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Are Portugal And Spain Really Neighbours?


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There are few Spanish restaurants in Portugal; few Portuguese restaurants in Spain. There are more Russian, Polish, Italian or even Austrian watering holes and eateries than regional Spanish or Portuguese establishments.

And yet Portugal is the country Spaniards most visit and vice-versa and, on these travels, food is one of the main attractions. It's true that things are definitely changing for the better and old rivalries and stereotypes are fading rapidly, as both countries (despite the football match on Sunday!) come to appreciate their differences as greedily and intelligently as their common Iberian culture. But, still, their gastronomic cultures are so foreign to each other that crossing the border is like travelling to some exotic Siberian hinterland.

The Spanish are creative, restless, in love with spices, experiments and cooking, whilst the Portuguese are conservative, ingredient-mad and obsessed with freshness; the Spanish in love with the "new" and the future as the Portuguese are in love with the old and the past.

Spanish cooking is individualistic; author-based and changing. Portuguese cooking is collective; tried-and-true and permanent. The greatest divide is innovation - the Spaniards insist on innovating but the Portuguese are proud of not interfering at all. The Spanish consider Portuguese food to be bland, simple, unadventurous and fresh. The Portuguese (mostly without reason) consider Spanish food to be greasy, over-spiced, complicated and preserved rather than fresh - but interesting all the same.

So I ask: what really good Portuguese restaurants exist in Spain? I myself know of only one truly outstanding Spanish (Andalusian) restaurant in the whole of Portugal: Mesón Andaluz, truly magnificent. The few others which exist, mostly with pseudo-tapas, are definitely below the average Spanish standard.

Why is this? It's strange, very strange. Perhaps non-Portuguese and non-Spaniards will be more able to clear the mystery than we are!

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The main difference is another one, Miguel - it's the much larger variation between regional cuisines in Spain. But this is logical given the large difference in size and population (and also in ethnic/linguistic diversity) between the two countries. By the way, being neighbors has never been, in Europe, a prerequisite for gastronomic similarity. Heck, France and Germany are neighbors...

There are a number of truly good Portuguese restaurants in Spain - at least three in the Madrid area: Trás-os-Montes and Don Sol in the capital, and Lisboa Antiga in Majadahonda. They are all very successful, and the Spanish public does not have (as far as I can see) any negative, preconceived ideas/clichés about Portuguese cuisine. Everyone loves codfish here, so everyone is well-disposed toward a Portuguese restaurant.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Miguel, I believe you're right about the number of portuguese restaurants in Spain. Certainly, the restaurants mentioned by Víctor which I have visited, Tras-os-Montes and Don Sol, are very good (they have the same owners, José Alves and his wife María Graça). They offer a huge variety of codfish preparations, yet just a sample of what you could get in Portugal. But you can't compare three restaurants with the plethora of asian restaurants established in Madrid, for instance. I guess that the reduced number of Portugueses living here has something to do with this, as probably will have in the other side of the border.

I agree with Víctor regarding the negative clichés and negative preconceived ideas. I don't think that's the case, and Portuguese cooking is well received in Spain. Keep in mind that most of the people in Spain prefer traditional dishes rather than the sophisticated proposals coming from our innovative chefs. There's a public for the latter, larger in number here than in Portugal, but our asadores and marisquerías are crowded.

PS: Keep dreaming about beating Spain on Sunday. I hope I don't have to edit this post and remove this part of it. :wink:

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Spanish cooking is individualistic; author-based and changing.  Portuguese cooking is collective; tried-and-true and permanent.  The greatest divide is innovation - the Spaniards insist on innovating but the Portuguese are proud of not interfering at all.

I've never been to Portugal and I'm loathe to make any judgmental calls about the Portuguese. My first trip to Spain was in 1964, but it wasn't until modern times that we became regular visitors. I know quite a few hispanic Americans, but I daresay, their dining habits are no more indicative of Spanish culture than Brazilian is of Portuguese. The one thing that seems clear, in spite of my focus on creative food, is that the Spanish, by and large, are proud that Adria makes the front page of the NY Times, but have little interest in eating his food. There is a great creative streak in the Spanish culture, but it's a streak and not a pervasive quality. The Spanish people are all individuals and one can't assume anything about any particular individual, but in terms of food, creativity, or even variety, doesn't seem to be valued greatly. There doesn't even seem to be that much curiosity. Of course the Spanish may appear multicutural by comparison with the Portuguese, but they aren't when compared to the chauvinist French.

I will admit that times may be changing, but if they are, how far behind will the Portuguese be, I wonder.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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I'm neither Spanish nor Portuguese, but have been to both countries and enjoyed the food immensely.

Miguel, being Portuguese, you are acutely aware of the differences, but it does strike me that there are many similarities -- rice, in combination with seafood especially, plays a big role in the celebrated dishes of Spain and Portugal. While you almost never see paella in Portugal, the rice and squid or rice and octopus or shrimp dishes are close cousins.

Hams and sausages are revered on both sides of the border, and they are similar sorts of hams and sausages. Pork, generally, rules in both countries.

There are probably a couple of dozen other examples, including flan.

So I'm wondering if, in fact, the people of Spain or Portugal simply prefer their own versions and don't consider the food from the other country to be sufficiently "different" enough to support a lot of restaurants or invite experimentation by home cooks.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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The Spanish are creative, restless, in love with spices, experiments and cooking, whilst the Portuguese are conservative, ingredient-mad and obsessed with freshness; the Spanish in love with the "new" and the future as the Portuguese are in love with the old and the past.

Spanish cooking is individualistic; author-based and changing.  Portuguese cooking is collective; tried-and-true and permanent.  The greatest divide is innovation - the Spaniards insist on innovating but the Portuguese are proud of not interfering at all.  The Spanish consider Portuguese food to be bland, simple, unadventurous and fresh.  The Portuguese (mostly without reason) consider Spanish food to be greasy, over-spiced, complicated and preserved rather than fresh - but interesting all the same.

I thought your references to the (true or imagined) presence of spices in Spanish food were curious. Apart from saffron and the unfortunately ubiquitous "paella seasoning", I wouldn't have associated spices with Spanish food, although I would accept that the Portuguese can have an obsession with the supposed spiciness of foreign food.

Then again it is possible that my opinion is influenced by the fact that I live in an area of Portugal were spices (coriander, cumin and cloves) are used on a regular basis in rojões, sarrabulho etc

(If I think about it, I can't recall what corinader seed is used in, but powdered coriander is easy to find, so it must be used in something ...).

Chloe

(who watched the game surrounded by English supporters and felt wierdly un-English, had supper with a Dane and a Swiss and will be going to a match tomorrow with 1 Dane, 1 Swiss, 1 Bulgarian and 2 Portuguese)

(also pleasantly engaged by the sight of an enormous table of Latvians in Ponte de Lima ...)

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Apart from saffron and the unfortunately ubiquitous "paella seasoning"

What is "paella seasoning"? Personally, I never heard about it. There's curcuma as a coloring agent for those poor avaricious souls who prefer to save a penny on real saffron. But no seasoning, AFAIK.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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What is "paella seasoning"? Personally, I never heard about it. There's curcuma as a coloring agent for those poor avaricious souls who prefer to save a penny on real saffron. But no seasoning, AFAIK.

Victor, there is a paella seasoning by Carmencita that includes safron, paprika, curcuma...and it is very popular even between the valencianos. I have to confess that I have used it :blush: but I'm not proud of it :wink:

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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Apart from saffron and the unfortunately ubiquitous "paella seasoning"

What is "paella seasoning"? Personally, I never heard about it. There's curcuma as a coloring agent for those poor avaricious souls who prefer to save a penny on real saffron. But no seasoning, AFAIK.

I might be quite mistaken, but in the cheaper sort of restaurant, paella/fideo type dishes often seem to have a generic flavour that is not just saffron and that makes these dishes taste exactly the same whatever the restaurant and whatever the ingredients in the paella/fideo. I'd be very happy to be corrected if I've got the wrong impression!

But then again the reliability of my opinion might be reflected in the fact that I forgot to mention pimentón in my previous post :blink::smile:

Cinnamon in some Catalan dishes, cinnamon and nutmeg in sweets, ...

Back on the original subject, I would agree with Miguel that there is surprisingly little cross-border culinary influence. As a general rule, in my little corner of the Peninsula the Spaniards come south for salt cod and the Portuguese go north mainly for shellfish. Shops here sell a lot of Spanish food products, but the only ones I can think of that are distinctly Spanish are pimientos de Padrón, which are often grown in Portugal, and "criolo" sausages (Argentinian/Galician influence??). As an aside, we also have a Spanish butcher (well, Galician, Talho dos Galegos) in town where the beef is much better than Portuguese beef.

Chloe

Ponte de Lima

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I would agree with Miguel that there is surprisingly little cross-border culinary influence. As a general rule, in my little corner of the Peninsula the Spaniards come south for salt cod and the Portuguese go north mainly for shellfish.

I often wonder how much cross border influence there has traditionally been between regions in Spain. It obviously exists as Basque chefs seem to have a wide reputation as the best cooks in Spain. Am I mistaken? Is that only true in Madrid? Do Basque chefs have a reputation in Portugal? Do French chefs have a reputation in Portugal. If so, what is it worth. I suspect French chefs have a large reputation in Kansas, but I doubt people would flock to a restaurant in a small town in Kansas because it had a French chef.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Great comments; very enlightening - thanks!

As usual, Victor seems to have hit the button (although he should consider that there are at least seven, wildly different and even contentious regional culinary traditions in Portugal, stubbornly independent and individualistic).

For us Portuguese, Spain is a foretaste of Europe. It's so diverse and rich that you can almost go to France or Italy there (North and South). Spain IS Europe. Although we have to travel less to change our cooking and food, we remain a mainly Atlantic, ocean-based country, but Spain's incredible geographical and cultural variety is unequalled anywhere in the world.

We say here "No Spaniard knows Spain" and it's true. You want snow, greenery, forests? You want desert, aridities, plains? You have it. The same is reflected in the gastronomy. Spain is a competition all of itself. I'd go as far as to say that's it's more diverse than the rest of Western Europe. Languages; cultures; morphologies.

"É um mundo", as we say.

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For us Portuguese... Spain IS Europe.

Fairly or not, that may define Portugal for me until I have the chance to get there. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Just for the record, here is a link for the Paella Seasoning.

As a Spanish living in Minneapolis, I have miserably failed my tradition and I have used Paella Seasoning before. I do not do it anymore, but I still have a couple packages that will probably be used sometime... Although for a second I thought Mr. Serna was playing a joke on us, I realize that is probably not the case. I remember talking to my parents about this seasoning package and they did not know what it was. I have actually (another confession to make) looked for it in Spain, I did not find it in Cantabria!

Another thing that I would like to add, the best rice dish I ever have was in Northern Portugal, an "arroz caldoso" (sea food rice stew) That was outstanding! If I have to name the best dishes I ever have, this one will be among them.

All right, now, let's talk about real issues: FUTBOL!!!!!!!!!!

Venga España!!!!!!!!!!

Alex

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"É um mundo", as we say.

I have very limited knowledge of Spain, but I immediately considered it being more like a continent. Ever since my first travel, when I hear "Spain", I'm always muttering to myself: "But Spain doesn't exist".

Very funny that the Portuguese think it's even bigger than a continent. :smile:

Regards

(FUTBOL? Fingers crossed for Portugal :biggrin:)

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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As usual, Victor seems to have hit the button (although he should consider that there are at least seven, wildly different and even contentious regional culinary traditions in Portugal, stubbornly independent and individualistic).

Miguel, it would be great if you could tell us some more about these seven regional culinary traditions.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I often wonder how much cross border influence there has traditionally been between regions in Spain. It obviously exists as Basque chefs seem to have a wide reputation as the best cooks in Spain. Am I mistaken? Is that only true in Madrid?

I would say it's true, Bux. Basque chefs are well reputed all over the country, not only in Madrid. There are great basque restaurants in many cities, and basque chefs behind the kitchens of many restaurants, basque inspired or not.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Just for the record, here is a link for the Paella Seasoning.

My first question would have been is this a product sold and used in Spain, or one that is manufactured for overseas sales. Alex didn't find it in Cantabria. I'd be less surprised if he couldn't find it in Valencia. At one of the panel discussions that was part of the recent barbecue party in NY recently, one of the panelists discussing the great variety of regional sauces and barbecue styles in the south, noted that these differences seem not to be appreciated by all Americans and that to some of us, barbecue was a flavor. You can, in fact, buy barbecue flavored potato chips. You can also buy pizza flavored chips. Is there a paella flavored potato chip in the wings? Would purists demand a rice cracker? :biggrin:

I've had excellent arroz caldoso in Burgos and Barcelona. I suspect it may be native to certain parts of Spain, but it seems to be almost as ubiquitous as paella. Given a choice between that sort of dish and paella outside of Valencia or Alicante, I'd opt for the arroz caldoso on the assumption that it's the one the tourist is least likely to order and thus more likely to be properly cooked. If nothing else, I've yet to see restaurants advertising that they serve a particular brand of cryovac heat and serve arroz caldoso, as I've seen with paella. Paella, of a sort and likely a sort a purist will not accept, is sold all over France. I've seen large pans kept hot in hypermarchés in the southwest of France where prepared paella is sold in take out containers. Do you see that Portugal, Spain's other neighbor?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I would say it's true, Bux. Basque chefs are well reputed all over the country, not only in Madrid. There are great basque restaurants in many cities, and basque chefs behind the kitchens of many restaurants, basque inspired or not.

I have seen that precooked boil in bag paella I've described above, in Catalunya, but not in the Pais Vasco. A testament to Basque chefs perhaps. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Paella, of a sort and likely a sort a purist will not accept, is sold all over France. I've seen large pans kept hot in hypermarchés in the southwest of France where prepared paella is sold in take out containers.

Aberrations which human beings are capable of are infinite by nature.

Coming back to the nativeness of rice dishes, I'd say that there are rice based dishes in almost every region of the country. Nevertheless, paella is a specific dish with more or less well defined regional borders in terms of origin.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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There are a number of truly good Portuguese restaurants in Spain - at least three in the Madrid area: Trás-os-Montes and Don Sol in the capital, and Lisboa Antiga in Majadahonda. They are all very successful, and the Spanish public does not have (as far as I can see) any negative, preconceived ideas/clichés about Portuguese cuisine. Everyone loves codfish here, so everyone is well-disposed toward a Portuguese restaurant.

i'm guessing these restaurants aren't doing very good business today...

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i'm guessing these restaurants aren't doing very good business today...

You'd be surprised at the huge amount of foodies and winos in Spain who have no interest whatsoever in soccer. Or at the large number who won't let a soccer game interfere with a good bacalhau.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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This is true. Even those here in Lisbon came for more than the football. I've had many interesting gastronomic discussions with Spanish fans. One of my favourite "marisqueiras" - Ramiro, on the Almirante Reis - was always full of discerning Spaniards and it was really, really difficult to find things we disagreed about. Food is far better for bringing people together and it lasts a while longer.

Besides, the gastronomically interesting neihbouring countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy) are playing really badly this year!

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  • 2 weeks later...
I myself know of only one truly outstanding Spanish (Andalusian) restaurant in the whole of Portugal: Mesón Andaluz, truly magnificent.  The few others which exist, mostly with pseudo-tapas,  are definitely below the average Spanish standard.

Why is this?  It's strange, very strange.  Perhaps non-Portuguese and non-Spaniards will be more able to clear the mystery than we are!

Mesón Andaluz was certainly the only restaurant I ever tried in Portugal that served anything tasting remotely like Spanish food. Is the branch (actually, I think it's the original) in Parede still there? I always enjoyed that location more than the one in CascaiShopping.

Miguel, I'd like to second Pedro's request for more of your thoughts on Portugal's seven regional culinary traditions.

As much as I love Spanish food, I found that when I was in Portugal I had no interest in looking for it.... I was perfectly happy to stay in the "Portuguese mindset" and explore all that there was to offer, and most of the Portuguese I knew seemed to think the same way. And when they wanted something different, it was usually something much more different than Spanish food.

My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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