Asian Cultural Exchange in Portugal

I went to Lisbon, Portugal twice, solo in April 2019 and with friends in January 2020. Portugal is a melting pot of cultures, with its long established trade routes in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia. There are still many vestiges of this early cultural exchange when I visited.

In Lisbon, there was a sandwich shop that sold pork vinha d’alhos sandwiches. These pork sandwiches were cooked in a garlic and wine marinade. They were delicious and I later learned that the Portugese brought this marinade to India and it became vindaloo!

During the trip, I ate peixinhos da horta, which translates to “little fish from the garden”, but it’s actually fried green beans. When I took my first bite, I was immediately transported to Japan and recognized the crunchy texture as tempura. Peixinhos da horta was the origin for tempura! It was eaten during “TEMPORA” which was a day when Catholics gave up meat. The Japanese took the method of cooking and we now have the lovely tempura that we eat today.


There are also an abundant amount of sushi restaurants in Lisbon. As the Portuguese and Japanese were both seafaring and fishing nations, it is not a surprise that fish is well loved. The Portuguese and Japanese are the top consumers of fish in the entire world, with cod and sardines being Portugal’s most well known fish.

Portugal is famous for their azulejos (ceramic tiles). They serve dual functions of cooling homes and also being decorative and beautiful. Tiles have been used to express artwork and architecture for centuries with their earliest influences being from the Moors. The famous blue and white tiles, though? Those colors are Chinese influenced. The blue and white tiles originated from Chinese porcelain. Animal motifs were also popular on Chinese porcelain; animal depictions on Portuguese tiles were often Chinese influenced.

You probably know about East Asia’s famous egg tarts. It originated in Portugal with the pasteis de nata. Delicious eggy and creamy custard in a flaky crust.

Finally, we enter the possibly darkest chapter of this blog post. When I went to the tile museum (Museo Nacional do Azulejo) in Lisbon, I was fascinated by tiles of Chinese people. In later research, I discovered that the original Chinese settlers in Portugal were slaves. Chinese slaves in Portugal were considered “highly intelligent” and “white like Europeans”. They were perceived as hardworking and exotic, often bought and sold by those in high society to flaunt their wealth. Many of the slaves were kidnapped from Macau. Buying and selling of Chinese slaves of both genders were banned in the 1600s due to pressure from China.

It was great to get a fresh perspective of Lisbon, Portugal. I found it fascinating that the explorer, Vasco de Gama, could’ve traveled the world, started trading with India, creating trade routes throughout Asia and we are better for it in a lot of ways in the modern world today. Imagine a world without vindaloo, tempura, or egg tarts!


Until next time… Carpe Diem, friends!


All photos are mine from my two trips in Lisbon, Portugal. 🙂

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