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Portuguese bread (and a little rant)

Some days ago I ranted a bit on Facebook and Instagram because of the insane amount of tourists today who are worried, mostly, with collecting stamps on their passports and taking selfies for the gram – you know what I mean. Years ago I stopped reading travel blogs (except for a select few) because of how most of them just seemed to have a checklist of places to visit but apparently didn’t really reap any real, life-enriching benefit from all that travelling. As someone who, especially as a kid, has travelled a lot in my own country I felt this view was shallow, to say the least.

Recently, on a Facebook travel group, there was a guy advising readers not to drink Port wine because it “is not tasty” (his own words) and saying that people in Portugal can’t make a proper cappucino. I almost went postal. Not because he was making “negative” comments but because of how his comments showed that, to him, his experience of the world was the right one. Mind you, I don’t even know where he was from.
It’s ok if you don’t like Port, but saying it isn’t good, when it sells so much and to so many countries?! I’m Portuguese and I don’t like sardines, that doesn’t mean I’ll tell other people “It sucks! Don’t eat it!”.
I remember when I arrived in Hamburg, years ago, and my host asked me if I wanted a coffee. I thought that having an espresso would be lovely and quickly said yes. When he brought me a big cup of coffee I had a “duh!” moment: being Portuguese I naturally assumed it would be an espresso but that’s not the kind of coffee Germans usually drink. See my point?

Oh, and the cappucino… well, Portuguese usually drink either a bica/cimbalino (espresso coffee) or that much coffe with hot milk (called meia de leite if it’s in a cup or galão if it’s in a glass). Cappucino is something that started showing up only a few years ago because of tourists. In some places they don’t even know how to prepare it because (you guessed it), nobody drinks it!

This whole thing happened around the date when Anthony Bourdain would have celebrated another birthday. The stars were aligned, it seemed, and I swear I could almost see his ghost giving me a smile and a thumbs up. It was the final push I needed.

So here’s the deal: I’ll be sharing with you my tips on some Portuguese foods, traditional or otherwise. Why? Because I was born in Portugal, I’ve always lived in Portugal, I’ve travelled a lot in Portugal, I love eating Portuguese food, my mom and grandma cook some mean Portuguese food. I suppose that makes me entitled to say a thing or two about the subject. The point is to give you an idea of what to expect concerning specific Portuguese foods.

First things first: anything that has chocolate, gelatine, sweet condensed milk, whipped cream or cookies is not traditional. These ingredients weren’t widely available in Portuguese homes before the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. They were known and used but not by most families. Besides, people didn’t eat as many sweet things as they do today. That means that a lot of desserts, like serradura, baba de camelo, salame de chocolate or bolo de bolacha are *not* traditional.

What should be the subject of the first of this series of posts, then? Bread, of course. We love bread and we have many different types of bread.

Our traditional breads usually have a bit of a rough crust and the inside can vary from compact to relatively fluffy with lots of air pockets.

Here’s a list of Portuguese bread celebrities:

Broa – this kind of bread is very compact and although the most famous version of it is made with a mix of corn and wheat (broa de milho) there are other variants: wheat and rye or wheat, corn and rye are the most common. Broa de Avintes is another famous and typical kind of broa that is made with rye and corn, baking for a total of 5 to 6 hours. You’ll often find a slice of broa on the side of a bowl of piping hot caldo verde or under a grilled sardine.

Pão alentejano – This bread is usually big, with a characteristic sort of “C” shape and a thick crust. But don’t let it fool you: inside there’s dense aromatic bread just waiting for the butter. Hardcore fans will eat it with nothing else but an underlying sense of shame. If you ever see on a café menu tostas /torradas de pão alentejano it means that place makes toasties / toasts using Alentejo bread and that means… big a** toasties!

Pão de Mafra – this is a certified kind of bread (like Broa de Avintes, for example). It’s made with wheat and rye flours from small mills in the Mafra region and uses no artificial additives. This bread has a crispy crust and a fluffy inside with plenty of air pockets. Pão saloio is, basically, the modernised and not certified version of the pão de Mafra. If you see either type of bread on a toast/toastie menu it means you’re in for another big a** slice of bread.

Papo seco, carcaça, viana/vianinha, bola/bolinha/bola de água – these are the most common types of bread you’re likely to find in bakeries, cafés and restaurants. They’re fluffy with a slightly crispy crust and some air pockets inside. This is usually the kind of bread used for bifanas or any other type of sandwich you get in your local festas. Although they’re all similar, papo seco has the crispiest crust and the inside with most air pockets and bola is probably the most chewy bread in this group. You’ll often find pão de mistura or bola de mistura: they’re essentially the same thing, wheat flour with a bit of rye flour, the end result being similar to the other types of bread from this group but with fewer air pockets.

Pão de centeio – rye bread, usually with a little wheat flour mixed in. Firm crust and dense slightly chewy inside. This is my favourite for toast!

Pão com chouriço – similar to a bola but with a slightly rougher crust, shaped like a roll and filled with slices of chouriço (smoked sausage). Some bakeries sell it and they’re a classic in fairs and festas.

Bolo do caco – this is a unique kind of bread from Madeira. It’s made with a mix of wheat flour and sweet potato and is baked on a hot clay slate. It’s fluffy, with a round shape and a slightly sweet taste.

Bolo lêvedo – straight from the beautiful islands of the Azores this traditional bread is something in between bread and cake. The batter is made with wheat flour, eggs, milk, sugar and butter – quite rich for a bread! Traditionally, they’re baked in clay pots. Bolo lêvedo has a round shape, with a soft texture both on the crust and inside and a slightly sweet flavour.

Pão de Deus – another mix of bread and cake. It’s a round shaped fluffy sweet bread with a topping made of dessicated coconut, sugar and eggs. You can eat it simple, although some people enjoy it with a generous pat of butter and/or misto, i.e., with sliced ham and cheese.

Where can you buy bread in Portugal? Besides the most obvious choice, the bakery (padaria), you can also buy bread in some cafés and in supermarkets, with the bigger shops usually having a large selection to choose from. If, however, you have a bakery near you I strongly suggest you buy your bread there (being a regular customer in a Portuguese bakery is something of an experience in itself).

Back in the day when everyone in towns and cities went to their local padaria everyday people always took their saco do pão, a.k.a, taleigo or talego, a cloth bag. I’m showing you two examples of such bags: a fancy crocheted one and a simpler cotton printed bag.

Do you like Portuguese bread? And if so, do you have a favourite? We would love to hear your thoughts!

We are thrilled to team up with Catia from Beyond Lisbon who not only writes amazing blogs but also shares fantastic information about traditions in Portugal and generally what life in Portugal has to offer. You can find more of Catia’s brilliant blogs here

9 thoughts on “Portuguese bread (and a little rant)

  1. Great article – as enjoyable as the breads it describes. As an Englishman who lived 10 years in Portugal my experience with food there is if it ain’t good and wholesome it ain’t Portuguese. As the article says you might not always find it to your taste, but usually I did. Port – yes, Sardines yes, tripe – no (but I don’t eat that anywhere)

  2. I love Portuguese bread! All! But I especially like Bolo levedo from the Azores (where I am from). In Sao Miguel (where I was born) bolo levedo is not usually eaten with the meal but rather for breakfast or mid afternoon lanche with tea and fresh cheese (queijo fresco). Although today some restaurants use it as hamburger bun (!). In my opinion, the best Bolo levedo is made in Furnas. When I go to Sao Miguel I binge on this and I also make sure I have enough room in the suitcase to bring back a dozen.

    1. Lovely and interesting article
      We regularly visit a village in alentejo which has a very traditional padaria run by a lady well into her eighties, she makes the most delicious bread which we buy hot from the oven.we originally brought a tea towel to wrap it in to keep the crust crisp but have since made a cotton bag which we keep just for this purpose. Delighted to find out this is actually a tradition we had no idea
      Thank you once again for an informative article

      1. Thank you! It is great to hear you liked the blog and that you’ve even made a bread bag! You are traditional without realising! 🙂

  3. LOVE your article! Hope to be moving to Portugal in a couple of months, love food and and looking forward to reading more from you! Thanks x

    1. Thanks so much! We think it is a great article too! Best of luck with your move to wonderful Portugal – watch this space! lots more great blogs about Portugal to come! x

  4. When I was growing up in Lisbon we left our bread bags (cloth drawstring bags) outside the door at night and the baker would deliver so we all had fresh bread first thing in the morning. We were sent to the bakery after 4 for fresh bread for our lanche and dinner ?

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