The Summertime BBQs of Canada

on 6:57 pm

Alright, continuing on with these themes of summer and food, as has been the focus of our last posts, today I want mesh the two together and talk about the old fashion summertime outdoor barbecues which are very much a part of the summertime fun and imagery of those long days of summer north of the 49th.

Ok, first, as many may already know, BBQing can basically be accomplished in two ways:

1.) via the old gas BBQ, more conviniente for those backyard or deck gathering with friends;

2.) via the fire pit, usually more common when camping out.

Now no matter what route you take, what is most important to remember is that a good ol' fashion BBQ not only brings together good food, that is often also accompanied with plenty of great drinks, it is also about camaraderie and being with good friends and family. Sticking to the food, however, I think we can all agree that pretty much everything tastes great over an open flame - meat, fish, vegetables and lets not forget these things below:

Yes, that's right yummy marchmallows roasting on an open fire, a culinary delight that is vertually unknown here in Portugal. In fact, if anyone knowns where good chunky marchmallows can be purchased here, leave a comment.

Now although BBQing may have certain ritualistic elements symbolic of the Canadian summer, in the same vain that Canada is a multicultural haven, so is BBQing synonymous with multiculturalism: Greek souvlaki, Chinese BBQ pork, Brazilian picanha or maminha, the abundancy of German sausages, and the list goes on. Of course we cannot forget the Portuguese in Canada and their passion for a BBQ - bifanas, chicken, sardines, and so on and so forth. Seldom is a gathering of Portuguese communities in Canada in the summer BBQ-less.

Good ol' typically Portuguese community BBQ in Canada

One of the most interesting features of these Portuguese community BBQs, however, are the BBQ instruments themselves - the often homemade oil barrel sawed in half BBQ that is then put on wheels and is ready to travel.

Portuguese BBQ-on-wheels with built-in chicken rotisserie ready to feed hundreds

Well it's only natural that I should be hungry now and it's certainly not a soup or salad that I'm hankering down for. I'm off to eat and if you BBQ, BBQ safely and enjoy!

Traditional Portuguese (junk) Food

on 10:58 pm

When most people think of Portuguese food, they associate it with the typical Mediterranean diet - lots of fish, olive oil, legumes, salads and plenty of wine.

They can usually identify one or two main dishes, typically codfish or sardines, and the emblematic “pastéis de nata”.

However, Portuguese cuisine is a veritable smorgasbord of flavours and dishes that gratify the taste buds and congest the arteries.

First off is the simple, unassuming “Bitoque”. This consists of either a beef or pork steak, fried in olive oil, lard or grilled and topped with a fried egg. It’s accompanied by white rice, some French fries, and a simple salad. This is the staple dish of taverns all over the country.  Almost healthy if it were not for the French fries and fat based sauce the steak is swimming in.

Next up is the “Francesinha”, a kind of heavy-duty sandwich, made the unhealthiest and yummiest way possible. Start with a slice of thick white bread, and then layer a fried pork steak on top, a slice or two of wet cured ham, linguiça, and then fresh sausage. This is topped off with another slice of thick bread, a fried egg, and a couple of slices of cheese. The “sandwich” is then put on a plate, surrounded by French fries, and covered in a spicy, thick, tomato and beer sauce, which causes the cheese to melt. Salad is never included, they don’t even attempt to trick you into thinking that this is remotely healthy. This is my personal favourite, and it’s unbeatable when paired with a hot summer evening, an ice-cold beer, a football match and good friends.

“Alheira de Mirandela” is a sausage made from a combination of tasty animals, namely duck, chicken, rabbit or veal, and bread. No pork though, as this was a scrumptious way for the Jews to deceive the Portuguese Inquisition (no one ever expects the Portuguese Inquisition…). This sausage comes from the Mirandela region, and is practically the only thing of note to come from that region (just kidding).The sausage is either deep fried in oil or grilled over hot coals. Tradition dictates that it is served with boiled greens and potatoes, but as that combination was far too healthy, it is frequently served with French fries, white rice and topped with a fried egg. Sometimes a small salad is included to trick the health conscience.

Lastly, you have “Leitão da Bairrada”, which is suckling pig roast over an open fire. It is seasoned using a garlic and pepper seed paste, giving it a distinctive flavour.  It is normally served with lettuce salad and orange slices, though many places also serve it with French fries. Surprisingly this is the only dish that does not managed to include a fried egg.

All of the above should be served with either an ice-cold national beer or a chilled white wine from the “vinho verde” region.

To top it off, some “ovos moles” from Aveiro, a caloric bomb whose explosive charge consists of egg yolk and sugar.  It's the quintessential Portuguese "dessert", because it contains the two most common ingredients in Portuguese sweets (egg yolk and sugar), but does away with all the unnecessary fluff, like looking tasty.

Now I’m hungry.

If you want to check out an excellent site with tantalizing pictures of food (with recipes, of course), visit

"My Dear Month of August"

on 9:13 pm

Well if you haven't noticed yet, Summer is here. More important, however, the month of August is just around the corner. We all know what happens in Portugal during the month of August: yes, that's right ... nothing. Since almost everyone in this country seems to go on holidays during this month, the country is left to run at half gas (insert your comment on who this country seems to runs at half gas all year around here). Lisbon in August, in fact, often looks a lot like this:

Now lets look at this from an anthropological point of view, and ask: what makes this country different during the month of August (beyond the aforementioned half gassing it)? And lets start with a typical image of what things often look like on August 1st:

That's right: the mad rush, but to where are all them folk going you ask? Well let us do it pictorially for you once again:

Looks familiar? That's right, it's the Algarve, the destination of many during the 'dear month of August'. It's the time of the year when the suburban middle-classes sticks the kids and the dog into their roomy Opel Corsas and off they go to Quarteira, to Armação de Pêra, to Monte Gordo or any other place that looks like their suburban neighbourhood back in the big city but instead by the sea.

Meanwhile, in the other empty depths of Portugal (at least during the other 11 months of the year), as in the interior regions where the majority of the people have had to emigrate, during the month of August, those who departed for other countries return home, turning the small villages of Trás-os-Montes, Minho, Beira Baixa, etc. into lively locations full of joy and fun and exotic languages. Typical of August in the província are the festas dedicates to the home-returning emigrants. Not only do the emigrants count down the days until August rolls around, those who await them do as well, because August means one thing and one thing only: festa na aldeia (partying it up in the villages).

So be it in the city, in the beach destinations of the Algarve, or throughout the aldeias of the country, August is meant to be different and no other month seems to substitute it. So this August, like any other August, Portugal will once again be posting up one of these:

Crime and Punishment (in Portugal)

on 10:34 pm

I have to admit; I have been living in Portugal for a few years now and have yet to been victim of a crime. Not much of a compliment though, as I had lived 22 years in Canada and was never the victim of a crime there either.

Not your everyday crime, though in his defense, the donkey was a looker.
That is not to say that crime doesn’t exist here in Portugal. As you might have noticed, summers have been marked by a gang crime wave, which involves large groups of youths, wreaking havoc on commuter train lines. Robbing gasoline stations and jewelry stores, attacks on nightclubs, and a rise of violent crime related with local and international organized crime has been on the rise as well. Linked with the economic development of the country is an increase in white-collar crimes, as seen in recent cases such as Face Oculta, Apito Dourado, and Freeport. These are also the far more difficult cases to try to conclusion, due to the political and monetary interests at stake.

Sensational, patently false headline? - the Portuguese equivalent of The Sun
Nonetheless, Portugal is still a comparatively peaceful country, coming in 17th place in the Global Peace Index, with the most common crimes being petty theft and robbery, mainly in locations frequented by tourists. Common-sense is the main guideline here, such as not leaving valuables in plain sight in parked cars, keeping an eye on your wallet or bag in crowds, not withdrawing money from out of the way ATMs at night. In the event that the police are needed, call 112 from a public phone or 00351 112 from a cell phone.

In response to the backlog of criminal cases sitting in court, the government has proposed changes to current legislation to streamline the entire criminal process, such as expanding the applicability of summary judgments.

FYI Portugal was one of the first countries to abolish the death penalty, and the maximum prison sentences is 25 years, though parole is available after half time served, on good behavior.

Some useful links: - Portuguese Victim Support Association - Child Support Institute - Commission for Equality and Women's Rights - Domestic violence - Association of Women against Violence  - Ministry of Justice – Case law database – Directorate-General for the Administration of Justice (provides, among other things, information on contact details for the courts and their territorial jurisdiction) - Bar Association - Online database of legislation (contains legislation published in Series I of the Official Gazette since 1962) - National Republican Guard - Police - Criminal Investigation Police

The Labour Crisis in Portugal

on 9:53 pm

Avoid the crisis, rent this lovely T0
Unless you have been living in a cave for the past few years (which is likely given the rising housing prices and rent in recent years), you know that Portugal has been going through tough times as of late.

 While creating employment was one of the proposed solutions of the former government to avert the current financial crisis, with programs being created as early as 2008, the unemployment rate, especially amongst the younger generation, is at an all time high of 28.1% as of May, according to the latest Eurostat figures.

We wouldn't have know, if were not for the sign...

The Portuguese government, due to the concessions imposed on it, has been announcing new austerity measures every day, many of these focusing on employment and labour legislation.

The new government has stated that they are planning to change current labour laws, making them more flexible in order to enhance the ability of employers and big business to respond to the financial crisis. With a more flexible labour force, employers can respond to peaks and lulls of consumer demand more dynamically, cutting costs and improving efficiency. Even before the financial crisis, many international corporations criticised Portugal as a tough market to establish a business, precisely due to the protectionist labour laws.

Unfortunately, what these changes entail is facilitating layoffs and dismissals of employees, leaving them with very little protection or rights. The government plans to eliminate the figure of temporary contracts and make probation period more flexible. Consequently, changes will be made to the legal regime of permanent contracts, reducing them to a figure comparable to the “at will” employment regime of many US states, where either part can rescind or terminate the contract without cause. Apparently, the objective here is to make every workplace in Portugal a temp agency.

The beaver of justice has a nice ring to it
They have also proposed cutting employer social security contributions, meaning that employees will endure the brunt of social security contributions, in order to make the Portuguese market more attractive for companies by reducing their costs. They have also announced tax breaks to large business, while hiking the taxes of the workers.

As a result, they are also planning to cut unemployment benefits, since, as a direct result of lowering of social security contributions, the current system of benefits will be (not to say already is) unsustainable. Pensions will also be cut and a ceiling imposed.

The conjugation of all of these proposed changes makes for a grim future for the Portuguese worker. Frankly, I am surprised at the lack of popular reaction to these measures, compared to what we see in Greece.

How long until this is downtown Lisbon?

On the other hand, Portugal is the title holder of the world’s largest “arroz de lapas”, so at least not everything's bad.

Rice is nice.