12 April 2011

TV in Portugal (and Carrot Pataniscas)

In the past two years, I have managed to learn a bit of Portuguese.  This is helpful for lots of reasons.
1. I can go grocery shopping and know what I am looking for.
2. I can talk with Pedro's family.
3. I can understand what our "mulher a dias" (equal parts cleaning lady and grumpy grandma) says when she criticizes my messy dresser drawers.
4. I can eavesdrop on public transportation. (Hey, it's good practice!)

But the BEST reason I have for learning Portuguese is Portuguese television. If eyes are the windows to the soul, then television must be the eyes of a nation.  (Yeah, that's right, I was an English major, yo...)

Anyhow, since I can't offer plane tickets to Lisbon for all my family and friends, I had to at least share a few of my very favorite Portuguese shows with you.*

(And yes, there is a recipe at the end. So hang in there.)

*Note: I loved these shows long before I spoke Portuguese, TV being a visual thing and all.  So I hope even if you don't know your obrigada from your chouriço, you will give these gems a try.

1. Home Makeover Show: Querido, Mudei a Casa!

"Honey, I Changed the House" is similar to the TLC show While You Were Out. There is a two-day makeover which is kept secret from one member of a household while professionals transform one room.  Genius in any language!

There are certain hallmarks of this genre which are all here:
  • The Before/After Room Scan, complete with music which maximizes the chance you will oooo and ahhhh.
  • The BlahbittyBlah when the designer talks with the host about how awesome the room is while as a viewer you just want to get to...
  • The BIG REVEAL for the homeowner. 
BUT-- watch the clip below and tell me if you do not notice one very glaring difference at around 5'45".  Go ahead, I'll wait.

Where is the reaction, ladies???  The editors had to actually slo-mo the reveal to get any sign of emotion.  Basically, the two ladies smile and say thank you, and it's totally different, and it's cool.  Over and over.

Jumping?  Screaming?  Crying?  No, no, and no.  

I found this shocking when I first saw this show.  I found it more shocking when I saw the same tepid reaction from week to week. Why would people watch if there was no chance of an old lady collapsing from shock and awe?

This is where the cultural difference comes in: Portuguese people tend to be more reserved with their emotions (even their happy ones).

This gives them a quiet dignity which I respect.  But it also makes Reality TV here less likely to achieve the heights of, say, Jersey Shore.  So it's hard to say which path is the best.

2. Comedy Show: O Gato Fedorento

Okay, so this show isn't actually on TV anymore.  I have to make do with reruns and with election specials.  But if you think a cross between Kids in the Hall and The Daily Show sounds like fun, then this comedy troop is reason enough to learn a bit of Portuguese.

This clip is from 2007, when Portugal was giving incentive payments for having babies. The guys of O Gato Fedorento (The Smelly Cat, in English) good-naturedly point out the tendency for Portuguese folks to take FULL advantage of any free offer.  (And the Social Security office's tendency to let them get away with it.)

3. Travel Show: Gente da Minha Terra

If America is a nation of immigrants, than surely Portugal is a nation of emigrants. There are 10 million Portuguese people living in Portugal, and almost 2.5 million living in other countries.  

Now, I'm not trying to start a serious discussion here.  I merely want to point out that this gives the Portuguese some street cred when it comes to their sense of humor about people from other countries.  One of my favorite late night shows here is a no-holds-barred travel program in which a Portuguese guy explores various European capitals.  And mercilessly makes fun of them.

(In other words, if Anthony Bourdain weren't so interested in food, this is exactly the kind of travel show he would make...)

This clip comes from the episode about Ireland.  I chose it partly as a tribute to some Irish friends who recently left Lisbon for Dublin.  I chose it partly because I like Irish music. In any event, it is not hard to figure out what he's going on about most of the time, even if you don't speak his language.  Just to get you started, he begins by welcoming you to the country with "the most beautiful women in Europe", and then proceeds to tell you how much more beautiful they are after some Irish beer and whiskey. 

4. Cooking Show: Dias com Mafalda

God, I love to hate this show.  Why?

  • It is a blatant ripoff of Nigella...
  • ...EXCEPT that instead of Sexy Cooking Goddess, Mafalda chose to package herself as a Blankfaced Cooking Mommy. (???)
  • The production value is so low you can hear an echo when she talks in the kitchen.
So why am I including a clip of her show? She does something amazing: she inspires Portuguese moms to cook outside the box.  And for that, I have to tip my hat to her!  Portuguese people pride themselves on the quality of their recipes, not the quantity of them. Trying new recipes or flavors or spices or foreign ingredients is not very common. (As I witness daily when I try out my own crazy recipes on my one-man Portuguese test kitchen...)

But Mafalda, she is a woman after my own heart and not afraid to mix things up:

Adding shredded carrots to pataniscas instead of bacalhau?  Kudos to you, Mafalda!

See, I told you there was a recipe here!  Two, actually.  Mafalda first shows us how to make egg cups-- which need no recipe, so just watch what she does with the rolling pin, bread, and muffin pans and try it if you like.

Beginning around 5'40" are the Carrot Patties (Pataniscas de Cenoura).  Those are a bit more complicated, so I have put the full recipe in English below. Of course, it will be easy to make if you watch her do it first!

Pataniscas de Cenoura com Molho de Iogurte
(Carrot Patties with Yogurt Dressing)
from Dias com Mafalda
serves 4

For Patties:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup club soda or sparkling water
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp saffron or turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 fresh chopped chili (or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes)
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil

For Dressing:
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
chopped watercress, for serving (optional)

1. In a small bowl, mix together the dressing ingredients.  Set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.

2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, water, egg, spices, sugar and salt.  Blend well.  Add the chili, carrots, fresh cilantro, and stir together.

3. Heat a frying pan over med-high.  Add the oil.  When the oil is shimmery hot, add two spoons worth of the mixture to the pan for each patty. Do not bother shaping them, simply spoon it into a pile and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Fry for two minutes per side, until golden.  Remove and drain on paper towel.  Add more oil to pan as necessary.

4. Serve the patties with the yogurt dressing over top.


  1. Mafalda is, for a natural portuguese speaker, a blatant example of how not to speak portuguese, let alone on a TV show :/

    Alas, she was accused of ripping off recipes from somebody else's book without even caring about changing the ingredient order and/or quantity.

  2. Oh man, was she? I guess I'm not the only one who has ambivalent feelings about her.

    Unsurprisingly, I never noticed her having a strange accent. Thanks for pointing it out, now I will know not to make her a role model on my Path o' Portuguese! :)

  3. I always though Nigella's American accent was weird too. Wait...maybe not... ;)

    Jen, what about the "move that wall!" show? I only saw clips, but it had me begging for an adaptation.

  4. Ha! Yes, that is a CLASSIC!! Thanks for reminding me. It's called Salve-se Quem Puder (Save Yourself If You Can) and I think the first phrase I learned in Portuguese was, "Soltem a Parede!!" ("Release the wall"). I can't believe you remember it, you are good! :) I was obsessed with it my first summer here, as you know... lol

    They SHOULD bring that one to the US. I think it was a Japanese game show, first... but it would work anywhere, right? Here is another good clip of it:

  5. The first time I took my husband to Portugal he had little to no vocabulary (hasn`t improved much since to be honest). We managed to watch a couple of shows: primarily, O Preço Certo & not because he could understand the language so much as we would wonder when they would actually start playing the games. Very different from the American version!

  6. Cristina, I know just what you mean! I was fascinated with that show, too, when I couldn't understand a word of Portuguese. Something about the presenter? Very NOT Bob Barker. And yeah, it is definitely not a show with a tight schedule...

    Have you seen the Portuguese Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? My husband loves to say that it is a miracle if each episode has two full questions in it, amidst all the talking. :)

  7. Yes, I have seen that one. It really is less about the game itself and more about the host & contestant isn't it?