Surrounded by the lines of old chestnut trees at the Cinquentenaire Park in Brussels, the 7th edition of “The Best of Portugal” took place this past weekend, the 4th – 5th of May. “This is an event where we get no less than 40,000 people,” said Portuguese MEP Nuno Melo. “We’re bringing Portugal flavors to the heart of Europe. And you know what else? We are delighted to see the Portuguese community here but it is also a great pleasure to see people from so many different countries discovering everything that Portugal has to offer.”
The Confederation of Portuguese Farmers (CAP) was the creative brain behind this lively event where people can enjoy Portuguese wines, sausages, including the typical alheira (made with meats such as pork, veal, duck, chicken, quail or rabbit mixed with bread), a wide variety of cheeses, olive oils, fruits and vegetables.
“It is a great opportunity for producers to come from Portugal and have exposure to a wide variety of consumers,” said Luís Mira, Secretary General of CAP. “People in Brussels love this event. They come and taste wine, cheese, olives, they discover products of top quality. They listen to music. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Despite the passing showers, thousands of people came to the park to celebrate the rich Portuguese culture. Different regions, different products, everybody had the chance to be dazzled by the hidden secrets of the Luso world. One of the guests, originally from Porto, commented with surprise, “Oh, look at this. I didn’t even know we had deer in Portugal. This is so good. I never imagined we had deer chorizo in Portugal!”
The Best of Portugal has, at its core, a shock wave effect. The crafts, the music, the produce, all of them a gift to the thousands of people who come eager to discover something new, something of quality. “This is what we always meant to do,” said Nuno Melo. “What best way to discover a country than bringing its flavors all the way to your doorstep? It’s a matter of seeing it, smelling it, that’s what people can do here today.”
During the two-day festival, visitors had the opportunity to taste honey, jams, olives, olive oil, mackerel, tuna, bolinhos de bacalhao (cod fish croquettes), coffee, Madeira wine, Ginjinha from the city of Óbidos (liqueur made with ginja berries immersed in alcohol).
One could also delight in the sweetness of baked goods, including the irresistible pastels de nata or custard-filled pastries. Clouds darkened the sky and winds blew from the west but that did not stop the steady flow of guests who, with windbreakers and fleeces, stood in line to buy a glass of Super Bock beer or a slice of juicy leitão (roasted piglet). Everyone seemed to be getting into the right mood, swaying their hips to the rhythms floating in the air. Band after band stood on stage and delivered a twist of joy to the public.
Vendors seemed pleased with the crowds. They know that offering samples of their traditional smoked hams and meat assortments can go a long way in encouraging sales. Once a customer samples the garlic-flavored cheese or even the spicy-flavored one, it’s hard to resist: let’s take all of them home.
The same is true when it comes to the five-gallon containers of fresh olive oil, which is one of the preferred purchases among the loyal Portuguese residents living in Brussels. Many of them return every year and leave with a smile, and with a bag full of The Best of Portugal.