Did you know that Portuguese cooking inspired Manhattan clam chowder? Or that the signing of the Declaration of Independence was toasted with glasses of Madeira? While historically overshadowed by Europe’s major cuisines, the food of Portugal is rich in history and surprisingly influential, and with the recent release of David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table
, it may finally start to get a little respect. Leite, who has a trio of Beard Awards for his writing, discussed the new cookbook and the state of Portuguese cuisine at last week’s Beard on Books.
A first-generation Portuguese-American who grew up in the Portuguese ghetto of Fall River, Massachusetts, Leite spent his youth at a distance from his lonely heritage. But after his grandmother passed away—taking a memory vault of recipes with her—the author embarked on an exploration of his family’s background and homeland, including extensive travel throughout the Iberian nation. His journey is illustrated with the traditional and modern recipes found in The New Portuguese Table
, and Leite has become something of a walking guidebook, spouting off names of dishes to hunt down in the Azores, restaurants to avoid in Lisbon, and the best traditional soups on Portuguese McDonald’s menus.
While New Yorkers can visit the high-end Aldea or take the PATH for some authentic cuisine in Newark’s Portuguese community, Portuguese food is sparse on this side of the Atlantic. Leite explained that the traditional culture considers restaurant dining to be sacrilegious, and a direct insult to the matriarch’s cooking. This resistance has yielded a dearth of Portuguese restaurants in this country, as running an eatery was not a valid profession for immigrants. But customs loosen as generations unfold, and Leite is starting to see signs of life in this country’s Portuguese cuisine.
Thankfully, The New Portuguese Table
has plenty of dishes to try at home while we wait for the awakening. This orange–olive oil cake
is an excellent starting point, an homage to the bolo de laranja
that Leite enjoyed while residing in Lisbon.