by Carmen Allan-Petale
You might’ve seen Dave’s recent post on Coimbra and the delicious hog roast we ate at a local restaurant. When travelling through Portugal, it didn’t take long to realise that pork was the country’s speciality.
In Porto, we discovered a restaurant on the same street as our boutique hotel called Museu de Presunto, or ‘Museum of Ham’ in English.
Entering the bar’s restaurant was like stepping into an antique store. Toys from the ’70s and earlier periods hung from the ceiling and when seated the waiter gave us two tin cases that previously held film reels – our menu had been stuck to both sides of them.
After having a dinner drink on the house – custom for all diners – we were seated in the restaurant next door. Dried chorizo that was over 10 years old hung on the wall behind us as well as a a giant dried pig, strung up like a gastronomic taxidermy.
Dave asked, half-joking, whether it was still edible and the waiter said he could try a piece although it would most likely taste like dried leather. Dave didn’t take him up on the offer.
I ordered octopus, an odd decision considering the location, but I had pigged out on pork (‘scuse the pun) for the whole week and was craving seafood.
When the dish arrived it was capsicum (peppers) and potatoes wrapped up with one giant tentacle. Judging its size, the octopus must’ve been as big as the table we were dining on before it met its fate.
Dave had a man’s meal of venison and chips, which was washed down with port and tonic – a new take on the gin and tonic for us, yet surprisingly less bitter.
I suppose the waiter was a little taken aback that we didn’t order any ham… When I asked him why the owner had decided on the theme he said simply that pork was the food of the country.
When the waiter was a little boy, he was one of 24 grandchildren and his grandfather owned a vineyard where port was cultivated each year. To celebrate a successful harvest, his grandfather would let a pig loose on their farm and the children would chase it, competing with each other to catch dinner first.
Once caught, the pig was slaughtered and then the whole extended family would feast on the animal. All of the pig would be eaten, from nose to tail, and nothing would be wasted. This tradition has been passed down through many Portuguese families and explains why pigs’ trotters is such a popular dish!
Like all cultures, food is revered in Portugal and it was great to get an insight into the history behind the ham.