Tessa Kiros is not Portuguese. She is of Greek-Cypriot and Finnish parentage, so, you might ask, what would a London born, part Greek-Cypriot, part Finnish cookbook writer know of Portuguese food? Authenticity is not a word I am comfortable with. Perhaps being a mixed bag of ethnicities myself, I tend to refrain from hastily endorsing or decrying anything because of "authenticity" or a lack thereof, preferring to evaluate something based on its own merits, which fortunately, this book has plenty of.
I instantly warmed to the dusty azure themed cover featuring a washboard stiff sardine in the iconic Duralex Picardie tumbler. An arguably bizarre presentation, but one certain to draw the eye and garner attention. I've also had a lifelong but up to now, little researched curiosity about Portugal, though I have never set foot on Portuguese soil. Why? My mother's family name is Pereira, probably the most Portuguese of names and my grandmother spoke to me daily and exclusively in an archaic form of Portuguese, inflected with localisms, right up to her death when I was 13.
Ms Kiros travelled to and lived in Portugal, to experience the culture and colour of the country in order to write about its culinary treasures. I applaud such diligent research, surely a more than worthy stand in for having the "right" or required ethnicity or nationality?
Considering the past glory and reach of the former Portuguese empire, and the many influences of its numerous former colonies, the task of framing its culinary profile within 256 pages is a daunting one. Ms Kiros rises to the challenge and does an admirable job of showcasing Portugal, its history, its present, the Mediterranean warmth and inherent kindness that courses through the veins of all who call it home, both through the recipes that she shares as well as her observations of the country and its warm and wonderful people. The photography is beautiful, though in a natural and slightly rough hewn rather than contrived and primped sort of way. This is I think, as it should be. After all Portuguese cooking is not haute cuisine. It is honest, sturdy, unpretentious, bursting with flavour and character, nourishing and heartwarming, much like the Portuguese themselves. This is a lavishly beautiful book which screams "quality", from its sturdy cover and thick pages to its very secure binding and even the satisfyingly thick and broad page marking ribbon attached.
I do have two slight grouses though; the ingredients for each recipe are laid out in paragraph form rather than as a list. This can be confusing and frustrating if you're actually cooking from the book and need to keep seeking out each individual ingredient from the indistinct paragraph. A conventional list would have been far clearer, more accessible and convenient. This is not so much an issue though, if you're pleasurably and leisurely reading it in bed, for instance. The cost, at SGD 71.95 is a mite overpriced for 256 pages if compared to a book such as The River Cottage Meat Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Still, I was sufficiently charmed to part with my money.
I would definitely recommend this book as a worthy introduction to Portuguese food, written in Ms. Kiros' characteristically warm and engaging style, if you don't mind the hefty price tag. Available at major bookstores in Singapore and here online.
Posted by denise. Posted In : Cookbooks