Seafood

‘Eat wild, mostly small fish, preferably local’

Seafood is the cornerstone of the Portuguese kitchen. There are no people in Europe who eat as much seafood as the Portuguese and at the global level, only Japan and Iceland consume more fish. More than half of the fish consumed in Portugal comes from abroad.


The bigger the fish and the longer it lives, the more mercury it will accumulate, increasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. In addition to heavy metals, overfishing is a cause of great concern.

Most tuna (atum) species are severely over-fished and all tuna species contain mercury. Albacore tuna is the best alternative choice.

Scabbardfish (peixe espada) with its long life cycle, slow growth, and low productive rate inhabit the deep waters off mainland Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores. They contain high levels of mercury. Best alternatives are Sea bream (Sargo or Dourada).

Octopus (polvo) is with its 500.000 neurons probably the most intelligent spineless creature in the sea. Skin color depends on their habitat and mood. They feed on crustaceans, particularly crabs. Some might contain mercury. Alternatives are Cuttlefish or Squid.

Cod (bacalhau) – industrially caught in the cold waters of the Baltic and Northern Atlantic – is the nation’s favorite dish. Their status is vulnerable through overfishing. Alternatives are Seabream or Dourada.

Although sardines (sardinhas) are synonymous with Portugal, the fish is not as plentiful as it might seem. In recent years the fishery has completely collapsed through overfishing. The best alternative is Mackerel.

Shrimp (camarão) are caught on industrial ships to an unsustainable scale bringing populations to the brink of collapse. Over 80% of the giant Mozambique shrimp are exported to the EU – mainly to Spain and Portugal – causing vast ecological destruction in the Indian ocean. The best alternative is Clams.

Razor clams (lingueirão) are in sharp decline by trawlers that rake the sands mechanically to the extent that they all have been whipped out locally. Best alternative is Percebes.

Sea bream (sargo) – the king of the Alentejo coast – is usually line-caught and currently not in decline. They have strong teeth to feed upon mollusks.

Golden sea bream (dourada) tends to be relatively resistant to overfishing but is usually produced by aquaculture in the Mediterranean sea in large tanks with negative environmental impacts (i.e. seawater pollution through antibiotics and chemicals).

Mackerel (cavala) is a great alternative to sardines. Full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low in cholesterol. They have a healthy future population predicted.

Brown crab (sapateira) is imported to Portugal from waters surrounding the UK, Ireland, and northwestern France.

Clams (amêijoas) – found in the Atlantic and the Azores – feed on micro-algae. They are the main bivalve species produced through aquaculture in Portugal.

Goose-neck barnacles (percebes) are strange-looking creatures living on intertidal rocks off the Algarve, where they are hand-picked by divers. It is forbidden to capture them from October to April.

Oysters (ostra) are largely produced by aquaculture along the Portuguese coast. They are great for the local ecosystem as they are filter-feeders cleaning the water.

Cuttlefish (choco) has 8 arms and 2 tentacles like squid but have an internal skeletal structure, the cuttlebone. The catch method, by trap or hook and line, is a very low impact fishing method but they are also caught as by-catch.

Squid (lula) supply has been increasing in recent years possibly as a result of the declining fish populations and ecosystem changes.


Stay healthy                Fique saudável            (pic Kate Findlay-Shirras)



















Airport2

The country’s never-ending airport story returned to square one this month when Portugal’s National Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC) refused to evaluate the request submitted by ANA – the French construction group that runs Portugal’s airports – to build a second hub for Lisbon’s airport at Montijo – at present a military airbase – on the southern bank of the Tagus river.

The country’s booming tourism industry – briskly brought to a halt last year by the coronavirus pandemic – complains already for years about the lack of capacity at Lisbon’s overcrowded inner-city airport.

Plans for a second airport near the capital have been under consideration for over a decade. The government of António Guterres choose Ota. Then came Alcochete, than Alverca. Later Portela+1, which after a vague announcement by the government of Passos Coelho and the determination of António Costa finally resulted in Montijo.

Very much against legal protests from two local communist councils – Moita and Seixal – and environmental concerns regarding precious birdlife in the Tagus estuary.

In a statement, ANAC declared, that it had no choice but to reject the request and explained that according to Portuguese law, it could only evaluate the project if all local governments provide positive feedback.

Despite this setback for one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects, the PS socialist government said it wouldn’t give up and is studying solutions for the impasse, including building the controversial airport elsewhere and re-evaluating the law allowing municipalities to veto plans of national importance.

As a matter of fact, the government is proposing three possibilities.
The first is to push forward with the current project and get support from the biggest opposition party PSD (Social Democrats) in Parliament to change the law so that the local opposition becomes meaningless.

The second is to make Montijo the principal airport and Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado a complementary terminal. The third would be the construction of a new international airport at the Campo do Tiro in Alcochete – about 40 km northeast of Lisbon – an option already favored by some of the many critics of the Montijo location.

With the project once again returning to square one, the successive heads of state resemble king Sisyphus in ancient Greece, who was punished by being forced to roll an immense stone up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/Expresso)


Rail

‘Rail is the only means of transport that reduces CO2 emissions while increasing transport volumes’

The narrative of Portugal’s high-speed rail connections to Madrid, Porto and the Spanish city of Vigo is back on track in this European Year of Rail with Portugal chairing the Presidency of the EU.

It started some 20 years ago when the former Minister of Infrastructure João Cravino promised to link Lisbon to Porto by train in 1 hour and 15 minutes. The high-speed rail project, however, went up in smoke through lack of funds.

Lisbon is nowadays one of the few capitals in Europe – besides Athens and Talin – without international rail connections. In March last year, both theSud-Expresso (to Hendaye, on the French-Spanish border) and theLusitânia Expresso (to Madrid) were suspended due to lack of profitability and the coronavirus pandemic.

These days a trip by train from Lisbon to Madrid requires 4 trains and 3 transfers. The journey of 600 km takes a little more than 10 hours and costs about 55 euros.

Portugal’s national railway and metro network has 528 stations. The 10 busiest – 8 in Lisbon and 2 in Porto – handle 38% of the 24 million passengers every month. The most overloaded station Cais do Sodré in Lisbon belongs to a metro network that doesn’t even has a connection to the national railway network.

Cais do Sodré is also the end of the suburban railway to Cascais and has a flow of 1.5 million passengers per month, just as much as the two busiest stations in Porto.

This decade the government will – with the help of EU grants – invest over 10 billion euros in 16 rail projects. Half of this amount is earmarked for the high-speed connections Lisbon – Porto (travel time 75 min) and Porto – Vigo (time 60 min). The high-speed rail Lisbon – Madrid (time approx. 150 min) is under construction and due to be finalized December 2023.

The other half of the 10 billion project serves the creation of new metro and train lines, the modernisation of existing lines and the purchase of rolling stock.

During the past decade, the use of cars in the Lisbon metropolitan area has increased significantly, leading to more congestion, pollution and noise. One of the key modernisation projects therefore is to improve the nation’s second-busiest railway Lisbon – Cascais in order to encourage sustainable and environmentally friendly (inter)urban mobility.

The existing 1500 volts DC electrification system on this 25 km course is completely different from the rest of the country’s railway network and the trains used are only suitable for this trajectory. Putting in place new 25 thousand volts AC overhead lines will not only enable integration in the national network but also result in 50% energy savings.

Before the purchase of new carriages, the 17 stations along the line will be upgraded and made more user-friendly. Moreover, its platforms have to be standardized to guarantee that new trains from the national network can smoothly pass and don’t get stuck as happened on a test-drive on Sunday, the 13th of December in São João do Estoril.

Stay safe             Fique saudável                       (pic Público/Sapo)





Carnage

540 wild animals shot – a super record, the hunters said

Just before Christmas, on December 17, over 540 deer and wild boar were brutally slaughtered by 16 Spanish hunters in a walled estate in Azambuja to make way for a gigantic solar energy park with an investment of 170 million euros.

‘It was a massacre’ declared Silvino Lúcio, vice-president of the Azambuja town council. ‘This can’t be called a hunt. Those animals had no way of escape as they were confined within the property walls.’

The hunt was organized at the Quinta (walled estate) Torre Bela by the Spanish organisation Hunting Spain Portugal Monteros de la Cabra, that yearly organises hunts in Spain and Portugal.

A shocked minister of environment Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes immediately withdraw Torre Bela’s hunting licence, stating that the organizers, the owners and possibly the hunters who took part, will most probably be prosecuted by the Public Ministry.’

In a joint statement, various environmental organizations called on the minister not only to implement his decision to review the hunting law but to also solve the inexistence of proper inspection to prevent crimes against nature.


An outraged political party PAN – Party for Animals and Nature – wondered in despair, how it was possible that no official public entity had received any forewarning about the indiscriminate hunt in the ancient estate.

It is unclear whether the bloody incident will affect the installation of 650.000 solar panels at the estate, an area described by the local paper Valor Local in September as ‘forest and agricultural land equivalent to 775 football pitches.’

Pending the investigation by the Public Ministry, the government has instructed APA – the Portuguese environment agency – to immediately suspend its evaluation of the environmental impact study for the solar project and start a thorough investigation into the facts.

Some days after the culling hit the headlines, the owners of the estate issued a statement – through their spokesmen – that they had absolutely nothing to do with the hunt and had heard about the barbarity only through the media.

Journalists’ attempts to discover the identity of the owners have raised questions. There are rumours that the real owner is Isabel dos Santos – the former first daughter of Angola – now immersed in the Luanda Leaks scandal. In fact, nobody seems to know for sure. The only thing clear is that whoever owns Torre Bela prefers to stay anonymous.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Públic/EsqNet)








Democracy

After years of EU support, Portugal is still a backward country’

What is the state of Portugal’s democracy in the year that centre-left prime minister António Costa took over the European Chairmanship and centre-right president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was re-elected on a second term in office with a clear 61% of the votes.  

The PM holds the most executive power.The directly elected president has a more deliberative role as a warden of the constitution and head of the armed forces. The president also has the power to delay legislation, dissolve parliament and call for new elections. He or she ratifies international treaties, calls referendums and declares states of emergency.

Since it’s return from dictatorship to democracy in 1974 (Carnation Revolution), Portugal has a stable parliamentary democracy with a multiparty system and regular transfer of power between the two largest parties, the Socialist party (PS) and the Social democrats (PSD).

A new, anti-immigration and far-right party Chega ( ‘Enough’ ), however, is on the rise. Representing only 1% of the electorate in the 2019 elections – sufficient to gain a first-ever seat in Parliament – its leader André Ventura became third in the recent presidential elections with 12% of the votes, just behind the socialist veteran Ana Gomes.

Ventura’s performance makes clear that he has emerged as a political force in Portugal and in this year’s upcoming municipal elections his ultranationalist and xenophobic party – by many viewed as fascist – is looking like a serious popular choice.

International studies praise the country for its political freedom and civil liberties. The Freedom House Research Institute in Washington DC ranks Portugal 10th globally and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute at the University of Gothenburg even 7th. Higher than say the UK or Germany but lower than the Scandinavian countries.

Portugal legalised abortion in 2007 and same-sex marriage in 2010. Parliament voted in January this year in favour of euthanasia, bringing the new law a step closer.

Although domestic violence remains a problem, perhaps the most serious concern is corruption involving bankers, judges and high ranking politicians. Other democratic worries include abusive conditions for prisoners, persistent racism – especially with the uniformed forces – and discrimination of the Roma.

On the Global Democracy Index 2020 – drawn up annually by the Economist – Portugal fell from a ‘full’ to a ‘flawed’ democracy, mainly due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, a reduction in parliamentary debates and lack of transparency in the spending of EU recovery funds.

According to European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reform Elisa Ferreira, Portugal is still a backward country. In an online debate she emphasized that the billions to help the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic must be radically different from the past. ‘It has to be much more environmental, more digital and much more socially balanced’, she stated.

She further pointed out that the GDP per head in Portugal is extraordinary low. and that ‘no matter how much Lisbon grows, the rest of the country is too far behind to allow Portugal to take off.’

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável            (pic Público/Sapo)



Unsustainable

Portugal’s brittle healthcare system is under growing pressure due to an unprecedented rise in coronavirus infections as a result of a relaxation of the measures during Christmas.

Even after a stricter lockdown was put in place on the 15th of January, the number of new cases continued to rise to over 1000 per 100.000 inhabitants. Nearly double that in hard-hit Spain and three times as much as in the Netherlands. This week’s increase is even the biggest in the world!

The health system – which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100.000 inhabitants in Europe – can accommodate a maximum number of 675 Covid patients in ICUs. Currently, more than 95% of the ICU beds are occupied and a further increase in the number of patients is expected over the coming weeks.

‘The impact in hospitals is huge because the number of beds doesn’t increase, the walls are not expandable and health workers are not multiplying’ declared Antonio Pais de Lacerda, a doctor at Lisbon’s biggest hospital Santa Maria.

It is predicted that as many people will die in the next two months as in the last ten and that daily case numbers will not drop before February. Media images of ambulances with patients queuing outside major hospitals in Lisbon waiting for beds, raise fears whether the National Health System (SNS) is on the verge of collapse.

At a recent Infarmed meeting – where government hears the opinion of experts – it was estimated that it will take at least two months for the country to return to pre-Christmas levels. The feeling also was that testing – currently around 47,000 tests a day with around 18% positive results – should be increased, especially in old people’s homes.

With a daily death toll reaching a record high of 218 – one death every seven minutes – and 10.455 new cases, the authorities desperately try to put a lid on the spread of infections. In a country just over 10 million already over 9000 people have died since the start of the pandemic.

In view of the unacceptable rise in the number of cases and deaths, Prime Minister António Costa issued – just 3 days after a stricter lockdown was put in place – even tougher restrictions, similar to the ones during the lockdown of March/April last year. Schools, however, will remain open, much to the dislike of the Ordem dos Médicos, that has called for an immediate closure to save lives.  

It will be clear that protection of the elderly has failed and that until a successful roll-out of the vaccination programme is in place, tension will prevail.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/Expresso)


Rivals

Lisbon and Porto – the country’s two largest cities – are rivals.
Not equivalent or complementary, much less comparable.

Fernando Lemos (1926-2019) – artist, photographer, painter and poet expressed it his way.

‘I am from Porto but I am a Lisboeta. More than Portuguese, I am a Lisboeta.
I think Lisbon is the place from where to leave and Porto the place to stay. Porto has everything to live in.
In Lisbon one does not reside. Lisbon is a place to start from. And, over time, has expanded and become a place of offices, almost without homes.
Porto is an excellent place to live in. The construction, its physical form – regardless its architecture – gives distinction to the residencies, the love of living. Our home is our stage, the place where we live and express our life. Lisbon doesn’t have much of that, because everyone leaves.

Lisbon is full of first and second and third and ninth opportunities. In Lisbon everything is possible. Lisbon is full of people by day – giving way to different people at night – and people who renew themselves constantly. Those who dream of great achievements arrive into Lisbon every day. Ex-dreamers leave Lisbon, crushed by the city’s impatience. And amidst these people – who come and go – we discover resistant people, who teach us the defence techniques to resist the city’s blows. Black belts of friendship, experts in making their followers feel welcome to Lisbon. In them we find company, support and distraction. The Lisbon that seemed hostile becomes a Lisbon available to us.

I was shaped in Porto but defined in Lisbon.’

Stay safe                                                                      Fique saudável






Mains

Traditional food is based on fish, seafood or pork with lots of olive oil.

Bacalhau is the undisputed National dish, especially on Christmas Eve when 4 to 5 thousand tons of Norwegian cod is devoured.
Cod became prominent during the Discovery Era because it could be stored for longer periods. You can see and smell the large hard chunks in shops, where a small saw is often used to cut the fish. Salted cod is primarily soaked for at least 24 hours in water before cooking, grilling, frying, or braising

Popular dishes are cod baked with cream (bacalhau com natas), stir-fried with shredded potato, eggs, and onions (bacalhau à brás) and cod with chicken peas (meia-desfeita).
Meia-desfeita (‘half-undone’) stems from the times when one used to order only half the dish.

Arroz de marisco consists of rice, monkfish, and seafood like prawns, mussels, squid, or clams and is usually seasoned with fresh herbs and white wine. Unlike the Spanish paella, it is not fried and often described as a thick rice stew.

Polvo à Lagareiro is made in the style of Lagareiro. In this case, the octopus is boiled, then cut into pieces, grilled, and brushed with extra virgin olive oil. The dish is dressed with a combination of garlic, coriander, lemon juice, and salt, served with small roasted potatoes with their skin intact and lots of olive oil.

Cataplana de marisco refers to a popular fish- or seafood dish sharing the same name as the clam-shaped copper pan in which it is prepared. The Moors introduced the dish which usually includes white fish, shellfish, red peppers, onions, and a bit of chili.


Alheira is a smoked sausage typically made with various types of meat, bread, garlic, olive oil, and paprika. It is believed to be invented during the Inquisition by Portuguese Jews. To disguise as Christians they started producing pork-like sausages but would replace the traditional pork with poultry and game.


Feijoada à portuguesa is a hearty bean stew originating in the north of the country before it was introduced in Brazil, where it is considered the National dish. It is made with red kidney or white beans and usually includes pork (ears, foot), morcela (blood sausage), or chouriço.

Iscas com elas are thin strips of cow’s liver, sautéed in wine and garlic. They’re served with boiled potatoes (referred to as elas – meaning them). The dish was brought to the country by the Galicians, who arrived in the 18th century to work in, and later own restaurants and cafés.


Cozido à portuguesa is a rustic stew for meat lovers. It usually consists of beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausages, such as morcela, chouriço, or alheira. It might also contain other bits of animal-like pig’s ear or foot – and potatoes, cabbage, or carrots. All the ingredients are cooked together in a single pot with different items added at different times.



Boas Festas        Stay Healthy      (pic tasteatlas/roads&kingdoms/sapo)










Residents

Portuguese citizenship is hot. The latest report by the borders agency SEF shows that last year more than 74,000 foreigners applied for Portuguese nationality. For the first time in history, the country’s foreign resident population exceeds half a million people (5% of the total population).

Most requests for citizenship are related to naturalization and reunion. Foreigners who acquired citizenship in 2019 came from Brazil (23.000), Israel (18.500), Cape Verde (6500), Angola (3000), Ukraine (2500), Guinea-Bissau (2500), and Turkey (1500).

Brazilians remain the largest foreign resident community in Portugal (with 150.000, representing 26% of last year’s total), followed by Cape Verdeans, Brits, Romanians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Italians, French, and Angolans.

Last year also saw a notable increase in the number of Indians and Nepalese coming for work. There are now approximately 18,000 Indians and 17.000 Nepalese legally living in the country.

Asylum applications increased as well by 45% last year, reaching 1850, the highest since 2015. The majority were single men from the African continent.

Even the Golden Visa program has seen an uplift of applications in the first quarter of 2020. Between January and April, 260 applicants and 515 dependents received their residence cards. Although the Golden Visa program was due to be curtailed in the 2019 State Budget, it will be continued in the light of the coronavirus pandemic until 2021.

On the contrary, markedly fewer refugee statuses were granted citizenship  (183 in 2019 against 286 in 2020), predominantly to nationals of Asian countries.

However, as part of a European reallocation program, Greece finally succeeded in relocating 25 Afghan boys between 15 an17 years of age from their overcrowded migrant camps to Portugal. Besides Germany, the UK, and Luxembourg, Portugal is one of the few countries in the EU that in fact responds to the Greek request. The intention is to host 250 unaccompanied minors by the end of the year.

In contrast to other countries aiming to reduce immigration, the Portuguese socialist-led minority government wants to attract more migrants, who it says are needed due to the country’s low birth-rate and aging population.

Portugal is one of the 10 EU states where fewer than 5% of residents are foreign-born. It is in this light that Parliament just before the holidays approved Portuguese nationality at birth for children of legal immigrants who have lived in the country for at least one year.


Keep fit — Fique saudável (pic Público/Sapo)







Nursing

Amidst the height of the country’s fight against Covid-19, the Democratic Union of Nurses in Portugal Sindepor went on a five-day ‘wake-up call’ strike last week, during which only minimum services were provided.

Carlos Ramalho, the president of the syndicate, declared that the walkout was necessary as the nurses are exhausted and their situation in the SNS (National Health Service) deteriorating.

‘We are talking about a process of many years in which the problems have not been resolved by the Government. At this point, the work overload is such that nurses can’t take anymore’.

The union leader further stresses that Portugal is one of the OECD countries with the least number of nurses per 1,000 inhabitants. 

At the same time, the Ordem dos Enfermeiros (Order of Nurses) expressed concern about the recruitment of Portuguese nurses in Europe, revealing that hunting for nurses has intensified from countries such as Spain, the UK and the Netherlands.

These countries are offering lucrative annual contracts for hospitals and nursing homes. From Spain, there have been contracts with offers of 30,000 euros per year, almost double the salary in Portugal. The Netherlands on the other hand is providing – in addition to an ample salary – accommodation, transport and travel.

The OE recalls that ‘although the recognition of the nurses is unanimous, there is no incentive nor decent pay’. Last year more than 4,000 nurses asked the order for a declaration for emigration purposes, a record number that tripled compared to 2017 and represents an increase of 68% compared to 2018.

‘Given the severe situation we are going through – after nine months into the pandemic – it is imperative that the way nurses are hired as well as their working conditions must be improved. There are almost 20,000 nurses abroad and the Government should be concerned with creating means for them to return’, declared OE’s chairwoman Ana Rita Cavaco.

‘We just can’t afford to export more nurses’.

Keep fit                Fique saudável                                 (pic Público/Sapo)