Food is most definitely different in different countries, it is even sometimes different within a country. In any case food is a definite differentiator between cultures. And along those lines, food is quite different here in Portugal than from how it is in Sweden.
In Portugal, lunch is not rarely three course. And I’m not talking about a grand Michelin type restaurant experience either, but rather in any joint, school or even IKEA. Soup is a given, then it’s main course, then not seldom comes dessert.
As for beverage, water and juice are definitely the most seen, but neither wine nor beer is uncommon as an option. Not like excessive in any way, but still, in Sweden it would be for festive occasions only, and definitely not with a normal working lunch. In a country village restaurant here that I frequented a while ago, the wine was included in the lunch and the bottles were freely distributed across the tables. And the place was mainly frequented by manual workers who afterwards went straight out back to their fork lifts and heavy work.
The soup is not an uncommon thing in other southern European countries either, but the difference here is it is close to a hundred percent of the times a thick one and not the broth type of thing. It is referred to as a smart part of the meal in the way that children get at least some good nourishment no matter if they don’t eat anything else. I can’t help but wonder what came first, the observation that children weren’t eating and the thought that a solution was needed or the children not eating more because they’re full from starting up the meal with a rather heavy soup. That is however besides the point.
As for the main course, except for the protein ingredient like meat or fish, there seems to exist a habit of going for two carb products. Yes, you actually see people with a plate containing both rice and French fries. Not seldom either. The vegetable is nearly always a very boiled one and if a salad table exists it comes with an extra charge and only in places trying to be more “healthy”. In Sweden at least one “foody” salad is part of any lunch menu no matter the standard of the place, and a walking salad bar is available and included in the price in nearly all places. Except maybe if the place happens to be very fancy in which case a salad bowl is served to each table individually.
Lastly comes dessert. Sugar is a normal everyday ingredient in life that is not feared in Portuguese food culture. Rather, it is everywhere and on the verge of very difficult to avoid. And let me add the lunch dessert is kind of pointless too, at least today when we actually live in excess of food in western societies, we don’t need the sugar to keep us up, we have real, nutritious food to do that. Maybe I’m wrong, but after a meal of soup and main dish, for lunch, dessert, really?
In the end, food is culture and culture is good in the way that it unites and makes up the soul of a people, so it cannot really be that bad.
But still, it also works the other way around, culture becomes the guiding light for the younger generations. And considering how Portugals insulin and obesity rates are some of the highest in Europe, I can’t help but think how culture can sometimes be the container of bad habits.