I’ve been going to the Portuguese delis in Brixton for years now but I’ve never said more to the owners than ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘is that the spiciest chorizo you have?’. Yesterday, however, I was asked to investigate Portuguese cuisine in London and the culture that surrounds it so I cycled there this morning, armed with camera and dictaphone, and finally got to meet the people behind the counter.
First stop was the Continental Deli run by Bella & José Cardoso and their family. They sell some of the best Portuguese cheese and chorizo in London and Bella was more than happy to tell me some of the stories behind their produce. Firstly Alheira, a sausage made from chicken and beef that was originally made to deceive the Portuguese inquisition in the 15th century. If you weren’t seen to be cooking the traditional pork sausage over the fire you would be persecuted as a Jew, so Jewish families would make sausages out of chicken, rabbit, duck or veal to fool the inquisition into believing they were traditional, pork-loving catholics.
Next, Bella showed me a whole salt cod, once considered ‘poor man’s food’, it now fetches £80 per fish! Apparently there are 365 ways of cooking salt cod, one for every day of the year, and it always needs soaking overnight or longer depending on the thickness. Bella’s had salt cod in a soufflé, deep-fried, baked and boiled. I asked whether it was ever served in a salad and apparently we should try serving it with thinly sliced chips, scrambled eggs and olives—sounds quirky but worth a try I reckon.
Bella was born in the UK and lives in Streatham with her husband José. She mainly cooks English food at home so, for home-cooked Portuguese fare she goes to her mum’s in Norwood, often for her favourite Cocido (literally meaning boiled)—a thick stew of various chorizos served with boiled cabbage and rice. Bella beams when she talks about this dish—I want to try it. After our chat I realised I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and my blood sugar was dangerously low—an ideal moment to sample the traditional potuguese pastry, pastel de nata (pastry of cream). A small, perfectly formed and phenomenally tasty custard tart for only 85p in my local area… hazardous.
After brushing the crumbs from my chin and groaning a little, Bella informs me that the Portuguese also have a very sweet tooth and are obsessed with coffee—a meal is never finished before espresso. At 11am every morning, the hundreds of small cafés in Lisbon are full of people drinking espresso and munching on freshly baked pastries. That’s all before lunch… sounds like my kind of place.
This article is part of the Eating Eurovision project. To see all the entries please click here.
Continental Deli, 3 Atlantic Road, Brixton, London SW9 8HX. Tel: 0207 733 3766.