I was never a huge fan of fish. Sure, I love eating salmon, sushi and sashimi, but eating plain white fish never really appealed to me unless it was battered and deep fried with a side of chips. However, Portugal is all about seafood and they love something called bacalhau, which is dried salt codfish.
They use bacalhau in all sorts of dishes and one of the first ones I discovered when I was in Portgual is called bacalhau à bras (sometimes spelled as “braz”). I wasn’t really sure what I was going to end up with and was worried when the server said what I interpreted as “pan fried fish with potatoes”, but thankfully it was much better than I anticipated! Rather than just a plain fish dish, I discovered that bacalhau à bras is a rice dish mixed with shredded bacalhau, onions, matchstick potatoes, olives, and egg. Sometimes it’s sprinkled with parsley (see next picture) and comes with a light salad of lettuce and tomato (this one had an additional ingredient – cabbage).
It was like a fried rice, only with Portugal’s beloved fish and potatoes. The dish was quite heavy since it was full of carbs and protein, but I instantly fell in love with it. It wasn’t too salty, it had multiple textures and it tasted absolutely delicious. So much that I had it several times while I was there and it felt very much like a comfort food. And truthfully, the ingredients mix so naturally well together that there aren’t many spices added to the dish.
The only thing to determine when you eat bacalhau à bras is whether the establishment cleaned out all the bones from the fish. The last thing you want to do is choke!
As a random side note, I found it interesting that the Portuguese culture doesn’t really support the “takeout” lifestyle that we have in North America. I was stuffed to the brim eating this lovely dish and wanted to take the remainder back to my hotel, but first I had to overcome the very confusing conversation (again, language barrier) with the server when he said I would have to pay extra to do so. Not only that, but they didn’t have any plastic cutlery. I hypothesize this lack of takeout culture in Portugal exists for several reasons: 1) They don’t condone eating alone and see mealtime as a way of being social and interacting with friends and family. So if you go to a restaurant, you sit and eat at the restaurant. 2) They are really good at keeping their country clean, so reducing or eliminating the ideology of takeout containers and utensils helps with the preservation. After concluding this, I actually think it’s a good thing. Why don’t we do that over here?