After the Spanish Inquisition spread to Portugal in the 16th century, Jews had to tread very carefully. In an era when interrogators persecuted anyone who did not practice Christianity, openly demonstrating Judaism was a way to get exiled from the country or, worse, burnt at the stake in Lisbon’s Rossio Square.
Practicing in secret was also a dangerous game. Informants were everywhere and reported an overheard Hebrew prayer or, equally incriminating, a lack of hanging sausages. So residents of Mirandela devised a clever way to allow Jews to maintain a kosher diet while also appearing to eat pork. Enter alheira, a poultry-and-bread-based sausage that looked just like the porcine variety. Jews were able to display and eat alheira, which sometimes featured game like veal or venison, without compromising their beliefs. The sneaky sausage likely saved hundreds of lives.
Today, alheira also comes in non-kosher varieties. Portuguese diners of all faiths enjoy the garlicky sausage boiled or fried alongside a runny egg, french fries, or white rice. The nation so loves its life-saving sausage that voters declared alheira one of Portugal’s “seven gastronomic wonders” in 2011.
Need to Know
Alheira is available in its birthplace Mirandela, but also in the larger Portuguese regions of Beira Alta and Trás-os-Montes.