Portugal enjoys some of the most pleasant climates in Europe, with its moderate weather, valleys protected from harsh winds and an abundance of fish both on the ocean coast and inland. The natural abundance of the land made Portugal a target for many invading nations. During the Moorish occupation in the 8th century agriculture develop considerably. Irrigation techniques were successfully used on wineries and olive cultures and the bounty of the land was exploited in a rational and effective way. In 1498, Vasco da Gama discovered the maritime route leading to the trade of spices from the Asian continent. Spices and herbs such as pepper, ginger, curry, saffron and paprika were introduced by Portuguese traders and explorers into Europe, and, of course, such spices became an important part of the Portuguese cuisine. The Portuguese also brought rice and tea from the Orient and coffee from Africa, together with different plants from the New World, such as peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Portugal’s cuisine was and still is greatly influenced by the neighboring ocean. The most popular soup in Portugal is the "caldo verde", and dried codfish, "bacalhau” is a common meal for the Portuguese. Other fish such as the red mullet ("salmonete"), the swordfish ("peixe espada") and the conger eel ("eiroz") find their special place in delicious Portuguese dishes, together with the all popular sardines.
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