Local Heart, Global Soul

July 12, 2009

Influences on Portuguese Cuisine – the Romans

One of the best ways that you can really get to understand a Country’s food, is to understand it’s Culture.
One of the best ways to understand a country’s culture is to understand it’s History.

The make up and characteristics of all National cuisines could be very simplistically summed up by a simple thought, which in it’s most basic form would be defined as :”who-bought-what-to-you-when-they-arrived” and “what -we-bought-back home-after-we-travelled-abroad.

Way back when, Portugal didn’t yet possess it’s own identity, but in approximately the 2nd Century BC, it did get a name: Luso. The restless Romans had been busy capturing and conquering all around Europe and Lusitania was a wider Roman province that geographically encompassed the entire south west of Europe. In present day terms this included a territory that encompassed a southern snippet of France, all of Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and Andorra.

The prefix Luso came originally from a fierce tribe called the “Lusitani” who resisted the Roman advancement into the region with gusto and by all accounts, after they were overrun by the Roman known-world domination machine, resisted Roman rule rather well too. The tribe’s Chieftain leader , “Viriatus” thus became one of Portugal’s first national heroes. Under Roman occupation, Olisipo (Lisbon) became the western capital of the expanded Roman Empire.

Not only were the Romans were responsible for providing the Latin roots into the Portuguese language, and much of the road patterns that are still followed today, they were also responsible for starting agriculture in Portugal and introduced wheat because they wanted to turn it into the granary of Rome. But most importantly for centuries of Portuguese food lovers, they introduced olives, grapes, onions and garlic into Portuguese cuisine

Roasted Garlic Recipezaar Recipe 6570 by RiffRaff (photo © kiwidutch)

Roasted Garlic Recipezaar Recipe 6570 by RiffRaff (photo © kiwidutch)

Later, somewhere in the middle of the 4th century AD, Christianity arrived on the Iberian Peninsula and the Roman occupation ended in the 5th Century with the invading forces of the Germanic tribes. But the even with the Romans gone, the are far from forgotten because their aromatic legacy lives on strongly in Portuguese cuisine today.

… so in all probability, the Portuguese would have been rather delighted to see the Romans finally depart their shores, but I’m equally certain that whilst they would have said ” Well, it’s finally time for ” goodbye”… we have had our ups and downs over the past few hundred years”, they probably also added “but many many Thanks for the Garlic my culinary Roman friends“….

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