"Pão e Vinho Sobre a Mesa": Portuguese Food Cultures, Migration and Mobility

In a transnational world, where people move across cultures with greater ease and frequency, the relationship between food, culture and translation comes to the fore; yet this relationship remains under researched (Desjardins et al 2015). Furthermore, there is a significant lacuna in the research available on the lived experiences and cultural practices of Portuguese migrants and their descendants in the Anglophone world. This project seeks to amass a corpus of cultural products and ethnographic data and to approach an analysis of food and food practices within the Portuguese-American communities of New Bedford and Fall River in the state of Massachusetts, USA. The project is a pilot study in which we will trial and evaluate innovative methodologies for the collection of ethnographic data, and commence a holistic study of Portuguese-American culture in this area, with a view to eventually expanding the field of study to include other Portuguese-American communities in North America, the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

When migrants leave their culture of origin, they take with them their food and language. As they adapt to new lives in the host culture, these markers of the culture and region of origin may undergo a process of “domestication”, becoming more palatable and easily digestible in the host culture; they may remain “foreignised”, resisting cultural assimilation and staking a claim to difference in the host culture (Cronin 2015; Venuti 1998). Portuguese cuisine, bearings the distinctive marks of the country’s importance as one of the earliest major powers in the global marketplace of the spice trade, holds centuries of history in its ingredients (Saramago 1993, 1997, 2000). Yet what of the more recent marks of mobility and cultural exchange in Portuguese food? This project will examine, test and establish working methods for the rigorous multidisciplinary cultural and ethnographic analysis of the relationship between food, culture and mobility in the Portuguese diaspora. It will focus on a deliberately closely limited geographical area as a pilot case study in order to evaluate fully and carefully the validity of the research questions and the methodological approach.

The project will explore the mobility of cultural practices and the construction of Portuguese identity through a detailed examination of food cultures and practices in the Portuguese-American communities of New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts, USA.

In an international political climate of increasing hostility to migrants and their cultures of origin (particularly in the Anglophone world), this project seeks to interrogate and reach a deeper understanding of the ways in which, through food cultures and practices, the Portuguese immigrant communities of New Bedford and Fall River may construct, maintain and/or modulate their cultural identities in the host culture. There is a lack of research on Portuguese-American food practices, yet we know anecdotally that significant changes have taken place with regards to what Portuguese-Americans cook and eat, and how they cook and eat it. We are also aware, through personal experience, that ingredients and recipes understood locally as “Portuguese” have entered the mainstream food cultures of this region. The project will therefore address the following research questions:


  1. How are Portuguese, Madeiran and Azorean cultural identities constructed, reflected, altered and/or maintained through food and food practices? How might we understand the intersections of ethnic identity with class, gender, and other marks of identity in relation to food cultures and practices in this community?
  2. What are the key ingredients and recipes that are associated with Portuguese-American identity in the New Bedford/Fall River area? What do such ingredients and recipes reveal about the culture of origin and about the host culture? What, if any, are the variations in perception of these ingredients and recipes by Portuguese-Americans and by other members of the local community?
  3. How do Portuguese-Americans working in the food industry remember, record, perform and re/produce their cultural identity as an active community? And as a commodity?
  4. To what extent has Portuguese/Azorean/Madeiran food culture entered and influenced the mainstream society in the New Bedford/Fall River area? What processes of “domestication” and “foreignisation” have recipes and ingredients undergone?

Do you have information you would like to share with us?

  • Perhaps you know of similar research/work that is being done in the US or elsewhere in the world;
  • You would like to help us build our bibliography of works related to our research;
  • Or you would just like to give us feedback on our project.

Please feel free to contact us in Portuguese or English

Rhian Atkin (Cardiff University)--project lead; atkinr@cardiff.ac.uk

Gloria de Sa (UMass Dartmouth)--co-investigator

Sonia Pacheco (UMass Dartmouth)--co-investigator



Information on the 'Food Cultures, Mobility and Migration' Conference