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Portuguese Culture: Food, Fado, and Festivals

Portuguese Culture: Food, Fado, and Festivals

by Emily Mudge

From food to festivals, Portuguese culture is full of many intertwined elements that create an exciting and vibrant atmosphere. Art, religion, literature, and even soccer are all important aspects of life for the people of Portugal.

Food:

Pasteis De Nata @ Pasteis De Belem

Pasteis De Nata at Pasteis De Belem

Portugal has a rich food culture. Across the country, you can find a wide variety of local cuisines. In Lisbon, you can find Pasteis de Belem, an egg tart originating in the Jeronimos monastery. Lisbon is also home to the bifana, a barbecued pork sandwich. The coastal Algarve region has a lot of delicious seafood options available. However, Portugal’s most famous seafood dishes are all made from bacalhau, or cod, often imported from Iceland. 

Northern Portugal’s Douro River region is full of vineyards that produce Port wine. Port, which got its name from the city of Porto, is a rich dessert wine. Porto is also the home of the Francesinha, a delicious meat sandwich topped with cheese and soaked in a sauce made from beer and tomatoes.

Arts:

Portugal’s art scene is vibrant and thriving. From their music, poetry, theater, and visual arts, it is clear to see the passion and stories of Portuguese society. One of the most widely recognized forms of Portuguese art is Fado music. The traditional folk music genre focuses on homesickness, life by the sea, and the life of the working class. The most famous Fado singer was Amalia Rodrigues, and after her death in 1999, the country declared three days of national mourning.

Visual art is also incredibly popular in Portugal. Most cities have at least one art museum, and many of the larger cities such as Lisbon and Porto have several. There is also a thriving street art scene in Lisbon. Some of the most stunning Portuguese art is displayed on azulejos, ceramic hand-painted tiles that often depict scenes from Portuguese history.

Literature:

When considering Portuguese culture, it is impossible to leave out Luis Vaz de Camoes. Many people regard de Camoes as Portugal’s most famous poet for his epic work, Os Lusiadas. The poem tells the story of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama’s historic journey to find a sea route to India. Os Lusiadas includes several fantastical elements, much like The Iliad or The Aeneid

Portugal is also home to the world’s oldest bookstore currently in operation. Though the city hosts a large variety of exciting bookstores, Bertrand’s is the one you won’t want to miss. This bookstore first opened their doors in 1732, though the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 forced them to rebuild the store in a new location.

Religion:

Portugal has no official national religion. However, a large portion of the country identifies as Roman Catholic, or another denomination of Christianity. Over the course of its years, Portugal has had a complicated relationship with the Catholic church. The cathedrals and basilicas in the country are stunning.

Fatima, Portugal was the site of one of the most famous Marian apparitions in Europe. It was there that the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children, bringing a message of peace during World War I.

Portuguese culture also incorporates some folklore and superstition. For example, it is commonly believed that a person can be cursed by an “evil eye.” Folk stories often include elements of Roman Catholicism, but still tell of mythical creatures and fantastical adventures.

Holidays:

MFA - Carnation revolution - 25 of April - Portugal

MFA – Carnation revolution – 25 of April – Portugal

The most famous holiday in Portuguese culture is the 25th of April. This day celebrates the Carnation Revolution, which freed Portugal from a dictatorship started by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar in 1928. Though Salazar was no longer in power by the time of the revolution in 1974, the Estado Novo dictatorship was still in place. A military coup managed to overthrow Estado Novo, largely through nonviolence. To celebrate the peaceful victory, activist Celeste Caeiro placed carnations in the gun barrels and pockets of military officers. After other activists followed suit, the flowers were forever linked with the revolution.

Portugal also hosts a number of food festivals celebrating wine, bread, olive oil, and more. Many people also observe religious holidays, including a large Carnival celebration preceding Lent. Carnival in Portugal is not as large as in Brazil, but still features massive parades and parties that fill the streets for several days.

Sports:

Cristiano Ronaldo - Portuguese football - soccer player | Portugal.com

Cristiano Ronaldo

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Portuguese culture is their love for futbol, or soccer. There are many club teams across the country. Additionally, FIFA currently ranks the Portuguese national team at 7th in the world, though it has reached as high as 3rd. At the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo captains the Portuguese national team. Ronaldo is Portugal’s most famous soccer player, and currently also plays for Juventus, an Italian club team.

Portugal has a small bullfighting culture, and it is possible to find the occasional bullring. However, the sport has mostly died out, and was never as popular in Portugal as it was in Spain.

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