As a continuation of the Açordas,(ɐ'sordɐs – the Portuguese bread panada) as promised in the respective text, we will now see how bread is a fundamental element in the traditional Portuguese eating habits and which helped create important cooking recipes.

Açordas can be soups, garnishes or side plates, as well as the main dish itself.

Migas (crumbled bread) and bread soups will be dealt with separately, although they are called soups because they were sauces to which bread was added. Therefore to call them bread soups seemed to be a pleonasm. The popular names lead to these distinctions and come about due to other elements used to thicken the sauces, such as the chestnut and at a later stage, the potato. The popular saying goes, “Soup is never served without bread, not even in hell”.

Migas probably derives from the verb “migar” which generally means to crush or to break up the bread in the sauces.

According to Maria de Lourdes Modesto1 in her “Grande Enciclopédia da Cozinha”, “ Migas are a typical Portuguese dish made out of softened bread, cooked afterwards in fat, usually lard”. She continues her description informing that one usually adds the meat and bacon from which the fat was obtained. “This dish, which is very common in the Alentejo2 and the Beira3 provinces, can also be made with potatoes; however, made in this manner it has less gastronomical value and there are fewer people who appreciate it”

It is curious to note that the culinary techniques do not adapt to distinctive products in the same manner, regardless of the similar functions. Migas are more appreciated when made out of bread. In the Dictionary – Food and Beverages Almanac By Cláudio Fornarias4, he presents Migas as being “typical Portuguese bread soup, especially in the Algarve, Alentejo, Beira, Trás–os–Montes5, where there are a hundred different recipes. Basically it is made with water, the soft part of the bread, olive oil and salt, with a varying amount of garlic, bacon, Parma ham, chorizo, pepper, sweet pepper, eggs, pork, bay leaves, lard, cheese, herbs…”

In her “Small Dictionary of Gastronomy”, Maria Lucia Gomensoro6 attributes the origin of migas to a Spanish tradition of eating small cubes of bread dipped in milk and then fried. The author also states that when they are accompanied by fried meat they then become the main dish. She presents this composition as specialties from Aragon7 and others from Andalucía8 and these were already known since the Middle Ages. The author also states that migas is a “Typical dish from the Alentejo, Trás-os-Montes and Beiras”9. It is usually the transformation of bread into dough, fried in lard and has meat or fish and seasoning added”.

In another book, “Diccionario de Alimentación” by Ginés Vivancos10, migas is defined as dry bread, crumbled, soaked in water or milk and then fried in olive oil, bacon fat or butter. If meat or any element is added, migas is called “ilustradas”. Although the author refers to the Spanish tradition he adds that migas in Portugal are more popular and varied than in Spain.

How then did migas originate? What makes them differ from the Açordas at a first glance is that is the way the migas are terminated, enveloping them in fat. But, what is the origin? They probably appeared only after the açordas and as a consequence of the latter. Migas may also have emerged as an alternative dish so as not to waste left over bread. Migas are possibly a poorer food element and inventiveness and creativity transformed it into and elite dish /garnish only acknowledged as from the XX Century.

One cannot define local or regional cuisine by the technique, per se, but rather by the habit of it being repeated. Cuisine is not only cooking, but the way a recipe is continuously applied. The recipe is not only the succession of procedures; it is above all, the gathering and addition of produce and what the consumer wants, over the years. Cooking recipes, even the authentic regional cuisine ones, are dynamic and tend to evolve. Did they take one hundred years to change? Perhaps they did. Nowadays, the evolution is faster.

Therefore we will find a variety of migas in almost all the Portuguese regional cuisine. Assuredly that name does not appear in the early manuals and cookbooks. Both in the books of Domingos Rodrigues11(1680) and of Lucas Rigaud12(1780) even João da Mata13(1876) the term migas is not mentioned. However, in Domingos Rodrigues´s Cheese Soup, and pork and beef tenderloin, if we remove the meat we are left with some poor migas without the extras.

It is surprising that Carlos Bento da Maia14, in his Tratado Completo de Cozinha e Copa (1904) only presents one migas recipe, and it is sweet, but obviously made out of bread crumbs. It is curious to note that in Olleboma´s Culinária Portuguesa15(1936) we first see the word migas associated to Açorda or codfish migas and Açorda or migas with Carne de Porco á Alentejana (pork cooked in the Alentejo style, with clams).

Manuel Ferreira16, with his Cozinha Ideal (1943), is really the first Cook Book for Professionals of XX Century, and there is only one migas recipe with white beans and corn bread, without letting the migas get too dry or too soggy with sauce so as not to look like a soup.

It seems consensual that in the migas chapter, there are a group of recipes that seem to be a category that is codfish migas, which in the Alentejo are known as “gatas”. The tradition of making migas with fish, namely codfish is due to the low price this gadoid had. In addition there were religious rules from the Middle Ages to the XVIII Century that obliged people to eat fish about one hundred and thirty days a year.

How then can we characterize migas? They are a cooking product made out of soaked bread which is then enveloped in fat so as to end up dry through a slow drying process. We then have all the varieties that depend firstly on the type o bread, then with the substitution of bread by the potato, the addition of seasoning and other components such as sprouts, beans asparagus, cabbage, eggs, brains, codfish – and lastly the accompaniments where fried pork is more common and the lard thereof that helped give the finishing touches to migas. There are also sweet migas. What originated migas was definitely bread, omnipresent, with an attempt to substitute it with potatoes, but this failed. All the preparation of the recipes, we owe to bread. The list naming the presence o migas in all Portuguese regional recipes would be far too long. Out of curiosity, the first Pousada de Portugal17, on 19th April 1942, served “Migas á Moda de Peroguarda” at the official lunch which was an important political act at the time. These are very typical Alentejo migas that are made with eggs and brains. From then onwards, could it be that it has been fashionable to serve migas at elite restaurants due to this?

When the 7 marvels of Portugal were selected this year, 2007, in July, a group of prestigious chefs from hotels and restaurants simultaneously launched a contest via the net, to elect the 7 Portuguese Gastronomical Marvels. Migas was mentioned, although it was not selected as one of the first 7.

Migas with all its variations can please any taste.

To end off I quote Aquilino Ribeiro18: “Those who have no taste have no character”


© Virgilio Gomes

Photo © Adriana Freire


1 Portuguese writer that published in the XXth the best about Portuguese food (back to the main text)

2 Southern Portuguese region (back to the main text)

3 Middle Portuguese region (back to the main text)

4 Brazilian writer (back to the main text)

5 Portuguese regions (back to the main text)

6 Brazilian writer (back to the main text)

7 Spanish region (back to the main text)

8 Spanish region (back to the main text)

9 Portuguese regions (back to the main text)

10 Spanish writer (back to the main text)

11 Cook Chief and author of the first book published in Portugal with recipes (back to the main text)

12 Cook Chief and author of the second book published in Portugal with recipes (back to the main text)

13 Portuguese Cook Chief, XIXth century (back to the main text)

14 Portuguese writer that published in 1904 an important book with recipes (back to the main text)

15 Portuguese gastronome that founded the "Portuguese Society of Gastronomy" (back to the main text)

16 Published the first Portuguese book for professionals (back to the main text)

17 "Pousadas de Portugal" is a Chaîne of Portuguese charm hotels, often installed in historical buildings (back to the main text)

18 Important Portuguese writer (1885-1963)(back to the main text)