India and Portugal have a special culinary bond: Claudia Matias

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Claudia Matias has joined Turismo de Portugal, India Office as a Director in January 2020. She has an experience of more than 20 years and is a representative expert and one of the most reliable marketing person in Portugal. We spoke to her about the culinary culture of Portugal and the bond that India and Portugal share and what we got was in an interview that would surely inspire any foodie to plan a trip to Portugal as soon as the travel ban is lifted.

What are the five things you should not miss when in Portugal?

Portugal is a country of beautiful contrasts, so selecting five it’s a challenge for a Portuguese soul. Portuguese are very passionate about their country, origins and achievements. Our historical background is amazing and that path made us a very friendly country, our people are natural-born hosts, we are storytellers and we take huge pleasure when we see visitors from other countries enjoying the secrets only locals can tell! I would say that the experience and what not to miss in Portugal can be many things, our, cuisine, nature, golden beaches with amazing sunsets, UNESCO heritage and history, monuments, medieval castles, cobblestone villages, captivating cities and the Portuguese, are the promise of an adventure that inspires a journey.

Why do you think it should be the most sought after travel destination in the post-COVID scenario? Portugal is already one of the most approached destinations by international travellers, with 4 of the 21 safest destinations for this summer with Madeira, Azores, Alentejo and Algarve being selected by the European Best Destinations for 2020 summer inside Europe. Three Portuguese beaches are among the 10 safest in Europe.

During the pandemic and confinement, we needed to take a break, the dream of the great days to come and face this together so we launched the #CantSkipHope movement that organically reached over 1.8 million people in over 90 countries. It is also translated in +12 languages, most of the translations were done by the users that wanted to share this inspirational message with the world.

According to Fowardkeys and the travel Outlook for Europe, Lisbon is one of the top 3 inbound destination cities for international travellers in October, November and December when examining tickets issued as of August 10. The World’s Best Destination continues to be authentic, diverse, attractive, inclusive and safe. We maintain our purpose and undertaking, namely to welcome all our visitors and ensure that they can travel around the country safely and confidently. It’s time to say #CantSkipHope… Start planning.

Tell us something about the culinary culture of the place? Which place, according to you is the culinary capital of Portugal?

Portugal’s cuisine is as rich and varied as its seven regional contrasts. Each is unique and its richness comes either if cooked with one of the most distinctive feature of Portuguese cuisine coming from the sea, or olive oil of prime quality and is part of every dish, including cod (for which it is said that there are 1001 recipes!), which we excel at preparing and enjoying.

The Mediterranean Diet, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, is part of the identity of the Portuguese gastronomy. It’s based on plants, including vegetables, fruit, good quality bread and largely unprocessed cereals, dried and fresh vegetables (beans, chickpeas, broad beans, etc.), dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, raisins, etc.), but also the mentioned olive oil as the main source of fat, and fish at the expense of red meat.

Each dish is matched to the right wine and we love sharing wine with family and friends during long and joyful meals. The whole country produces wine among hundreds of native grapes, the less unknown ones are Tinta Barroca, Rabigato, Touriga Nacional, Baga, Alvarinho. Many of these grapes directly descend from pre-historic vine plants that developed in the country and have to endure thousands of years of human presence and climate changes. Don ́t forget that Rose is a Portuguese wine! Wine also pairs with cheese and we have wonderful mountain cheeses produced that the world has yet to discover. The creamy, oily or dry goat and sheep cheeses also make us bless the heavens. The Portuguese sweets are divine and full of heritage, like the nuns used to do in the old days while preparing their recipes of sugar, eggs and almond in the seclusion of their cloisters.

We celebrate the National Gastronomy Day in June and our cuisine lies in the human factor. Our chefs are increasingly talented and are winning more prizes, revolutionising the richness of Portuguese cuisine with their creativity, boldness and good taste. Currently, Portugal is proud to have a host of chefs who work at the highest levels of cuisine, using old-established recipes or more unusual methods that often enhance the flavour and quality of local products. Some come from our 12 tourism schools managed by Turismo de Portugal, and we just received the UNWTO TEDQUAL certification.

So, I must say that across Portugal and its islands you get different flavours and dishes, each region is a capital of food having everything to please even the most discerning palate because it is based on genuine quality products, cooked according to traditional recipes or the most innovative and unusual trends.

Do share some lesser-known facts about Portugal that people do not know?

I am very proud to share that we have a special bond with India. The gastronomy influences between the 2 countries, for instance, take a bowl of meat and marinate it in crushed garlic and wine. What you’ll get is the beginning of Carne de Vinha d’Alhos, something that is unquestionably Portuguese; that is until you change that wine into vinegar and add chillies. Then it suddenly becomes one of the most popular Indian curry dishes around, Vindaloo. The name, vindaloo, actually derives from the Portuguese words for wine (vinho) and garlic (alho). Curry, which often includes saffron, is rarely associated with Portuguese food, but they exist! One that can be found in nearly any café or pastelaria, is my favourite petisco, the chamuça (samosa), usually found sandwiched between a crunchy rissole and a pastel de bacalhau. In most cases, the Portuguese like to use strong Indian flavours in more subtle ways. A pinch of nutmeg here and sprinkle of saffron there is all that’s usually needed to change the flavour base from traditional taste to a new more global Portuguese flavour! This is just one of the many influences that emerged from the nearly five-hundred years of the trade agreement between the two nations. We also love Indian cuisine and the number of Indian restaurants across the country is impressive!

What are the five dishes one must not miss when in Portugal?

We enjoy sharing and talking about food! We are always planning the next meal, so when in Portugal you find restaurants and local tascas in every corner, and you can take a lot of pleasure by tasting simple things. Realise that the best fish in the world is Portuguese, eating it simply grilled on a terrace by the sea. Don ́t miss the sardines! You can go to Alentejo and have bread-based recipes abounding in herbs such as pennyroyal, coriander and many others, taste a cataplana dish, very common in the Algarve. Try the roasted chestnuts from street vendors during the winter. IF you are in the Centre of Portugal, you can find flavours for every palate to comfort the stomach: cheese and sausages, bouillabaisses and roast suckling pig, honey and convent sweets. In Porto and Northern Portugal, you can be sure of a good meal, accompanied by fine wines from the Douro or the fresh Vinho Verde typical of the region, in any restaurant and taste a Francesinha (a sandwich with cured ham, sausage, and steak covered in molten cheese and a hot tomato and beer sauce). IF you visit the Azores and São Miguel, beautiful landscape with volcanic lakes, one must try “Cozido das Furnas” slowly cooked inside the earth. This is how unique Portuguese is! Our exotic island Madeira, you can combine the pleasure of socialising with the pleasure of tasting! In the middle of the Atlantic, the fish such as black scabbard fish fillets and tuna steak is tasty and is prepared in the traditional way, accompanied by crunchy fried corn.


What are the foods/drinks one should carry back while returning home from Portugal?

I could recommend so many, but apart from the foods and wine what we expect is to create wonderful memories to our visitors not only by the what the country has to offer but also the food experiences. We are truly excited when we recognize a genuine interest from a visitor about our country; we are always ready to set the table with the best we have to offer. It’s incredible how much you can experience without having to travel long distances, enjoying extreme diversity and tastes from one place to the next while in Portugal. If you want to remember and taste Portugal once returning home, definitely take some cheeses (Serra da Estrela, Azeitão, from São Jorge, sweets our incredible pasteis de nata, travesseiros de Sintra, Madeira honey cake, ovos moles (soft egg), only to name a few. Portugal’s preserved seafood tradition, or conservas (an industry that “has survived almost two centuries), bacalhau (salt cod), cavalinha (a type of mackerel), sardines and many others, which make beautiful souvenirs as well! Share the experience of these delights with family and friends with a toast and wines from Portugal! Don ́t forget these as well! You Can ́t Skip Portugal!

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