Friday, 15 April 2016

Portuguese Driftwood

We apologise for the lack of posts recently.  It is the time of year for our annual month long trip to the sunnier climes of Portugal, where our wild camper van exploits tend to limit our access to wi-fi and therefore blogging opportunities.  Here however, for those with an interest in what Portugal offers for those of a vegan persuasion, is a rough guide and if you check out our previous few years posts around March or April you will find lots of further hints, tips and findings from our Southern Portuguese wanderings in camper van and tent.

Years ago and when we first planned a trip to Portugal, we were slightly concerned about what our food options would be.  We were at least self-catering, being back then in a tent, so with the expectation of being able to buy fruit and vegetables easily, and with a good stock of travelling grains and spices, we took off into the unknown.  Our trusty camp stove would save the day.

It is almost embarrassing now to remember how na├»ve we were back then.  Portugal was not the meat and fish engrossed nation we had anticipated.  If anything it has opened our eyes further to more and more delicious food options each year that we have returned.

Now don’t expect to walk into any restaurant and have your vegan needs met unerringly.  It’s possible but by no means common and let’s face it, it’s very rarely the case in the UK anyway unless it’s a veggie/vegan establishment.  Yes Portugal still is behind in many ways when it comes to veganism and there aren’t that many veggie restaurants around, let alone vegan (although we might add we believe it is a different story in places like Lisbon but we are not big city dwellers so can’t offer much of an insight into that).  However, you would no doubt be surprised by the options available in normal supermarkets.  In most cases the choice is better than in UK supermarkets.  Ever seen seitan in the chiller section of Sainsburys or Tescos?  No, us neither.  But from our experience, you go to any Intermarche or Continente and there it is alongside tofu choices, and at a much cheaper price than you would find in the UK too.  What’s more you will find a whole aisle dedicated to health food options; that’s both sides on an aisle not just a tucked away ‘Free From’ section on half of one side of an aisle.  There you will find a massive range of herbal teas, packets of very interesting loose herbs, gluten free, sugar free and dairy free options and a whole section of meat free burgers, sausages, meat balls, seitan and tofu.  These are generally jarred or in ‘ambient’ packaging so great for our non-refrigerated  camper van stock cupboard.

Even without these ‘health food’ sections, the supermarkets offer a wealth of options with simple ingredients.  The jars of beans alone have my mouth watering with my particular favourites being the feijao manteiga (butter bean).  They are chestnut brown over here and a world away from the pale UK versions.  We try to bring packets of dried butter beans home with us but unfortunately the last couple of years we’ve been unable to find them for some reason.  Instead we just have to stock up on a few jars or tins and ration them.

Then there are the vegetables and fruit.  We haven’t figured out yet whether it is just that we are on holiday or it’s the outdoor life style we are living or whether there is something very different about the fruit and vegetables over here.  They taste amazing, so much so that we have been addicted for the past three days to potatoes and cabbage alone.  And the oranges; well they are so amazing that my dad even demands we return with some for him and he doesn’t even eat that many oranges.  Perhaps the earth here isn’t as overworked, overburdened and de-mineralised as British soil?  Perhaps the reliance on chemical fertilisers is less or the sun ripened produce is just that much more naturally energised?  Let’s just say that if, all those years ago our assumptions had been correct and fruit and vegetables were the only viable options, well it would still have been as amazing.

Health food stores do indeed exist out here too and, although from our experience they are more the white-coated sales assistant sort rather than the darkened, wooden shelved, muddy organic veg, pulsing delights of the left over 60’s hippy revolution of the UK, they do still offer undiscovered delights.   The fridges are often stocked with seitan, soya, tofu and some surprisingly different options, such as the thick potato tortillas that we discovered last year in a health food store in Lagos.  Unfortunately, being chilled items, we are unable to transport such delights home by the van load.  Believe us, we would if we could.

Moving away from the health food side of things and more on to the naughty delights (although the resveratrol has its benefits it seems), we would also like to point out that Portuguese wine is amazing and there are plenty of vegan options out there too.  For lots of vegan options check out previous posts that appear around March and April each year on our blog!  As the actual filtering of wine, and the ingredients used to do it is the main problem in whether a wine is vegan or not, we look for wines that are labelled as not being filtered or those that say they ‘throw a deposit with time’, an indication of not being filtered.   

For the first time during our trips to Portugal, this year we also saw a wine that was actually labelled as being vegan.  That is indeed progress.  You would be surprised at how many options are out there.  Most of them taste a world away from UK brought options (food miles has a lot going for it) and at the fraction of the price.

To summarise, don’t be frightened as a vegan to explore Portuguese culinary delights.  Sometimes a step backwards in time reconnects oneself with the true basics of wholesome nutritional food and away from the reliance on the modern day less natural processed alternatives.  If you come only with the expectation that the fruit and vegetables on offer are amazing, Portugal has a lot to teach us and remind us of, as well as offering surprising alternatives should you find it too difficult to get back to the basics.

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