Yesterday I was reading an article on The New York Times which made me think of the emotional link we, Portuguese, have with food. The text is all about a Portuguese-American chef, George Mendes. I found it amazing that this man, who runs a Michelin-stared restaurant in Manhattan, can have the same feelings towards Portuguese food that I and so many other people have. And it has a lot to do with mothers and family in general.
If you’ve been to Portugal you’ll know that, generally speaking, we love food. More than that, we love Portuguese food, which always brings some memories of good times, bad times, childhood times… you name it! I know a person who, when recalling a place that he’s been to in the country, will say something like: “Oh, I remember that place! I had this and that for lunch!”.
Personally, one of the things I love the most about Portuguese food is that so much of it is made with basic ingredients but can still taste wonderful – that is something you can only achieve if you have good produce!
Many such dishes are what I call “poor man’s food”. Not in the sense of “I only have a few bucks so I’ll just get something to fill up my stomach” but in the sense of getting the most out of every ingredient. One good example, in my opinion, is the sopa alentejana, aka, sopa de alho: back in the day, when salted cod fish was something the poor could eat every day, someone came up with this soup. The recipe? Incredibly simple: It uses the water in which the fish was boiled, garlic, slices of bread (preferably from the day before), fresh cilantro and a few drops of olive oil. If they happened to be making the “rich man’s version” they’d include a few bits of cod and a poached egg. Sounds bland? It’s delicious! The fact is, a lot of this “poor man’s food” is actually our version of soul food.
Sometimes tourists will make funny faces looking at certain dishes or reading about them. I get it.
But the way I see it it’s all a bit relative: I’m sure it took someone very hungry to think of eating snails (which the French also eat, by the way), but how is that any worse than eating processed food? So next time you’re in Portugal and someone offers you pig trotters (also eaten in Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea and, I’m sure, several other countries) before you put on your disgusted face think of what might have taken someone to eat it – and then order something else from the menu!
If you’re curious about the article from The New York Times you can read it here.
I’m sure other countries have their version of “soul food”. I’d love to hear about in the comments!