sized round delicacies. However they are extra-large when it comes to taste. It is a wonder how simple ingredients such as cow’s cheese, sugar, flour, eggs and cinnamon combined give rise to such an exquisite result. Maybe the secret is on the experimented hands that mould the extremely thin and crunchy dough and cook the delicious filling.* source
One of the world’s most prestigious and famous wines – Porto wine. This is one of Portugal’s finest exports for it’s superior quality.
This is a sweet, red wine often served as dessert wine, though it also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. Under the European protected designation of origin guidelines, only the Portuguese made Porto may be labeled as such. In the USA, wines labeled “port” may come from anywhere else in the world, while names “Dao” “Oporto”, “Porto” and “Vinho do Porto” are usually produced in Portugal.
Porto is produced in the northern region or Porto and you can explore the wineries and cellars where the ancient barrel rest.
The wine produced in this region of Douro (north of Portugal) is the third oldest in the world after, Tokaj-Hegyalia region in Hungary established in 1730 and Chianti in 1716.
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