The Bifana: Portugal’s Tasty Meat Snack

Bifanas de Vendas Novas

 

What comes to mind when you are asked about typical Portuguese dishes? Bacalhau (cod), and the many different ways it can be prepared? Chicken with “piri piri” spicy sauce? Soups, grilled fish or cozido à portuguesa (a stew of different meats and vegetables)? Or a desert such as the tasty custard tarts called “pastéis de Belém”?

Well, today we present to you a simple sandwich that any local you care to ask would say is typically Portuguese – the “bifana”. The bifana is so popular in Portugal that McDonalds here have even launched the McBifana in recent times. So what is it? Basically a slice of pork steak in a roll of bread, the pork having been lightly sautéed, sometimes with garlic and/or other spices, so that the meat is warm and juicy. The bread roll is usually distinctly crusty, puffy and floury, and the whole thing is often eaten as a snack for lunch, sometimes with a bowl of soup.

The Alentejo region of Portugal is well-known for the quality and variety of its gastronomy, and it is said that the bifana originated here in the town of Vendas Novas. Most locals will tell you that the best bifanas are from this area, and supposedly they are a cut above those made elsewhere.

The Bifana de Vendas Novas then, is made from select pork fillet and is marinated and then cooked in a secret sauce. The bread roll is lightly toasted which, together with the special sauce and juicy meat, makes this a truly delicious and appetizing snack.

If you want to try the famous bifana from Alentejo, it’s no longer necessary to visit Vendas Novas, you can sample this tasty sandwich right here in Lisbon. Almost any café or bar will have bifanas on the menu, but if you want to try the one from Vendas Novas, go to the Bifanas de Vendas Novas kiosk in the Colombo mall in Benfica, one of Portugal’s largest shopping centres. Here you can try the original (and supposedly the best) bifana, together with other traditional dishes and soups.

Bifanas de Vendas Novas: http://www.bifanasdevendasnovas.com

A New “Jurassic Park” North of Lisbon

DinosaursThe world’s largest open-air dinosaur park is about to be created north of Lisbon in the town of Lourinhã. This is one of the richest areas on the planet when it comes to dinosaur fossils (including the biggest collection of dino eggs), so in addition to a leisure destination it will also be something of a museum scientifically recreating the Jurassic habitat. It will have over 200 life-size models of the creatures that once ruled the Earth, spread over 2.5km of woodland. A central building will be an actual museum presenting the important collection of fossils and will include a restaurant and an auditorium.
The project costs 10 million euros, and if that comes as a surprise at a time when Portugal is being one of the victims of the euro crisis, it should be noted that this comes from private investment, in part from a German company. Studies show the park will be profitable with just over 135,000 visitors per year, something quite achievable when considering that the village of Obidos nearby attracts 2 million people every year.
If everything goes as planned, the “dinopark” can be ready by late 2013.

The 10 Strangest Foods in Portugal

Every culture has them: Foods that only a local could love. In case you’re brave and curious enough to try new things, or prefer to be informed of what can be avoided, here are the ten strangest foods in Portugal.

Arroz de Cabidela
ARROZ DE CABIDELA
Recently a tourist reported an experience at a restaurant in a Portugal Pousada where a waiter explained what the “arroz the cabidela” listed on the menu was like. He correctly described it as rice soaked in chicken’s blood, and the facial expression of the tourists reacting to that description must have surprised the waiter because he quickly added “with chicken!” as if that made it sound any better. Yes, it’s a bloody good delicacy if you’re familiar with it, but for anyone hearing about it for the first time, it’s understandably disgusting. And the cooking process is even more disturbing: After the chicken is killed, it hangs upside-down for the blood to be drained out. It’s then added to the meat when it’s cooking, giving the dish a brownish color.

Arroz de Sarrabulho
ARROZ DE SARRABULHO
If “arroz de cabidela” sounds good to you, perhaps you’ll also want to try “arroz de sarrabulho.” Instead of chicken, the meat is now pork, but it’s also soaked in its own blood. It’s a specialty from the north of Portugal and the blood also gives the rice a greyish-brown color. You may be surprised to know that it was one of the 21 finalists in the vote for the “7 gastronomic wonders of Portugal.”

Morcela
MORCELA
At this point you’re probably thinking there’s something vampirish about Portuguese cuisine, but here’s one more bloody food: Morcela, a sausage made with blood! This type of sausage actually exists in several cultures in almost every continent, and the Portuguese version is mostly meat-free. It varies from region to region, but is always filled with rice and pig’s blood. In some cases, pieces of pork are added.

Caracois
CARACOIS
The French call them escargots and have turned them into something of “haute cuisine.” In Portugal they’re “caracois,” also meaning snails and are eaten mostly in the south of the country. For whatever reason the people in the north are not fans, but it’s a favorite dish on a sunny summer afternoon in Lisbon’s cafés and restaurants. In reality, what its devotees really like is the stew they’re cooked in, and not exactly the tiny wormy shelled mollusks that you can barely taste.

Coelho à Caçador
COELHO À CAÇADOR
There are some who say that a rabbit’s flesh is the closest to that of a human. Many may agree and may wish to avoid eating what in some cultures is a beloved family pet. In other countries it’s a wonderful meal, including in Portugal. It’s made popular by hunters, and is most often accompanied by rice or potatoes in a dark sauce.

Codornizes
CODORNIZES
Quail is definitely not unique to Portuguese cuisine but it’s another favorite of Portuguese hunters. While mostly served at home, you can find them listed on menus of restaurants in the interior of the country. They’re usually cooked and served whole, leaving the job of cutting the wings and legs for you on the plate.

Tripas à Moda do Porto
TRIPAS À MODA DO PORTO
It’s one of Portugal’s most historic dishes but also one of its least appetizing. When Prince Henry the Navigator asked the people of the city of Porto to provide food for the men going into the sea, they gave all their meat and ended up with only the animals’ stomachs. Out of necessity they had to create meals out of them, and so was “Porto-Style Tripe” born. Tripe is also present in French, Italian and Eastern European cuisines, and Portugal’s version includes pieces of sausage and beans.

Torresmos
TORRESMOS
This cholesterol-filling delicacy is made of pig skin and fat. It’s cut into small pieces and fried until it becomes crunchy. The Portuguese took this tradition to Brazil, becoming quite popular in the northeast of that country, often served with beans.

Cozido à Portuguesa
COZIDO À PORTUGUESA
At the risk of receiving hate mail from the most patriotic Portuguese, we’re going to include one of the most emblematic dishes of the country on this list. This national specialty mixes a variety of vegetables, sausages and meats, and it’s the choices of meats that may be a problem for some. It seems that no single part of a pig goes to waste in Portugal, and this dish often includes a nice crunchy ear with tiny hairs. If there’s no ear, you just may find a foot.

Enguias
ENGUIAS
The Portuguese don’t eat snakes but they do enjoy the snakelike eels. Popular in the coastal areas of the north of the country, they are often bought alive. No matter how many spices or delicious condiments may be added, the very sight of them will make many people lose their appetite.

Portugal’s Other World Heritage Sites

They’re not officially on UNESCO’s list, but these sites of extraordinary cultural significance could very well end up there one day, joining the 14 others in Portugal (like Sintra and Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower).

Mafra

MAFRA PALACE
It’s one of the world’s biggest palaces and it has some singular features such as a total of six organs that are unique in the world and the world’s largest collection of church bells in addition to one of Europe’s finest libraries. One of Nobel Prize author José Saramago’s most translated novels is about the building’s unbelievable construction (published in English as “Baltasar and Blimunda”).

Baixa

DOWNTOWN LISBON
The only reason Lisbon’s downtown isn’t yet a World Heritage Site is because many of its buildings have reached an advanced state of decay and have been stripped of many of their original features. Before it can present its candidacy to UNESCO it will have to restore everything back to its original state, but even without the official recognition Lisbon’s downtown is already a remarkable place. You couldn’t tell by simply looking at it, but this is Europe’s first urban planning project, using large-scale pre-fabricated earthquake-proof techniques that included modern sanitation. This type of grid of broad streets was later replicated in other European cities such as Paris and Barcelona.

Sagres, Portugal

SAGRES
Prince Henry the Navigator’s inspirational coastline is just as mystical and mysterious today. It’s Europe’s southwesternmost tip and was therefore believed to be the end of the world in ancient times. Prince Henry however, wondered what laid beyond the horizon and started a project of “discoveries” that paved the way for Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Christopher Columbus and all the other famous explorers. An enormous compass believed to have been used to study navigation is still seen on the ground in Sagres today.

Vila Viçosa, Portugal

VILA VIÇOSA
This town is made almost exclusively of marble. Like most others in the serene Alentejo province, it’s a rather sleepy place today but it was once a royal town with a palace belonging to the royal family of the Bragança dynasty. The palace is naturally also made of marble, as are benches and pavements, as this region is rich in this “white gold.”

Marvão, Portugal

MARVÃO
This near-Heaven village is a fortified medieval place described by the New York Times as “a fairytale mirage.” It’s one of the world’s highest settlements, standing close to 3,000 feet up high on a mountain, all inside a wall and protected by a castle. It’s almost unbelievable how anyone chose to settle here, but you’d have to have a 13th-century mentality to understand it.

Universidade, Coimbra

COIMBRA UNIVERSITY
It’s one of the world’s oldest universities and it’s quite a special one, with unique traditions associated with it over time. It includes one of the world’s most remarkable baroque libraries and is the most likely candidate to end up on UNESCO’s list in the near future.

Buçaco Palace Hotel

BUÇACO FOREST
It was one of the first forests in Europe to reunite plants from all over the world. It’s also the site of one of the continent’s first palace hotels, surrounded by a magical atmosphere.

Arrabida Park

ARRÁBIDA NATURAL PARK
This isn’t just another beautiful natural park. It’s one of the best places for geologists to learn about three key phases of the earth’s evolution and its tectonic plates, as well as a curious landscape of Mediterranean flora that’s actually on the Atlantic, developed around 180 million years ago when it was under water. The diversity and singularity of the park in terms of vegetation distribution gives it a natural heritage unmatched anywhere in the world.

New Places to See in Lisbon Before You Die

1000 Places to See Before You DieThe best-selling book “1000 Places to See Before You Die” by author Patricia Schultz inspired countless other copycat “…before you…” publications but it is still the original ultimate “traveler’s life list.” It was first published in 2003 and has recently been updated. A major update is for Portugal and especially Lisbon (“one of Europe’s most alluring capitals”), which now has three “must see” museums. The first book only listed the Gulbenkian but it now highlights “great museums of three collectors.” Those are the Gulbenkian, the Berardo Museum (opened in 2007) and MuDe (design and fashion museum opened in 2009). All three showcase “awe-inspiring gifts” from different collectors (Calouste Gulbenkian, Joe Berardo and Francisco Capelo) who “enriched the city with magnificent museums.”

Another Lisbon addition is Alfama, the “ancient neighborhood where history and Fado live,” and back on the list are Sintra (“the summer resort of palaces and castles”) and Obidos, “the town that belonged to the queens of Portugal.” Other places to see in Portugal “before you die” are the “hilltop castles” in the “ancient border towns” of Estremoz and Marvão, the “open-air museum of Portuguese architecture” that is the city of Evora, the “pleasure palace” of the Buçaco forest, and Madeira, “the pearl of the Atlantic.” New on the list is Porto and the Douro Valley, where “there’s magic in the air.”

After Portugal, you have other 991 places left to see around the world, and many of them are Portuguese-built, from “one of the world’s greatest enclaves of Baroque architecture” that is Brazil’s Ouro Preto to long-forgotten constructions like Ghana’s Elmina Castle.
Perhaps in a future edition the author will also discover Portugal’s Azores, the Coa Valley or the promontory of Sagres, all with a must-feel/must-see mystical atmosphere.