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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Life in Portugal at late 18th century to early 19th century - Food habits I


Taken from the book “Portugal no século XVIII – de D. João V à Revolução Francesa” (Portugal in the 18th century - from D. João the 5th to the French Revolution) by the Sociedade Portuguesa de Estudos do século XVIII (Portuguese Society of 18th century Studies), in the International Congress of 1990, chapter “Apontamentos sobre a gastronomia do século XVIII” (Notes on the gastronomy in the 18th Century), by Virgilio Gomes

Many foreign authors, like William Beckford, have compared Portuguese cuisine with the European reality, mainly Paris which was the city which set the fashionable. William Beckford dedicated many pages of his personal journal to critiques to Portuguese cuisine. In his opinion, Portuguese food was abundant, coarse and it's presentation was debatable and old fashioned. To many spices, too salty and still served on huge silver plates (as a sign of Portuguese richness) and there were no restaurants. In fact taverns were a shifty place were gentlemen would not go in to.
In Portugal some traditions hadn't changed since the Middle Ages: Olive oil, wine, soups and dried cod were the most important, as were all other types of fish. In fact fish was so common in Portugal that the Nobility rather saw it as food for the poor. It was cheap and went along with all the religious rulings, like abstinence on Fridays and religious days.
But other recipes became noticeable during this time period and still today are the most traditional and known recipes from Portuguese cuisine: The Cozido à portuguesa (boiled meats and vegetables), Caldeirada (sort of a stew mainly done with fish varieties) and Sopa da pedra (a thick beans, vegetables, noodles and meat soup).
Bread was still the main dish garnishment, but potatoes, sweet maize corn and rice became more and more a expected presence at Portuguese tables.
One of Beckford's pass-times was to take part of religious celebrations in Portugal, where he could watch from up close the religious ceremonial of culinary traditions and this is what he had to say about the ceremonies of Santo Agostinho de Mafra: He had to decline the invitation to eat at the convents kitchen because «...then we would have to sacrifice at least two hours of our time and we would end up half-cooked of the vapours of the fatty braised veal and pork...».
In fact, the way food was presented on tables during celebrations and other similar days was the called Iguarias de Coberta (Covering Delicacies, roughly translated). It means that several dishes and recipes were put at the same time on the table and guests could choose from which one they would eat.
One other important aspect of Portuguese cuisine are the sweets. In the 18th century they have developed into one of the finest delicacies of Europe and with Moorish influences and the amounts of sugar that came from the colonies, Portuguese sweets were never the same, being still today a proud tradition.
Convents and nunneries had their part in this development: Novices would use their imagination to come up with original sweets like Papos de anjo (Angel's maw/goitre), Toucinho do céu (Heaven's bacon), Barrigas de freira (Nun's bellies), etc., and then seduce visitors with them, hoping to get some male attention and, therefore, marriage.
The curious fact is that William Beckord saw nothing wrong with Portuguese sweets but he critiques the lack of ability of Portuguese people to use cutlery.
With the French invasions new fashions appear, like drinking coffee after a meal and hot cocoa.

This is a small overlook on Portuguese food habits. Another chapter to come soon.

And here are some links with mentioned foods in the article (only in portuguese though...):




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