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Portugal: Europe’s best-kept foodie secret

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The cooking of mainland Europe’s westernmost country is deeply rooted in the heart of local ingredients.

Superlative seafood, sun-ripened fruit, lamb raised on flower-speckled meadows, free-range pigs gorging on acorns beneath oak forests.

Without them, it just doesn’t taste the same.

So while diners worldwide crowd Italian trattorias, French bistros and Spanish tapas bars, Portuguese restaurants abroad generally cater to melancholy emigrants seeking in vain to matar saudades (kill their longing) for mom’s home-cooked food.

Things are changing.

The success of Portuguese chefs like George Mendes in New York and Nuno Mendes (no relation) in London is generating a global buzz and their creating a legacy in food industries about the cooking of their homeland.

Regular visitors have long been in on the secret, but here are 20 reasons why Portugal should be on every foodie traveler’s list.

 

  1. Piscivore perfection

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In Europe, only Icelanders eat more fish than the Portuguese.

Superstar chef Ferran Adria says seafood from Portugal’s Atlantic waters is the world’s best — and he’s Spanish.

Markets glimmer with a startling variety, from baby cuttlefish to U-boat-sized tuna.

If your food heaven is fresh seabass expertly barbequed with a hint of lemon, garlic and olive oil, this is the place.

Best eaten by the sea in restaurants like Sao Roque in Lagos, Restinga in Alvor, Furnas in Ericeira, Azenhas do Mar or Restaurante da Adraga west of Sintra, Ribamar in Sesimbra, or Doca do Cavacas on Madeira island.

 

  1. Liquid gold

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Drive the backroads of the Alentejo, Beira Interior and Tras-os-Montes regions and you’ll weave through endless olive groves.

Olive oil is the basis of Portuguese cooking, whether it’s used to slow-cook salt-cod, dribbled into soups or simply soaked up with hot-from-the-oven bread.

Exports have quadrupled over the past decade as the world wakes up and smell the coffee to the quality of Portugal’s liquid gold, either from big-time producers like Gallo and Oliveira da Serra, or hand-crafted, single-farm oils.

The latest prize: a gold medal for Olmais Organic oil at the World’s Best Olive Oils awards in New York.

      3.The national boiled dinner

Portugal’s cooking is rigorously regional: meaty and robust in the north, Mediterranean in the south.

Yet one dish unites the country: cozido.

Best eaten as a big family lunch, this is a boiled one-pot featuring a hunk of beef, various piggy bits, sometimes chicken, always cabbage, potatoes, carrots, turnips and an array of sausage, including paprika-spiced chourico and cumin-flavored blood pudding.

  1. Lisbon’s gourmet awakening

A new generation of chefs is shaking up the capital’s restaurant scene with ultra-modern takes on gastronomic tradition.

Leading the charge is Jose Avillez.

His Belcanto restaurant facing the Sao Carlos theater won a second Michelin star in 2014.

Its menu features braised red mullet with liver sauce, clams and cornmeal; oxtail with foie gras, chickpeas and creamy sheep cheese. Rivals include Henrique Sa Pessoa’s new Alma restaurant, just round the corner and wowing diners with the likes of hake with burnt leek and hazelnuts; or Joao Rodrigues, voted chef-of-the-year with his riverside Feitoria.

   5.King cod

They say Portugal has 365 recipes for cooking salt cod.

In fact there are many more.

Bacalhau is served “a bras” with scrambled eggs, olives and fries; as fish cakes (pasteis de bacalhau) alongside black-eyed-peas; barbequed, oven-baked or simply boiled with cabbage and carrots, then drizzled in olive oil.

Crumbled with cornbread in the university city of Coimbra, baked under mayonnaise Ze-do-Pipo-style in Porto, chopped into a favorite Lisbon salad with chickpeas and onion, bacalhau is always close to the Portuguese soul.

It’s available everywhere, but Lisbon’s Laurentina restaurant may just serve the best.

  1. Say Queijo

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Why Portugal’s cheeses are not better known is a mystery.

True, amarelo da Beira Baixa — a herby goat-and-sheep-milk mix, was judged the world’s greatest in a tasting organized by Wine Spectator and Vanity Fair a few years back.

Yet creamy Serra da Estrela from the milk of ewes raised in Portugal’s loftiest mountain range; hard, pungent cow’s-milk cheeses made on the precipitous mid-Atlantic slopes of Sao Jorge island; or peppery Terrincho produced in remote Tras-os-Montes, remain largely unknown.

Such dairy delights may be served as appetizers or after a meal with red wine or port, sometimes accompanied with quince jam (marmelada).

    7.So much wine

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For a small country Portugal makes an astonishing variety of great wines.

Summery vinho verdes from the green northwest.

Full-bodied reds and fruity whites from Douro, Dao and Alentejo.

Bubbly from Bairrada; legendary Port and Madeira vintages.

Honeyed moscatel from Setubal.

Rare tipples from odd places like the Lisbon surfer suburb of Carcavelos.

Or the World Heritage vineyards clinging to a mid-Atlantic volcano on Pico Island.

    8.Porto’s tasty trinity

In the 15th century, patriotic Porto donated all its meat to Prince Henry the Navigator to feed his soldiers when they sailed off to do battle in Morocco.

Left with just offal, they concocted a dish which remains the city’s signature: tripas a moda do Porto.

It’s not for the faint-hearted: a stew of butter beans, calves’ feet, pigs’ ears and peppery chourico as well as the tripe — the chewy white lining of cow’s stomach.

Ever since, inhabitants of Portugal’s second city have been known as tripeiros — tripe-eaters.

Porto’s other best-known dishes: slices of deep-fried octopus and monster meat sandwiches smothered in spicy sauce and named francesinhas — or little French girls.

   9.Bifana vs. prego

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To make a bifana, marinate thin slices of pork in white wine and garlic, fry, slap it into a bread roll, add mustard or hot sauce to taste.

For a prego, the process is pretty similar, but the main ingredient is beef steak. These are Portugal’s snacks of preference.

Done right, with quality meat and juices that soak into the soft white bread, they are unbeatable. Accompany with cold beer. Pregos are also customarily used to round off a feast of clams, shrimp or crab in marisqueiras — specialized seafood joints.

Those at Lisbon’s Ramiro are legendary.

Wefornews bureau

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Delhi Ring Railway to soon see steam-hauled service to attract tourists

Two options are being considered: A round trip or a hop-on-hop-off ticket.

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Steam locomotives will be chugging along on all hill railways across the country — besides charting out a new course on the Delhi Ring Railway — as the Railways pushes the idea of reviving the glory of its steam heritage.

With the successful operation of a steam-hauled train on the Palanpur-Jogindernagar section of Kangra Valley Railway, all five hill railways now have steam loco services to attract tourists.

Kangra Valley Railway, which is on the tentative list of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites, witnessed the revived steam loco operation recently after more than 20 years. The regular steam loco operation is expected to boost tourism in Himachal Pradesh.

While Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railway have regular steam locos services, the Kalka-Shimla Railway and Matheran Hill Railway are equipped to conduct chartered services on tourist demand.

But the big thrust will be seen in the capital’s long-neglected — and once-popular — Ring Railway, that has fallen by the wayside as the city expanded rapidly.

“It is a big revival of steam locomotives in Indian Railways, and our aim is to have regular steam loco operations in all hill railways — and also in the long-awaited Delhi Ring Railway route,” said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with rail heritage.

With the advent of diesel and electric locomotives, steam engines were phased out in 1995 by the Railways.

Ring Rail Delhi

Though there was a move to run a steam locomotive on the Delhi Ring Railway during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, this did not materialise for various reasons.

However, the state-run transporter is now actively working on reviving the service to showcase its heritage, bring back the romance of steam engines and promote tourism. The task has been assigned to Northern Railway.

The existing 34 km-long ring railway, which runs parallel to the Ring Road, passes through several prominent places of Delhi like Chanakyapuri, Safdarjung and Sarojini Nagar and is expected to attract large numbers of tourists and rail enthusiasts interested in steam locos.

As per the plan, the train, comprising four heritage coaches with a steam locomotive, would start from Safdarjung station and travel to Anand Vihar, Old Yamuna Bridge, Old Delhi, New Delhi and Nizamuddin station before returning to Safdarjung.

Delhi Ring Rail

Tourists will be able to visit the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, National Rail Museum, the historic Old Yamuna Bridge, Humayun’s tomb and rail buildings such as Old Delhi station, Kashmere Gate and Baroda House by using the service.

“The landscape along the proposed route will be beautified, besides other necessary arrangements to make it operational. The fare structure and timings are yet to be decided,” the official said.

“Two options are being considered: A round trip or a hop-on-hop-off ticket,” the official added.

At present, there are very few steam locos across the world that are still in working condition.

By : Arun Kumar Das

(Arun Kumar Das is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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62% prefer self planned trips over travel packages: Survey

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travel packages

New Delhi, Feb 6: As many as 62 per cent people prefer self-planned trips over the packages provided by travel agencies, according to a survey carried out in six metro cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune and Bengaluru.

The survey, conducted by Chrome Data Analytics and Media, was conducted on 2,468 people in the age group of 35-54 years constituting 52 per cent males and 48 per cent females.

It said that 59 per cent of the respondents would prefer a nature-related destination for holidays. It also said that 48 per cent would prefer travelling with their friends.

According to the survey, US is the dream destination for 35 per cent of the respondents.

At least 60 per cent of the respondents “usually” holiday for less than seven days, it said

Around 33 per cent said that their travel plans got affected by the number of official leaves they got.

IANS

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Why a visit to the world’s largest river island is a must

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Bamboo house of Mishing tribe

By Natalia Ningthoujam

Kamalabari (Majuli), Feb 5: Assam’s Majuli faces flood fury — and the threat of erosion — whenever the mighty Brahmaputra river swells. So take a break from your high-tech lifestyle and hop on that double decker boat to live the simple life in the world’s largest river island before it loses the title.

Cruises on luxury vessels can take you to your destination, but to understand the locals’ lives, it is best to travel like them on a rickety motor boat, which can also carry cars, bikes and anything that can’t swim, from Neemati ghat to Kamalabari ghat.

First timers might fear for their lives but for the frequent travellers, it’s like any other public transport. Some are so carefree that they even play cards.

After the half-hour ferry ride, you will reach the shrinking island, which is located over 300 km from Guwahati, Assam’s main city, and is home to approximately two lakh people consisting of Brahmins, Kalitas, Mishings, Deori and more.

Visitors can stay in various resorts, which might remind you of your hostel days due to availability of only basic amenities, or limited homestays.

While driving to your accommodation, you will see paddy and mustard fields, and bamboo plantations along the roads.

Out of the various house forms, the bamboo stilt houses — with an open fireplace in the middle — of the Mishing tribe, are quite unique, and you will see women working on looms made with bamboos and a cycle’s wheel.

Unlike the people of Sualkuchi, a silk-weaving village in Assam, Mishings here make “mekhela chador” and other traditional outfits only for their own use. And men use their physical strength to make beds out of bamboos or other furnitures, when they are not farming.

Majuli, a hub of the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture, has many satras (religious and cultural institutions).

“Earlier, there were over 60 satras in Majuli but due to erosion, there are currently just 32 satras here. Auniati Satra is the biggest one in Assam. The land measures up to 500 bigha,” Anant Kalita, the satra’s museum guide, told this visiting IANS correspondent.

“We don’t call ourselves monks or pandits. The ones who stay in satras are called Vaishnavs. We worship lord Krishna. We dance, pray and do dramas, which were created by (saint-scholar) Sankardev,” he added.

The satra is open to all — Brahmins, Kalitas and people from other communities of Assam.

“Even Muslims can come. Ladies can come but can’t stay in the satra. After marriage, people need to stay out of the satra.

“There are 350 people in the satra. Vaishnavs and bhakhts stay in satras, the ones who are outside are called disciples,” said Kalita, who has been here for the past 18 years.

The Samaguri Satra, on the other hand, has kept alive the tradition of mask-making.

Its studio houses numerous masks, like those of Narasimha, Ram and Laxman that are used during festivals and Bhaona, which is a traditional form of entertainment through which religious messages are shared.

Explaining the process of mask-making, popular mask artiste Hem Chandra Goswami’s brother Tilak Goswami said: “The masks are made of mud, cotton cloth, cow dung and vegetable colours. One mask takes about 15 to 20 days to make.”

“Our entire family knows how to make masks. We have been making masks for the last six generations,” added the 65-year-old.

After learning the craft here, some even go to Dibrugarh or Guwahati.

It’s not just the people at satras who are warm and welcoming. Once the local children spot new faces, especially with DSLR cameras, they will happily follow you and strike a pose.

You might have to use a lot of hand gestures while communicating with the locals as they aren’t fluent in English or Hindi, but they will leave you overwhelmed — irrespective of their financial condition, they will not let you leave empty handed.

A cup of tea or a plate full of home-made sweets (rice flour pitha) is the least they can offer, and a request: “Please visit again.”

IANS

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