Cabbages, cabbages everywhere except for on your plate in Portugal! Unless, perhaps, you go to a Brazilian restaurant and get shredded cabbage served alongside your black beans and rice. Otherwise, the only place you’re likely to find it served is in soup, usually caldo verde, which looks like grass floating in wallpaper paste but actually tastes quite nice.
Expats and holidaymakers are often baffled by the lack of vegetables served with meals in Portuguese restaurants. In the UK, for example, we don’t stray far from the ‘meat and two veg’ mentality in that most meals are served with some kind of vegetable, even if it’s mushy peas to go with your fish and chips.
It’s easy to feel deprived of vegetables when dining out in Portugal but it’s important to realise that most Portuguese people get their daily dose of vegetables via their soup. Unlike in the UK, where soup is a meal on its own, here it’s a typical starter, and sometimes served after the main course if its part of a lunchtime menu deal. And it invariably contains cabbage of some description.
I’m not sure exactly how many varieties of cabbage people grow in Portugal but there are lots. A quick look around the vegetable patches in my village illustrates that. And everyone who grows vegetables in this village grows cabbage; I think it’s obligatory. For city-dwellers or those who just can’t be bothered shredding the leaves to make soup, pretty much every supermarket sells packs of pre-shredded cabbage, or kale, for making caldo verde.
The prize for amusement value has to go to the couve galega, which I think translates as ‘collard greens’. They grow about a metre high and look like trees. It seems they will grow anywhere, judging by these ones I found growing out of some granite steps in Santa Comba Dão.
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