Confraria da Rabanada, A Brotherhood Dedicated to a Portuguese Dessert | Culinary Backstreets
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Wearing a light beige cape down to their feet with an R embroidered in golden threads on the left side of the chest (an outfit which would make even Harry Potter jealous!), a group of young adults hug each other, pose for photos, and take selfies with their smartphones. They are getting ready to step into the theater of the Ateneu do Porto, a room with rococo decor, dark red velvet curtains, and wood carved in adjoining designs painted in gold, which has hosted some of the most important national and world artists here in the second largest Portuguese city. By the clothes and the pomp of the event, one could predict that something important is happening.

It is not every day, after all, that a new confraria (brotherhood) emerges in Portugal. The country has a network of dozens of brotherhoods dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional recipes, foods and drinks from the different parts of its territory. That Saturday, over 30 confrades (members) of the newly born brotherhood were gathered in a ceremony for their initiation with the loyal mission to promote rabanadathe Portuguese version of the famous French toast.

More than a recipe, rabanada is a tradition that dates back decades, from north to south of the country. More common at Christmas, as a dessert for the night’s feast that brings families together, it has slowly taken over menus, becoming an option to finish meals in many restaurants. One of the main goals of the recently established Confraria da Rabanada is to promote the consumption of rabanadas all year long. “There shouldn’t be a special occasion to eat them. Rabanadas are for every day,” explains João Faria, the honorary president.

The idea of ​​brotherhood around the ubiquitous sweet arose when Faria, at the time a food critic for a local television channel, went to eat at chef Vasco Coelho Santos’s restaurant, Euskalduna Studio, and was impressed by his version of rabanada: very tender on the inside, crispy and golden on the outside. “It was perfection in the form of rabanada,” Faria recalls. “A straightforward recipe, so full of meaning for us Portuguese people, deserves to be more valued, just like Vasco did that night.”

There are many recipes for rabanada, but in general, it is a slice of bread (usually stale) bathed in eggs and milk, then toasted in a pan until beautifully golden outside. In the Portuguese version, it is a dose of Port wine that makes it unique and different from others, such as the French toast. Some add cinnamon sticks or lemon peel to their rabanada; others include honey. Historically, the dish was born from an effort to preserve and make use of leftover bread.

It was precisely to recognize the many variations of the recipe that Faria proposed to Coelho Santos the creation of the confraria. Brotherhoods tend to be involved in fundraising activities and work within their communities to preserve local heritage and build on it with new dishes and related creations. Over time, Faria and his friend, food photographer Tiago Lessa, developed the idea properly along with Coelho, invited other brothers and took care of the paperwork to make it real – in Portugal, a brotherhood is like a foundation and needs to be recognized by the government. But it is only really “born” when it is patronized by other confrarias, which recognize the new brotherhood.

That’s what happened that Saturday morning at the Ateneu do Porto. One of the sponsors, from the Confraria dos Sabores Poveiros (from Póvoa de Varzim, a town in Porto region), said he was impressed by the age of those present in the ceremony: “I think this is the brotherhood with the youngest members in Portugal,” he said. All in their thirties, the members of the Confraria da Rabanada stand out for their age – usually, the confrades are older men and women.

“I think it’s one of our differentiators. People think brotherhoods are something for retired gentlemen. We want to show that young people can also show appreciation for gastronomy and culinary tradition,” Faria explains. But in this brotherhood, they are not totally confined by tradition, either. In the Confraria da Rabanada statute, there is recognition of more updated versions of the recipe – a way of understanding that evolution in gastronomy is welcomed. “There are rabanada ice creams, and desserts created in a more deconstructed way. If that helps us get to more people, all innovation is appreciated.”

The group’s activities are also a bit more…let’s say, modern. In addition to attending dinners and events, members of the Confraria da Rabanada put together a guide to restaurants in Porto where diners can find rabanada all year round. “We created a website with addresses, reviews and prices. I also think we’re the only brotherhood in the country with an Instagram profile,” he laughs.

From the most popular tascas (with up to 60 years of history) to fine dining restaurants and coffee shops, there are now many places in the city where rabanada is part of the menu. This is in large thanks to the active participation of the members, who suggest to chefs and cooks that they prepare them more frequently and include them in their gastronomic offerings. “It is our role to make rabanada more present,” says the president.

Chef Coelho Santos, who is the vice president of the confraria, believes that the dessert has become such a strong tradition in Portugal due to the vital presence that bread has always had in Portuguese daily life. “We have a huge variety of loaves and we usually say that a good Portuguese table must always have bread. Rabanada emerged as a way of not letting it go to the trash bin and gained a permanent place in our meals,” he says.

For him, the regionalism and gastronomic traditions of the many local cultures helped. “It’s bread with ingredients typical of each region and recipes that are also very characteristic. It is a dessert that turns out to be cheap and very tasty. It’s accessible to everyone,” he says. Now enthroned and dressed up with their capes, up to 40 members of the Confraria have the mission of making this accessibility even more fruitful.

Where to eat rabanadas in Porto, according to the Confraria da Rabanada 

Antunes — Homestyle rabanada

A Cozinha do Manel — “Grandma” rabanada

Itaipú — Rabanada with Port wine syrup and black tea

Casa Ribeiro — Rabanada with cinnamon syrup

Semea By Euskalduna — Rabanada with Queijo da Serra (Portuguese sheep cheese) ice cream

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