I must confess that I was inspired to write this article by three things I read: first, Pedro Cabrita Reis’ text and illustration for the book "Na Cozinha dos Artistas" (Centro Cultural São Lourenço, Almancil, 2007), and two different personal opinions in the October 2010 edition of the magazine “Gosto”.

There is no child that does not have memories of eating bread and butter; for breakfast, as a snack on trips, and many times before bedtime. I grew up eating mixed cereal (wheat and rye) and rye bread. Corn was a rarity. But the bread of my childhood boasted other flavours. I rarely ate rolls or "bijus". I preferred bread that was sliced or cut in half, kidney-shaped or “três tetas”, so called because it was three rolls together. The dough, however, was different, being more compact and possibly with less yeast.

But what I really liked was rye bread. In my house we only ate bread and butter with light meals. We never had bread and butter at the same time at lunch or dinner, and it was something I first saw when I started going to restaurants. And so this is what I wanted to write about: Should we eat bread and butter before meals?

The 15th edition of the magazine “Gosto”, which I mentioned earlier, has a section called "There is accounting for tastes", where the theme "Should bread be eaten with butter before a meal?" is discussed. An affirmative comes from Dom Eudes de Orleans e Bragança and a negative from Braulio Pasmanik.

The text in favour argues that bread is the best "support" for a meal; although best eaten in moderation so as not to spoil your appetite. It goes on to say that bread is the best palate “separating” element between dishes. However, the best compliment for bread with meals focuses on "enjoying" what is left of sauces, using bread to "wipe" clean the plate. On the same theme, someone recently asked me if it was polite to mop up sauce, to which I replied that this was a tribute to the cooking. Perhaps we wouldn’t need to do it if the portion was slightly more generous.

The other text begins with the statement: "bread and butter are one of the most exciting partnerships." However, the author is at odds with restaurants that immediately put bread and butter on the table, as it fills the diner up, stating that "if we are hungry and the bread is good, it takes the place of the food," going on to suggest that if, after the meal, a person is still hungry, then they should bring "a basket of bread."

Pedro Cabrita Reis gives us a sophisticated and detailed description of what should be a slice of bread and butter: from the production of bread, recommendations for ideal firewood for the oven, the timings, detailed observations at all stages, sometimes almost poetic phrases about the "flavours released by this butter that is lazily and addictively spread over the slice...". He ends by writing that "only those slices, cut with this thickness, and placed rather than spread on the bread, may lead us to the unique experience that is rather simply provided by the slow and inspired savouring of a slice of bread and butter." It is well worth reading the text that is accompanied by the author’s illustrations.

Well, I do without bread and butter before a meal. Even when I'm hungry. I cannot resist if the service is very slow, or when the food is unsatisfactory. When this occurs, I eat the bread and butter and never return. At home, I do not serve bread with butter at meal times. The bread appears discreetly for those who want it.

However, revisiting my experiences in Trás-os-Montes, I recall that the best tasting bread for me was rye bread. During the winter, we toasted it over an open fire, spread with lard. Later, I discovered the joys of sheep's butter. I never liked margarines... Bread and butter were for between mealtimes. Let us liberate our palates to better appreciate main dishes. I never feel the need for "couverts" (small appetisers) in the restaurants I usually go to and, therefore, they are kind enough not to put them on the table.

When I have a meal, I usually forego starters. As for desserts? If I don’t have one,  a meal seems incomplete.

© Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes