I decided (with an uncharacteristic level of spontaneity) to go to Portugal for a week. We stayed in an apartment in Mafra, a small town in the hills outside Lisbon, several kilometers from the Atlantic. I was surprised to find restaurant food a little disappointing – plain, bolstering and fresh – but a little unimaginative. The real food highlight for me, however, was the array of pastries available and displayed with pride in every coffee shop or Pasteleria, from the ubiquitous ‘Pastel de Nata’ custard tart to local specialities, such as Quejidas de Sintra.
One night I decided to try cooking with bacalhau, or salt cod, which seems to be one of the key ingredients in the region. Indeed, I was surprised and somewhat amused to see sheets and sheets of this salt cod just stacked up in supermarkets, unwrapped and filling the shop with a fairly pungent smell of fish. I wimped out of buying it like this and bought mine in a pre-sealed packet and made a tomatoey stew with the cod (soaked in water overnight to remove the salt); smoked pork; chickpeas and green beans.