A few weeks ago we ventured back to the village for Filipa’s brothers’ 30th birthday. Going back to the village for a family party means one thing – food! And lots of it. It takes serious preparation – mental and physical. This being my third time to the village, I started to realise that there is a fine art to enduring a Portuguese family festa and surviving unscathed with your waistline where it was when you first arrived. It’s not easy, because in Portugal, there are many courses and they get you every time and suck you in. The table is always covered in a selection of cured meats, cheeses, breads, olives, seafood (entradas) when you sit down. Rule #1 is to go easy here. This is a major trap for new (gluttonous) players, one which can easily lead to an early downfall. After this, out comes Round 2, still part of the entradas, which can be a soup or a seafood or meat dish, sometimes presunto (cured ham).
You can be easily fooled here to think this is main course. If you finish quickly and everyone is still eating around you, beware because an aunty will come and top your plate or bowl up again and will not take não obrigada for an answer. So rule number #2, eat slowly and always remember there is still a long way to go. At Toze’s birthday dinner, the entradas dish was so delicious that I just couldn’t help myself and ate it up in flash. It was a dish called Fritada and it consisted of pork meat with many different types of chorizo made with onion, flour, bread. It’s up there as one of my favourite dishes. So tasty. Porky goodness!
Following the entradas is the prato principal (main course) and this is usually always a meat dish too, with rice as well. At Toze’s party we ate Arroz de Míscaros com Borrego (Rice of Mushrooms with Lamb). The mushrooms were organic local hand picked and so different to any mushrooms I’d ever tasted or seen before. Even two plates of Fritada didn’t slow me down here. So good.
Then of course comes the sobremesas and not just one, but usually two, sometimes three, different kinds – arroz doce (sweet rice), a cake of some sort, leite creme (cream caramel) – and people really look at you weird if you turn down dessert.
There is no escape.
Just when you think it’s all over, then comes the birthday cake, and of course, there is definitely no way you can say no to the birthday cake.
Now, that would just be rude.
As I was recovering that night in the starfish position, I was told that we were going to another family festa the following day, another family birthday. Oh my god. Images of Mr Creosote in the scene from Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’ came flashing back to me.
Indeed, the next day, I had finally learnt my lesson and enjoyed a small bowl of fish soup followed by a small plate of duck rice, devoured ever so slowly. No bread. No cheese (okay, just a little cured meat because it looked so good). A minuscule serving of leite creme and one piece of birthday cake. Stomach explosion averted. Just.
One way of getting me to eat less in Portugal is to serve more dishes like this.
Filipa tucked in to this goat brain soup just after devouring the entire braised head of a baby goat (apologies to any vegetarians reading this). I was so stunned but also intrigued that I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph the goat head. It was whole! I am not kidding you. (sorry for the bad pun!)
Here is also another traditional dish of stuffed goat stomach filled with goat meat, rice and blood and other offal, called bucho, the Portuguese version of haggis.
I cannot stomach offal (sorry again) so I refrained, although I did try the goat brain, just one bite, to get Filipa off my back. It was as I had expected, a weird texture, and not my kind of thing.
So, two weeks until Christmas and I’m preparing like a boxer going in for a championship fight. I’ve even been jogging in my preparation.
But right now, as it stands, it’s Portugal 1, Me 0.