The Polish Pyzy

Food can take the form of many different shapes and sizes, but I would like to think a circular sphere is quite common. Meatballs, mochi, oranges, and something called pyzy (pronounced “peh-zey”).

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A plate of pyzy

Pyzy is a Polish dish that can be eaten as a main meal. They are considered as just one of the many types of “kluski” or dumplings that are made in Poland (the most famous one is probably the pierogi). The outer dough is typically made of fresh potatoes, potato flour, and eggs which can be stuffed with beef or pork or be served as plain and simple dough balls. In the summer, there are dessert pyzy stuffed with fruits that are in season – such as cherries or plums.

Pyzy are normally boiled, but they can be enhanced by additional toppings. The ones I had were stuffed with ground pork and topped with crispy bacon bits. However, they can also be prepared with fried onions, lard, or even a heaping dollop of gravy or butter and bread crumbs.

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Ground pork stuffed pyzy topped with bacon bits

Although they seem quite simple, pyzy are delicious little balls. They are soft and easy to eat, though they tend to have a gummy texture. They equate to a pretty heavy meal, but I’ll amount that to all the potatoes at work in this humble dish.

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A Gluttonous Sandwich – The Francisinha

Every dish has a story. The francisinha is no different. Legend says that there was a Portuguese man that moved to France. He was a womanizer, so he loved to roam around living a life of debauchery. One day, his dad called him and told him he wanted to open a restaurant in Portugal, but he needed his son to come back and help. The son loved his life in France and was reluctant to change his lifestyle, but he went back to Porto be a good son.

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Streets of Porto

The son, being mischievous, intentionally created a spicy sandwich called the francisinha to add to the menu. He didn’t make it mouth-on-fire hot, but enough to make people sweat. His reasoning? The womanizer in him believed if it was spicy enough, it would make woman sweat and consequently remove layers of clothing. Tsk tsk!

So what is this francisinha I speak of? It’s about as gluttonous as one can get with a sandwich, minus the bacon. It’s made with bread, deli meat, steak, and cheese. However, it goes further to add egg and sausage and has a layer of cheese enveloping the entire thing. It is then smothered in a spicy, tomato-based gravy. Yikes!

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The famous Porto sandwich – The Francisinha

It normally comes with fries too, which doesn’t help the waistline or the arteries. Like I said, it’s a gluttonous sandwich! It’s a savory dish, which was really interesting to eat. You have to definitely go in with an empty stomach and expect to be bursting at the seams by the end of it. 

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The Francisinha is ready for its close-up

It’s something that everyone visiting Porto should try at least once. Every restaurant makes it a little differently, but it will definitely leave a lasting impression. Oddly enough, there are also vegetarian versions.  

In case anyone was wondering, no articles of clothing were removed off my body upon the eating of this sandwich. 😉

Port Wine in Porto

Oporto? Porto? Is this the right city? Where am I?

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A view in Porto with the Ponte Dom Luis Bridge

A local told me that the Portuguese speak really fast, so when they translated “Oporto”, foreigners only heard “Porto”. This explains why Porto is more commonly seen (even though some languages still call it Oporto). Regardless of the pronunciation, both mean “The Harbour”. This makes sense, given that Porto lies across a long stretch of the Duoro River. There are so many things to do it Porto, like seeing the Harry Potter library (aka Livraria Lello), towers, and cathedrals.

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The Harry Potter Library – A challenging picture to take with hundreds of tourists roaming about!

However, the one thing I couldn’t miss out on was visiting Vila Nova de Gaia to do a Port wine tour. It does originate from Porto, after all! I haven’t had many encounters with port wine until this excursion, but I knew it was a deliciously sweet, rich wine like our Canadian dessert ice wine. In order to create a port wine, you need to have it fortified or it will turn into a vinegar (and nobody wants that). The story behind this is because the liquids were transferred from city to city on boats, and because of osculation (changing of temperatures), they had to find a way to preserve it. Hence fortification! It is uncertain who actually created this technique, but it is said that the Portuguese had some help from the English.

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Port Wine

Just like Champagne is not real champagne unless it comes from Champagne, France, real port wine isn’t considered real unless it is made in Porto, Portugal. For port wines, they use a Portuguese or French oak and ferment it for five days. To stop the process, they add 77% brandy to the mixture and once it  is bottled, the aging process is over. The only exception to this are the vintage port wines.

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The many colours of Port Wine

There are several types of port wine – ruby, white, tawny, and vintage – which can come as a red or white wine, but even the more recent and controversial rosé (which breaks tradition and isn’t considered a “real” port wine by experts).

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Port wine – white, rosé, tawny, and vintage

Ruby is a mix of wines, in which the ages can range from 3-7 years. It tends to be red and has less contact with the wood and oxygen to maintain its colour and flavours, keeping it fruity and “youthful”. Similarly, white port wine can have a blend of wines with different ages ranging from 3-7 years, but it only uses white grapes. Tawny wines can have a blend of multiple years, ranging from 3-30 years, but they tend to have more contact with wood and oxygen. This results in a more lighter amber colour wine and keeping it in the barrels longer increases the flavours from the wood, spices, and fruits. It can also have a mix of white and ruby ports. For vintage wines, the grapes can only come from a single vintage and are bottled in two years without being filtered. Interestingly, in one of the wineries we visited, they had some lights on the table so that we could examine the clarity of our port wines. Vintage wines tend to have sediments in them as they age!

 

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Vintage port wine tends to have sediments

Vintage wines tend to change colour and taste better as they age, so you can keep them for decades. However, once opened, they have to be consumed within 24-72 hours. The other three types of port wine can be be kept for longer periods. Good to know!

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If you’re ever in Porto, I highly recommend visiting some wineries or doing a port wine tour. The views are beautiful, you get to learn lots about port wine, and best of all you get to sample all the different types.

 

The Austrian Cheese Bun

I love the smell of a bakery. The sweet scents of fresh bread, cakes, and pastries just waft in the air and seduce me to float towards it like a cartoon character. This is exactly what happened when I discovered a relatively new bakery that opened up downtown Toronto, so I popped in to see what they had.

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The Guschlbauer window display

This place is an Austrian bakery named Guschlbauer. They originated back in 1919 and started spreading their pastries and cakes around the world. For this particular location, they seemed to specialize in cheese buns. And by cheese buns, I mean bread that has been smothered in a sweet, creamy, cheese frosting.

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My Guschlbauer package to go

They sell all sorts of flavours like chocolate and even sweet potato, however, I wanted to try the main attraction and ordered their original signature version as recommended by the worker. Using a fork and a knife, I dug into this cheesy cream ball of a treat. I was floored by the taste. The cream was soft, sweet, and absolutely delicious! The bread was also soft, yet simultaneously had a tough and chewy texture. It’s definitely a must-try for those who love eating all the cream cheese frosting off of a carrot cake.

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Austrian cheese bread – full of melted, cheesy goodness!

Despite having a great frosting on the outside, I found that the middle of the bun was plain. They advertise that it has five layers of cheesy goodness, but either I got a bad batch or they didn’t layer enough cheese into the bun. Overall, if you love cream cheese frosting and you love bread, this one’s for you!

In other news, I decided to book my next trip. Coincidentally, I will be visiting Austria amongst some other countries in November, so let’s see if I discover more goodies. I hear there are many Viennese treats to look forward to. Maybe I’ll even find another version of this cheesy good bread. 🙂

Lulas Grelhadas

When I was in Portugal, I remember my host was raving about the delicious lulas grelhadas he had for dinner. Being the curious foodie that I am, I went into infantile mode and was like “I waaaaaaaaaaant”. He ended up recommending a restaurant that he claimed had this delicious lulas grelhadas, which translates as simply translates as grilled squid so off I went to hunt down this dish.

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Lulas grelhadas with a side of veggies

I didn’t really know what to expect when I ordered it, other than grilled squid. However, it was cooked with oil and garlic and came with a side of boiled broccoli, carrots, and potatoes. It also came with a lemon to squeeze over the squid and was garnished with fresh coriander.

Lulas_Grelhadas

It was such a simple dish, but sometimes less is more! Plus being in the Algarve, seafood is so fresh in the region it doesn’t really need much more. The thing I loved best about this the squid was the super crispy tentacles. The smokey flavours of the grill were really transparent in the squid and it had a nice, bouncy texture. The lemon helped spruce up the dar flavours and brought some freshness to the dish. I know squid isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for the seafood lovers out there – I recommend trying this dish in Portugal!

 

Lulas Grelhadas

A close up of this delicious, Portuguese style grilled squid

There were a few interesting things that I noted as I ate this dish. It is highly possible that it was just this particular restaurant, but I noticed that they didn’t clean the insides of the squid out. However, from what I understand about Portuguese cuisine, they tend to keep things natural and simple so it might actually be common to prepare it this way. If you try this dish, just be careful because there may be bones inside – especially in the tail area, there is a pointy one for unsuspecting victims.

 

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Things to expect – squid ink!

You may also get a male or female squid or both. I was lucky enough to get one of each and the textures are different because the female may have eggs inside. If you have ever had cavier or fish roe, you will be familiar with that “pop” of the eggs. There may also be black squid ink. Although I can’t say that this dish beats bacalhau à bras, I will say that I enjoyed eating it and would go back again to have it. 🙂

Pasteis de Belem

If there’s one thing I absolutely had to try before I left Portugal, it was the mother of all Portuguese tarts. These ones are so special that they’re not even known as Pasteis de Nata, but as Pasteis de Belem. When things are hyped, I tend to be skeptical but it was something I needed to try. It was the original tart before Pasteis de Natas were born.

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Pasteis de Belem

The Pasteis de Belem is one of the biggest secrets of Lisbon and only one guy knows the full recipe. Although every person tells the tale a little differently, I was informed that only three people know the recipe for these delicious tarts – and by three, I mean each individual only knows their part of the recipe and they don’t even know who the other two individuals are before it is combined in the bakery. The rumour is these individuals can’t even reveal their third of the recipe to anyone because they will be prosecuted. And with good reason! Nobody else is able to duplicate these delicious tarts. The closest that any recipe has ever come to duplicating it is the Pasteis de Nata.

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The making of Pasteis de Belem

Even though the Pasteis de Nata and the Pasteis de Belem look the same, there are some differences. There may be debates about which one is better, but I personally fell in love with the Belem one. It’s creamier, smoother, and it probably helps that I ate one (which ended up being two in one sitting) that came fresh out of the oven.

Well, not straight out of the oven because apparently it needs to cool down a bit to stabilize or it will disintegrate. It has a milky cream filling with a crispy, flaky pastry. I found that the Pasteis de Belem aren’t as sweet as the Pasteis de Nata either. This is not to say I didn’t try the Pasteis de Nata while in Lisbon. I ate it at a place that was highly recommended by a guide who preferred the Nata over the Belem tarts.

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Pasteis de Nata

However, I still preferred the Pasteis de Belem version. They were so much better. Locals say it’s best to add cinnamon and powdered sugar on top to enhance the flavours. All I can say is taking a bite into a Pasteis de Belem is like taking a bite of heaven.

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Optional: cinnamon and sugar

Be forewarned though, if you decide to visit this bakery it is always packed with people (even for takeout).

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Crazy line ups all times of the day, every day of the week!

There are 400 seats in the bakery, but almost every table is always full. You essentially have to stalk tables like a parking spot during Boxing Day or Black Friday at a mall. However, it’s worth it to enjoy a delicious Pasteis de Belem with a cup of tea or coffee. They also have other good eats as well! 🙂

The Travesseiros of Sintra

There’s a small city not too far from Lisbon called Sintra. It’s a beautiful area full of castles, parks, and sights. Although I originally wanted to see Pena Palace, the local guide recommended that we see the National Palace instead because a) it was more bang for your buck b) the National Palace is apparently more beautiful than Pena Palace, and c) Pena Palace was more gimmicky and touristy, than anything. Being a non-local, I took his advice.

And although I can’t compare with Pena Palace, the National Palace and grounds were beautiful. Interestingly enough, there’s a theory that the Illuminati built the palace because of all the subtle symbols that they incorporated into the architecture. They couldn’t make it blatantly apparent because they would have been prosecuted, so it’s interesting that they would risk their lives to do so. That’s dedication! Anyway, I don’t travel just for the sights but also for the food! If there’s one thing about Sintra, they are known for a little treat called “travesseiros”, which translate as “pillow”.

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Travesseiros and a view of Sintra

Our local guide was kind enough to buy us these rectangular pastries, while spoiling us with a beautiful view of Sintra. Travesseiros are pastries consisting of eggs, almond cream, and puff pastry. It’s a light, airy and fluffy pastry that comes in the comforting shape of a rectangular pillow. I’m not usually the type to love cream-filled desserts, but after all the climbing and walking we did, I definitely enjoyed it! The best part is it’s not overly sweet!

 

A Portuguese Tea Factory

“A woman is like a teabag – only in hot water do you realize how strong she is” – Nancy Reagan.

Tea

I found that quote interesting. And the subject of tea just so happens to be in relation to my visit to a tea factory in Portugal.

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Tea Field

When I was in the Azores, I got to see the only commercialized tea producer, Chà Gorrena. The other one, Porto Fermoso, is non-commercialized and the owner apparently only does it for fun. It must be nice to have such hobbies, let alone the time to do it!

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Cha Gorreana

Tea appeared in Portugal when some people brought seeds from Brazil and planted them. At first, the Portuguese didn’t know how to properly cultivate them so they were having a lot of trouble growing the plants. Thankfully, due to some Portuguese ties with Macau (an island not too far from Hong Kong that was colonized by the Portuguese), they were able to fly in some “tea experts” to teach them how to grow the plants and that’s when tea started to take off in Portugal.

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Tea Plant

While I have seen tea fields before, I never knew that one plant could produce several types of teas. The top leaf of this particular plant produces orange pekoe, the second is just pekoe, and the third is broken leaf tea used to make iced tea.

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Tea diagram

To gather the leaves, workers manually pluck them off of metre high bushes. It takes seven years for these bushes to grow before you can even use them for tea.

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Tea field of Chà Gorreana

I can’t fully recall the full process, but the general idea is they separate the leaves, mix them with steam to avoid oxidation, dry them, and then make tea with them.

Back in the day with the older machinery,  only 60 teabags were produced per hour. With the newer technology that they use now, it has doubled production, making it 120 teabags per hour now.

I don’t know about you, but I love tea and this tour was enlightening. Now I have to add tea picking to my bucket list. Perhaps in my next visit to China. 🙂

Pineapples in the Azores

Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?….Sponge Bob Square Pants! I know. Very random, but I’m bringing up the topic of pineapples because I’ve never seen a pineapple plantation. Fortunately, being on the lovely island of Sao Miguel in the Azores (Portugal), I got the chance to see one.

Pineapple Plantation Sign

Welcome sign at a pineapple plantation in the Azores

For some reason, I just assumed pineapples grew on trees but (surprise!) they don’t. On Sao Miguel, they are world renown for their pineapples and they grow them in little greenhouses around the island. Each greenhouse at this plantation showed the pineapples at a different stage of growth, which I thought was pretty neat to see.

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The beginning stages of a pineapple – babies leaves sprouting

The stalks are tough, thick leaves. They eventually form the deliciously juicy fruit we all know and love in the center.

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Pineapple greenhouse – baby pineapples sprouting

This greenhouse used bamboo sticks to keep the plants straight.

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Bamboo shoots help keep them straight

When we were done observing the plantation, we went into the store where they let us sample some pineapple liquor. I can’t say I loved the burning sensation of the alcohol going down my throat, but I did love the pineapple taste. I think it would be really good to mix into a tropical flavoured cocktail drink!

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Pineapple liquor

Pineapples are so famous on the Azores for their natural sweetness that they even sell them at the airport as souvenirs! If I recall correctly, they were 7€ each.

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Pineapples are sold at the airport

How about them (pine) apples? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’ll go back into into my cave now. Until next time. 🙂

Bacalhau à Bras and Takeout

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?