Have you ever wondered what are the differences between Portuguese and Spanish cuisine? Well, I have recently pondered the thought, and I did a bit of research on the subject. Always having been a fan of Spanish food, but I never had Portuguese cuisine, thinking that they are quite similar. Why would they be similar, as they are two different countries with two different cultures, but yet they are similar in some ways, but also have some differences as well. To learn a little about those differences and read a review of a restaurant that I was at the other night, keep on reading!
While there are definite similarities, some differences can be found in both cuisines. Both Portuguese and Spanish food rely heavily on seafood as the Iberian Peninsula is surrounded by water on 3 sides. The Bay of Biscay to the North, The Atlantic Ocean to the West, The Alboran Sea to the South and the Balearic Sea to the Southeast.
Portugal is Europe’s highest fish consuming country per capita and ranks number 4. The national dish of Portugal is “bacalhau,” which is dried, salted cod. During the 15th century off of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the English would salt and dry cod for preservation. There wasn’t much of a market for the fish in England, so the English looked elsewhere and began to barter with the Portuguese. Since the fish was dried and salted they were able to transport it on their long journey back to Portugal. It is rumored that there are 365 ways to make it, one for each day of the year.
A distinct difference between Spanish and Portuguese foods are the spices that they use. The Spaniards tend to use saffron, paprika and parsley, while the Portuguese use other spices. Some quite hot, as they make a sauce called Piri Piri which is made from small fiery chili peppers. Other spices that are commonly used by the Portuguese are black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla. The Portuguese use saffron too which is the world’s most expensive spice. Have you ever wondered why saffron is so expensive? It all comes down to manual labor in the harvesting process. Saffron are the dried stigmas from the Saffron Crocus plant and each stigma must be hand harvested to maintain the plant’s integrity. In addition to that, the crocus is only in bloom for one to two weeks in the autumn. The stigmas are so delicate that they must be picked in the early morning hours because they can sustain damage from the sun and wind. To get a pound of saffron, 210,000 stigmas will need to be harvested. That is a lot of labor by hand! The price for a pound of saffron on the wholesale market can go for $500 all the way up to $5000, with retail prices even higher than that running from $5000 to $10,000! Luckily a little goes a long way. Prices will vary depending upon the conditions of the crop. If there is a freeze or a drought, the price of saffron will skyrocket above the already high price of the spice. It all comes down to basic economics with supply and demand controlling the market!
Saffron is a really wonderful spice but to use it to its full potential you will need to make it like a tea. Put a couple of threads in a dish and boil about a ½ cup of water, pour it onto the saffron threads and let it steep for about 5 minutes. Add the saffron and the water to whatever dish you are making.
Portuguese cuisine as well as Spanish is regional and originates from peasant food, foods that are filling, hearty and inexpensive to prepare. Dishes that include rice such as the Spanish Paella and Arroz de Pato in Portugal are quite popular.
So as you can see, they are similar but have their differences as well. This makes Portuguese food just as unique as their Spanish neighbor.
In addition to the comparison of Portuguese and Spanish food I wrote an article about 2 years ago about the Spanish Basque country that also includes a soup recipe which can be found over here http://anewyorkfoodie.com/spanish-basque-country/ The Basque culture and cuisine are quite interesting, so please take a look at that.
Since I have never been to a Portuguese restaurant I did some research on Tripadvisor and Yelp. I found one that got really great reviews called Heart of Portugal located in Mineola, Long Island, NY. So on Saturday night my husband and I dined there and if I had to use just one word to describe this restaurant, WOW! The food and the service were outstanding! We had 7.30 reservations and when we arrived we noticed that the restaurant was totally packed. We went up to the hostess to let her know that we were there and she said that it would be a little while because they were so busy. We decided to go into the bar and have a drink. I had a glass of Pinot Grigio and my husband had a Cabernet. When you go to most bars they only fill up the glass half way, but this restaurant filled your glass to the top!!
After about a half hour we were called. As soon as we sat down we were treated like a King and Queen! We were waited on by at least 3 or 4 people at a time! Each and every staff member, including the manager Ricardo, was so friendly. As I said, the restaurant was packed but you would never know that from the service that we received. There is a definite reason why they are packed, even with reservations!
To start with, on the table they brought us rolls and a dish of a few different types of olives in olive oil. I absolutely love olives so I was quite happy to see this. My husband was also happy with the bread, and since he is a baker’s son, he definitely loved that!
We looked over the menu to decide on what appetizers we would order. I asked which ones are a “traditional” Portuguese dish, and two were recommended to us. The Portuguese pork sausage flamed in Aguardente, (Aguardente is a generic term for alcoholic beverages that contain between 29% and 60% alcohol by volume). As you can see from my picture, it was flamed tableside and was so delicious!! A definite keeper!! For our 2nd appetizer we had Salt Cod Fish Cakes (Bolinhos de Bacalhau), another “traditional” Portuguese dish as salt cod is the national dish of Portugal, as I mentioned above. Maybe this is one of the 365 ways to use salt cod! Another delectable dish that I would highly recommend! One thing that I really loved about this restaurant is that they did not rush us between courses, as so many places can do, especially if they are busy! So we sat and drank our wine, talked and enjoyed our appetizers.
When it was time to order the entrees we had a few questions and the staff was so accommodating, answering every question that we had. For my entrée I had Paelha Marinheira which is a seafood combo with lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. There was half a lobster in the pot, so they were definitely not stingy! For this dish, can we scream, “Delicious”? It was paired with saffron rice which was also scrumptious! So if you are a seafood lover, this dish is definitely for you. My husband ordered Braised Rabbit in a Traditional Portuguese Sauce which he liked, but the next time he said that he will get what I had.
We didn’t order desert, but did order cappuccinos which were given to us on the house!
The décor is really nice as you can see from my pictures. Very charming and European. I took these pictures towards the end of the evening when the restaurant had quieted down because as I mentioned, they were extremely busy when we got there.
If you have never had Portuguese food, are in the NYC/Long Island area, and want to try a great restaurant, I highly recommend Heart of Portugal.
Thanks for stopping by my site and I hope you have a great day!
Heart of Portugal
241 Mineola Blvd.
Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this review, the meal was paid for by myself except for the cappuccinos which were provided by the restaurant. All opinions are my own.