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Celebrate Portuguese Style

Sample something new at one of these traditional feasts

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Feast of the Sacred Heart
My mother was born and raised in New Bedford, and yes she is 100% Portuguese. Our heritage is mainly Azorean and Madeiran Portuguese, two small chains of islands hanging out in the Atlantic about 930 miles west of Lisbon. Since I can remember, summertime in my childhood meant walking down the street to the neighborhood church, standing in a long line, and getting a dozen super hot and sugared malassadas, or Portuguese dough boys. These face-sized doughy treats pull apart with the greatest of ease, one sugary, delicious bite after the other. You know you’ve had your fill when your fingertips are slightly burned and the outside of your mouth is covered in sugar crystals.

If your sweet tooth isn’t as strong as your need to savor some flavor, then it’s time to dig into some carne de espeto. Large, tender chunks of meat marinated in red wine, covered in seasoned salt, roasted over flame brickets on long skewers and served on a fresh Portuguese roll, papo secos. I suggest sharing this sandwich for the pure reason of being able to eat many other things throughout the day. June 7-9. Sacred Heart Church. 110 Taunton Ave., East Providence. 401-434-0326.

The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament 
Next on the list of food must-haves is caçoila, Portuguese pulled pork. After being marinated in red wine, paprika, garlic, crushed red pepper and more, this juicy, meaty sandwich, also served on papo secos, is not to be missed. I swear, the flavors come through more intensely and interestingly bite after bite. And again, bring your appetite; in fact, you may want to fast before the feast so that you have the stomach capacity to try everything that makes these feasts worth coming to. If you don’t like to eat different food, don’t bother coming. But, if you want to be berated by Portuguese women who are constantly telling you how thin you are and that you need more meat on your bones, then this is the place to go. You’d be surprised how hungry you become when many disapproving eyes are judging you for your bony appearance, no matter what you actually look like. If you are walking around without something in your hands, be prepared to have meat shoved in your face.

In fact, the only excuse for not walking around with some sort of meat product is if you otherwise have your hands full, of Madeira wine. How can I put this... drink the Madeira wine. If you do nothing else, drink the Madeira wine. They import this stuff in special barrels by direct relationship with the Madeiran government. This stuff is so potent and delicious that by the time that Portuguese woman fills your glass for the third (or is it the fourth) time, you may start believing that you are Portuguese. It is so pungently sweet and strong that it takes the edge off of any bad day, week or month. It also has the amazing ability to make you think that you need to eat more. Those ladies sure know what they are talking about. August 1-4. 50 Madeira Ave., New Bedford. 508-992-6911. 

Great Feast of the Holy Ghost of New England
Another staple of a Portuguese household is sweet bread, massa. Whether a sweet treat for breakfast or a snack in the afternoon, this is another must–try. A good time to try this is in Kennedy Park at the Great Feast of the Holy Ghost in Fall River after their “bodo de leite” parade where bread and milk is distributed to all of those who have come to participate in the festivities. The parade starts at the Portas de Cidade (Gates of the City) and continues through Columbia Street, down South Main Street to Kennedy Park (where the feast is held). This feast receives international visitors from Canada and Madeira by the busload. This breaking of bread is meant to honor and remember Portugal’s Queen Elizabeth who was known for her service to both God and the poor. August 22-26. Kennedy Park, Fall River.

Saint John of God Annual Feast
As you can tell, the theme is meat, wine, meat and more wine. Another must-have is the chouriço. I recommend getting a piece that is just slightly blackened, not that you will really have a choice in the matter. The reason is because this slightly fatty Portuguese sausage needs to be cooked thoroughly to soften the fat, and it gets a little crispy in the end. And while you are busy stuffing your face and drinking wine, the kids are going to need to be occupied. Luckily, you can bring them, bellies full of malassadas, to the game booths where they can work off their energy and win prizes. In classic feast fashion there will also be plenty of raffles, auction items and games for the whole family to enjoy. July 20-22. Saint John of God. 996 Brayton Ave., Somerset 508-678-5513.