I am unashamedly a bread person. I'll eat bread at any chance I get, in whatever form - white bread, brown bread, milk bread, flat bread, rolls, buns, mini loaves, giant loaves...
I think you get the picture.
Being a bread person, I save a special place in my heart for good bread. Among my tastiest memories are giant clouds of milk bread I'd devour from a bakery in the little village of Nuvem in Goa, that were so fresh out of the oven, they'd burn my hand through their paper packaging. (That didn't stop me from eating them though!) Soft, sweet dinner rolls and the doughy encasings of sausage rolls at my family restaurant Longuinhos in Margao, Goa, also come to mind when it comes to delicious bread.
So it comes as no surprise then that I have recently been suffering from an acute bread craving following my trip to Portugal. The cause? The delicious corn bread of Northern Portugal - broa de milho.
You have to understand, broa the milho is special. It looks unassuming enough - brown, with a dry crust that makes it look almost stale. But slice off a chunk and you will find that it belies a sweet, dense, moist crumb - a sweet, honey-tasting dark brown inside that goes down as easily as candy.
Made from necessity - as the northern region of Portugal is too harsh and hilly to support the cultivation of wheat - broa is a yeasty bread made mainly from corn meal, with a bit of rye and wheat added to the dough.
You won't have to look too hard to find it in cities like Porto, where it's usually served at the start of the meal along with other pesticos to whet the appetite before you get going with the mains.
Yes, Portugal is one of those countries where you will be charged for tasting those tempting bites that magically appear on your table without you ordering them (don't make the mistake of thinking all those platters came with the chef's compliments!) but even if you do skip the olives and cheese, keep the basket of broa - you won't regret it.
Apart from being a great way to mop up the juicy gravy from a plate of bifana or bacalhau cooked in tomato sauce, broa de milho is often served along with the light potato soup caldo verde or crumbled and fried with garlic, olive oil, coriander and pork drippings to make the hearty side dish of migas, popular in the Alentejo region of Portugal.
But all this talk about broa de milho is driving home the sad fact that these luscious loaves are not available anywhere in Dubai :( Unless any of you know something I don't?
Bread fanatics in the UAE, if you can point me towards a bakery that bakes this famous Portuguese bread, you will be doing a fellow bread lover a huge favour :)
It's thick, slightly bubbly, very sweet and despite its phlegmy colour and texture incredibly delicious! The Portuguese sure knew what they were onto when they put Baba de Camelo (camel's drool, camel's spit or camel's dribble) onto their dessert menus!
Ok, before you gag and get a sick bag ready it's not really coughed up by a camel! (Yes, even I have limits!)
Baba de Camelo is a popular Portuguese dessert that's made from cooked down condensed milk and egg yolks, folded into beaten egg whites (which are responsible for its frothy texture). Despite its rather unappealing name, this is one of those times when being adventurous with your menu choice actually results in a pleasant outcome :)
I had my first taste of this dessert in Porto three years ago but hadn't caught its name. So I was very happy to see another bowl land up on my table after a particularly delicious lunch last week in the little village of Alcochete, located opposite the Tagus river from Lisbon.
You can find the recipe and directions to recreate your own pot of camel's drool at Petit Chef. If you have a sweet tooth, don't hesitate to order it if you find it on the menu in Portugal.
PS: Although, I admit I might have been a little more hesitant to try it had it been on a menu in the Middle East ;)
Today I head back to one of the prettiest cities I've ever visited - Porto, Portugal's northern port town that's famous for - rather unsurprisingly - port!
My last visit to the city was in 2009, a holiday with five of my cousins, my sister and brother-in-law, that was spent - also unsurprisingly - mainly drinking port.
The city is split down the middle by the mighty Douro river, into the tumbling red-roofed, cafe-lined Ribeira district and Vila Nova de Gaia, strung all down the river bank with wine cellars proudly bearing the names of port wine labels we all know and love. Sandeman, Offley, Croft, Cockburn - the list is long, and we did a good job the last time I was in town getting through wine tastings at a fair share of them.
(Check out the photo gallery below and read about it in this article for Mumbai-based Know Your City! Burrp.com.)
This year, I'm heading to the city with my sister and brother-in-law once again, but this time accompanied by my parents and two-and-a-half-year-old niece, so traipsing up Vila Nova de Gaia's steep hills on wine cellar tours may not be as big a portion of the itinerary as it was the last time around.
We've opted instead to cruise up the Douro to the winelands where the port wine journey literally begins - a more sedate trip that we believe will be easier on three generations travelling together. The cruise is meant to take in some of Portugal's most stunning scenery, and paired with a glass (or several) of port, it sounds exactly how I'd like to spend a day in Porto.
Add to that another taste of tripe (not yet convinced about that), a few wine cellar tours and a search for francesinha, and I definitely feel a Plateplotter PORTO post coming on in the very near future :)
It's time for yet another dish list and this time it's dominated by all things
Spanish and Portuguese. Here are the top 5 things I hope to be chomping down on (or slurping up) in the next two weeks:
Pedro Ximenez Sherry
Yes it's yet another sweeter than sweet wine on my list of favourites. With it's thick, syrupy texture, raisin and mollasses flavour and deep berry scent, this sweet sherry was one of my top finds in Spain last year and I'll be looking to raise a few happy glasses (and hopefully bring back a bottle) when I visit Madrid this weekend.
Despite its deceptively dainty name (it means little French girl) the Francesinha sounds like a monster sandwich. The sandwich is a Porto specialty and according to Wikipedia is made with "bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries". If that doesn't sound like a Man vs Food-style sandwich, I don't know what does. Still, I guess I'll need something stodgy to soak up all that port ;)
I've already sung the praises of this cherry liqueur before, and although I'm still not sure if I'll make it up to Obidos, I'm hoping to spot a bottle of chocolate ginja on the bar shelves elsewhere in Portugal. Sweet morello cherry nectar paired with dark Belgian chocolate.... mmmm. I know alcohol shouldn't make my mouth water but this does :)
Pasteis at Pasteleria Picole
I stand firmly by my belief that Pasteis de Belem is the only place to eat Lisbon's famous pasteis de natas but my sister says otherwise. According to her, Pasteleria Picole gives the famous Belem pastry shop a run for its money. What has come to light in the last discussion we've had on these famous custard tarts is that my sister has never eaten pasteis de natas hot from the oven in Belem (she ate takeaway pasteis which I believe may have taken away something from their piping hot goodness). I however have never eaten pasteis at Pasteleria Picole. Ever. So guess I can't really knock them till I've tried them. So the pasteis-off is declared. May the best tart win :)
Pesticos at Pérola do Fetal
When I think about my most memorable meals, lunch at Pérola do Fetal definitely comes to mind. More so because it wasn't even the mains that did it; it was a humble platter of pesticos - small snacks that are served at the start of a meal in Portugal to whet the appetite. The ones we were served did so much more - I'm close to drooling just thinking about them and I ate them three years ago. Dates wrapped in bacon, soft cheese with berry preserve, crusted mushrooms, bacalhao fritters... it was a simple selection of food that tasted divine. Again, not sure if I'll be able to find this restaurant again or get to it as it was some distance out of Lisbon, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I will.
There's plenty of research supporting the idea that the anticipation of a happy event can make us as happy as the experience itself. Which means researching all the food I plan to eat before I go on a trip is a legitimate way to prolong those holiday highs.
Nevertheless, the best part of eating (or in this case drinking) in a foreign land is still that unexpected discovery. In Portugal, that discovery was made in a little fortified town called Obidos an hour or so out of Lisbon. A town I'd never heard of until I was actually inside its ramparts, but one anybody in Portugal would immediately associate with one thing - Ginjinha.
I'm a long-time fan of Portugal's sweet wines, and port, moscatel and madeira
are among my favourite post-dinner tipples. But when it comes down to a choice
between a glass of port or a glass of ginjinha after a meal, I will almost always opt for this syrupy-sweet cherry liqueur.
Made from ginja berries (morello cherries) soaked in aguardente (grape brandy) with sugar and cinnamon (and sometimes a few other secret spices) this bright red liqueur is typically drunk from a tiny shot glass, all-in-one or slowly sipped like port.
In Obidos, ginjinha - or simply ginja - is often served in little chocolate cups (yes it tastes as good as it sounds) and one of the most famous ginja producers in Portugal 'Oppidum' now makes a chocolate-infused version - that's definitely right at the top of my wish list during my planned trip to Portugal this summer.
Although it works well as a digestif, the Portuguese drink ginja all day long and I can definitely see why. The country - especially Lisbon and the Estremadura region of which Obidos is a part - is dotted with little hole-in-the-wall bars that serve ginja. One of the oldest and most famous of these is A Ginjinha at Largo de São Domingos in the Rossio area of Lisbon. It makes its own ginjinha reputed to be one of the best in Portugal. It's apparently tiny with no seats - just a counter to order a drink - and I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for it during my next visit to the city.
Ginjinha can be ordered com ginja (with a berry at the bottom) or sem ginja (without the berry). The berries are juicy from having soaked in all that yummy liqueur - although getting them out of the bottom of the bottle isn't as easy as it looks.
When my cousins had their very first chocolate-filled cups of ginja, the barman told them they could have the shots for free if they could drink the ginja without
letting out an 'aaahhh' of approval. Of course, the combination of the power of suggestion and the delicious drink meant that the sighs of satisfaction left their
lips and they had to pay for their drinks. Still, ginja is one of the cheapest and tastiest drinks you will find in Portugal and I think everyone who drinks it will agree that every last drop is worth every cent.
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