Savoring Fall River: Popular local market tour to shine spotlight on Portuguese fare

By Linda Murphy
Lifestyle Editor, The Herald News
June 9, 2015

FALL RIVER — The rest of the world may be catching up to what locals already know: Portuguese food rocks. As the owner of Savoring Rhode Island, Cindy Salvato is used to taking food lovers on tours of Providence's Federal Hill and Rhode Island's unique eats. But in a week or so, Salvato will be crossing state lines to shine a spotlight on Portugalia Marketplace and Azorean fare.

Maria Lawton, author of the cookbook, "Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours," and a food blogger who calls herself the Azorean Green Bean will be leading the tour of Portugalia Marketplace, offering insight into Portuguese foods and sharing a few recipes of her own to get newcomers started.

Additionally, Lawton will be spreading the word about Azorean cooking later this month when she goes on a book tour in Toronto, Canada. A second cookbook is also in the works.

But first, Lawton said she's excited to be sharing the cultural experience that a visit to Portugalia Marketplace entails. "It's not a market, it's a specialty store and a lot of people don't know about it; they have a room that's like an homage to cod, a whole section of pottery, and you can go in and taste different olive oils. People need to know about it," she said.

Adding to the interest in Portuguese fare, said Lawton, is a Portuguese wine (Dow's Vintage Port 2011) being named as Wine Spectator's 2014 Wine of the Year (along with two others that made it into the Top Ten) and mentions of Portuguese foods on "foods to watch" lists.

"It's almost like we've been the best kept secret in the culinary world. We're quiet when it comes to our food, but I think now it's not our parents or our grandparents, it's us, and we're more vocal and we want people to know about it," added Lawton.

Salvato, a pastry chef and former instructor in the Pastry Arts program at Johnson and Wales University who has been conducting food tours for about 14 or 15 years, agrees that Portuguese food is in the spotlight right now. "I'm so excited about the tour, I've been saying Portuguese cuisine is going to be the oldest, newest cuisine."

People like Lawton, James Beard Award winning cookbook author/blogger David Leite and Michael Benevides, the second generation owner of Portugalia Marketplace, have brought to light a cuisine that at one time was only known in the Portuguese community, said Salvato. "I think it's going to explode," she added.

As for Portugalia Marketplace itself, Salvato said it's also a jewel in the crown of markets for food lovers. "People who go there are going to be swinging from the chandeliers. I loved it. The cod room is amazing, the family's lovely; they teach you how to cook this and that... I would say it's an Old World experience. Every time I leave there I spend $100 on cod, wine, tuna, olive oil, cheese, pottery... all kinds of things," she said.

Benevides, son of Portugalia Imports founders Maria and Fernando Benevides, envisioned bringing a "new" Old World style market to the city with Portugalia Marketplace when the family decided to relocate the Portugalia Imports retail operation to the Twelfth Street site. He spent more than a year creating the wood-and-brick "new" Old World interior in the site of the former Norbert Manufacturing building complete with a separate room devoted to cod from different areas of the world, a cafe, a beer and wine shop, a prepared foods area and bulk items sold from bins.

His vision for the marketplace came to fruition in the fall of 2013. Since then, they steadily see new customers every week.

"I think there's a lot of really good and positive signs for Portuguese food — there's a resurgence, a renewed interest in Portuguese food and Portuguese markets," he said.

Some of those are foodies who share their experience with other foodies, and others are people who summer in Westport, Tiverton and Little Compton who come in for the wines, olives and cheeses for get-togethers said Benevides.

A third group is second- and third-generation Portuguese descendants from Cambridge, Somerville and other affluent communities who are used to shopping at high-end markets such as Whole Foods.

"They want to eat better quality food and see gourmet goods coming from Portugal. They want premium wines and olive oils and they didn't realize there was a strong segment of gourmet foods coming from Portugal," said Benevides. "They're really happy to discover that they can buy that here. And they're good ambassadors — when they come back they bring their friends and a lot of them aren't Portuguese."

Benevides also expects the reopening of Sagres and Mesa 21, two Portuguese restaurants that burned down in recent years, to add to the resurgence in interest in Portuguese fare locally.

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