Portugal’s food towns

Food towns – all cuisine is local, especially in Portugal. In fact many American’s don’t know much about regional Portuguese cuisine – but every Portuguese town or region uses its own plants, traditions and grains to offer a unique meal. And, while there are a few national dishes, most have very local roots. Here are a few food towns, and the dishes that make them famous:

Chanfana wars
Who has the best chanfana? Depends who you ask… Chanfana a tasty traditional dish served only in Central Portugal. It is a dish based on goat meat, slow cooked in a caçoila pot of black pottery in a wood burning stove, steeped in red wine, garlic, bay leaves, pepper, colorau and salt.

Now, Miranda do Corvo claims to be the Capital of Chanfana. Nearby, Vila Nova de Poiares is the self-proclaimed Universal Capital of Chanfana. No big rivalry!

But back to the chanfana, whose history is also unclear. Some say invention of chanfana took place out of necessity during the French Invasions in the early nineteenth century.

One version is that the dish was invented by the nuns of the Monastery of Semide to prevent the French from stealing their goats, they slaughtered the animals and cooked them. As the French had poisoned the wells, the nuns used wine for the seasoning. Other say the French demanded the locals make them a boeuf bourguignon – and out came chanfana…

Yet another version is that once again, during the Napoleonic invasions, French soldiers had confiscated all the animals for food, only left the oldest of goats. The only way to make it eatable was to soak it in wine and cook for hours.

However we got chanfana, from Poiares to Lousã, from Miranda do Corvo to Condeixa, this is a local dish to enjoy!

Mealhada is Portugal’s suckling pig capital
Mealhada is a town in Central Portugal of about 4,000– but say “MEALHADA” to a Portuguese and only one thing comes to mind, spit-roasted suckling pig lovingly known as Leitão da Bairrada. Today in Mealhada there are dozens of restaurants dedicated Leitão – and serving the delicacy annually to thousands of visitors.

Leitão da Bairrada is one of the best-known regional dishes in Portugal, and was named one of the 7 Culinary Wonders of Portugal. And Mealhada may have more restaurants per capita than anywhere else- this is a town built on the tradition of Leitão. More than 30 eateries line what was once the main road between Lisbon and Porto – and almost all of them specialize in roast suckling pig. Try it with salad and crispy fried potatoes. And what wine to go with rich and tender Leitão? Espumante de Bairrada – a sparkling red wine, grown locally – and the perfect compliment to this mighty meal.

Porto’s super sandwich
Porto has it s Port wine, but ask the locals for the best Porto dish. Some may say Papas de Sarrabulho – others Tripas à moda do Porto. But everyone will agree on the Francesinha. Now this is more than just a sandwich that hails from Porto. It is a mix of bread, ham, linguiça, and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. It is served with fries. It is a big party on your plate. And the Francesinha sauce varies from eatery to eatery. The Francesinha is said to come from the French croque-monsieur (hence the name). Try one!

Pork and clams in Évora
Carne de Porco à Alentejana is one of the most traditional and popular pork dishes in Portuguese cuisine. Restaurants in Évora are the perfect place to meet this giant of Alentejo cuisine. Now, the two main players may seem different: Pork and clams, but follow along here…. The key is local ingredients and tradition.

So, beyond the famed pork of the Aletnejo, and tasty clams from its long Atlantic coast, you have local herbs, which grow wild near creeks or are cultivated by hand, mixed with wonderful olives. So, yes this sounds like surf and turf, but try it in Évora – with a side migas – locals toasted bread crumbs – and you will be a believer.

They cook in volcanos in the Azores – yes they do!
In the volcanic Furnas Valley, along side a lake on the island of Sao Miguel, we find hot springs. In these steaming holes, set in a park – locals come to make a dish unique to the Azores – Cozido das Furnas. This dish is prepared by lowering the pot in a hot spring heated by volcanic steam. The food cooks slowly – for about 5 hours – and the only liquid used are the juices from the ingredients. The hot springs work magic to the meat and vegetable stew boiled underground. The pots are full of layers of Pork, Beef, Cabbage, Kale, Potatoes, Tarot, Carrots, Chicken, Chouriço and Blood Sausage. After a nice stay in the hot spring, they are piped out, and served at local eateries’ the results are quite delicious!