“The Portuguese influence is incredibly below the radar,” says David Leite, author of “The New Portuguese Table” and publisher of the food blog “Leite’s Culinaria.”
Foods and dishes from Portugal and its various outposts have crossed and recrossed the world, according to Cherie Hamilton, the Minneapolis-based author of “Cuisines of Portuguese Encounters,” a book offering recipes, history and food lore. Take feijoada, Brazil’s most famous regional dish. It can be found in every former Portuguese possession.
“The basic ingredient is beans, but in each country and territory cooks adapted the dish to the ingredients they had,” Hamilton says. In the Cape Verde islands, off the coast of Africa, cooks add dried hominy, Hamilton notes, while farther down the coast, on the island of Sao Tome, fish is used instead of pork or beef. And in Timor-Leste, the feijoada-like stew calls for kidney beans, pigs ears and feet, and papaya leaves.
It was that cross-pollination of foods and flavors that so intrigued Hamilton when she lived in Brazil in the 1960s. Since then, she has lived in Portugal, the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, and Macau, where she continued to study the local foodways. That worldwide exchange of foods she experienced can still be found and tasted today — if you keep an eye out.
Consider the experience of Floyd Cardoz, the Indian-born executive chef/partner of New York City’s North End Grill, while traveling though Brazil.
“We passed this sign for ‘sarapatel,’ which is a pork stew with pig’s blood. In Goa, it’s ‘sorpotel,'” says Cardoz, whose family hails from the former Portuguese colony on the southwest coast of India.
Annabel Jackson, a Hong Kong-based food writer, author and expert on the cuisine of Macau, Portugal’s onetime colony on the Chinese coast, says Macanese cooking has almost nothing in common with the various cuisines of China. When the Portuguese arrived, there was no one but a few fishing families, she says, leading to the development of a hybrid cuisine as settlers arrived with wives and servants from other colonies.
“The cooking can be seen to be almost entirely Portuguese in technique, with Portuguese nonperishables at its heart — olive oil, olives, wine, bacalhau — but with the addition of Southeast Asian ingredients. … Chilies, tamarind, coconut milk, spice,” Jackson notes in an email from China.
The Portuguese did not have to colonize an area to have a major food impact.
Take Japan, for example. Missionaries and traders arriving in the mid-16th century brought many customs and foods, notes Elizabeth Andoh, an American-born author, cooking teacher and Japanese food expert based in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.
“The Portuguese influence on Japan was huge, in a single word,” she says. “Tempura is probably the best known and most assimilated; it’s become the signature dish of Japan.”