Portuguese Food Guide
Are you planning to visit Portugal and want to know what to eat there? We have got you covered. Immerse yourself in this tasty read and discover Portuguese food with us as we lead you through its wonders and surprises, since that is something, that Portuguese gastronomy can certainly guarantee! Bom appetite in 1, 2, 3!
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Even though Portuguese cuisine is not as known around the world as other cuisines like Italian, Spanish and French and is very underrepresented outside Portugal, it has a gastronomic variety and very unique cuisine with a lot more to offer than most people might think.
Since the Portuguese gastronomy is based on regional produce and the freshness of local products, the cuisine varies from region to region, but what can be found almost everywhere across the country is fresh fish and shellfish. Due to the oceanic coastline of the country, Portuguese cuisine is dominated by seafood and a lot of different species of oceanic fishes, as well as a wide range of specialty seafood restaurants. However, meat is also a very important and common part of Portuguese cuisine, the geographical location of the land allows the farming of pigs and cows, whereas it has to be noted that Portuguese people pride themselves on using the entire animal and making sure nothing goes to waste, especially when it comes to pigs.
Next to that, and a lot of dishes with unexpected combinations of meat and shellfish, Portuguese gastronomy offers a large diversity of simple ingredients, yet greatly prepared and full of strong flavors. Furthermore, the cuisine includes hearty soups, homemade bread, olive oil, and a great variety of wines, cheeses, and desserts, of excellent quality. Indeed, Portuguese gastronomy is one of the most spectacular in the world.
As the oldest European country to define its borders, Portugal was highly influenced by different cultures and nations throughout its histories such as Celtic, Roman, and Moorish.
During medieval times the Portuguese diet was based on wheat, rye, cornbread, vegetables, fruits and grains, honey, olive oil, and wine. In certain regions fishing and haunting were also very common, however, only the richest were able to enjoy fish and hunted meat. Speaking of hunted meat, we should mention Tapada Nacional da Mafra, which used to serve as a hunting park for Portuguese monarchs from the 18th to the 20th century.
The 15th century was definitely a game-changer not only for Portugal but for the rest of the world since it represents the start of Portuguese discoveries. It was during this time that the Portuguese started defining trends in food. That was namely the early age of food globalization.
From Africa, they brought peanuts and coffee, from Asia rice, sugar cane, and tea, whereas potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and pineapples sailed to the Portuguese coast from the New World. Oh, and let’s not forget about the spices such as ginger, curry, saffron, paprika, and coriander. It was all introduced to Europe thanks to Portugal. This way Portuguese cuisine got a whole new taste, with many new aromas, and flavors.
But it wasn’t just the Portuguese who got richer in aroma and flavor, they too left a mark on the gastronomies of Brazil, India, Japan, etc.
Portuguese food is well known for ancient and unchanged traditions, including elaborate cooking and above all, the freshness of local products.
Primarily, the food is based on hearty peasant dishes and the Mediterranean diet, which is part of the identity of Portuguese gastronomy and is even classified as a World Heritage by UNESCO. This diet includes vegetables, fruit, good quality bread and largely unprocessed cereals, dried and fresh legumes (especially beans), dried fruits and nuts but also olive oil as the main source of fat, and fish at the expense of red meat. Furthermore, Portuguese people like to enjoy this food when they are in season and buy them at local shops or traditional markets, preparing it in such a way that its nutrients are preserved. From this traditional cooking, in which soups also constitute an integral part, stews, casseroles, and chowders are created. Other characteristics of the diet include the moderate consumption of dairy products, the use of herbs for seasoning instead of salt, the moderate consumption of wine (only with meals), the consumption of water as the main drink, and, needless to say, the importance of companionship, as Portuguese people like to be together with other people to share meals.
Next to this Mediterranean influence, the most traditional dishes that Portuguese cuisine has to offer to include a great variety of seafood, as the country has such a long Atlantic coastline. The reasons for this abundance and high quality of fish caught in Portuguese waters are based on the existence of favorable conditions of temperature, light, salinity, and oxygen, which itself influences the existence of a high number of plankton to feed lower food chain species. In addition to this, there is also the wisdom of fishermen, who, over generations, use techniques to catch fish that allow it to preserve its freshness and superior taste quality – even after caught – and have knowledge about how to prepare and cook fish in traditional ways. All of this contributed to Portuguese cuisine becoming internationally famous for its seafood, as well as the establishment of numerous high-class restaurants all around the world, offering Portuguese fish.
Furthermore, concerning the eating habits of people living in Portugal, it can be said that breakfast, which is called Pequeno almoço (little lunch), is traditionally just coffee and either a pastry or a bread roll with butter, ham, and cheese or jam, as its name suggests. Lunch, however, is somewhat a big affair when it comes to Portuguese people, always being a social occasion and often lasting between one and two hours (at least). Similar to dinner, which usually takes place at late hours around 8-10 pm, there are three courses, often including soup as a starter.
Spices and herbs
When cooking, the Portuguese use a lot of spices and herbs such as salt, black pepper, cumin, paprika, Piri Piri (type of African hot chili pepper), oregano, cinnamon, saffron, bay leaves, mint, cilantro, parsley, and rosemary. Without these, there is no talk about food in Portugal.
Portuguese cuisine is absolutely unthinkable without garlic, onion, potatoes, beans, rice, tomatoes, wine, bread, and eggs for all the sweets, meat, seafood, especially codfish, cheese, and of course olive oil.
A petisco is a snack, generally a small version of a large plate. The idea behind it is to order more dishes than just one full-size dish, to be able to taste more delicacies of the cuisine, and to share it with other people. There even exists a verb for it, which underlines the importance of petiscos as part of Portuguese food culture: petiscar. It means eating and savoring these small dishes while having a good Portuguese beer or a glass of wine with friends. Just like the Spanish tapas, petiscos originated in the Iberian Peninsula, but while tapas are internationally known and can be found in bars and restaurants worldwide, a petisco bar – also called petisqueira – is part of Portugal’s gastronomy and as extraordinary as that, people have to visit the country to try out one.
Since the range of delicacies that Portugal’s cuisine has to offer is so wide, there are a variety of dishes to choose from and to try, depending on the region and the season of the year, starting with something as simple as azeitonas, olives, and pão, bread.
Gambas ao alho belongs to one of the main petiscos, which is fantastic for many situations. If you are thinking of a gathering of friends or family, as a starter or main course, garlic prawns will open up many possibilities. They are also among the most popular dishes in typical Portuguese Tasca, where in fact they are never missing from the menu. You can combine gambas ao alho with delicious, toasted bread, as a filling for an extraordinary pasta dish, or make a magnificent dish accompanied by fluffy rice. There are plenty of options to make the most of garlic prawns. At the same time, they are also easy to prepare at home: first, you have to remove the shells from the prawns and season them with salt. Place the olive oil, chopped garlic, and pepper in a pan and sauté. When the garlic starts to brown, add the prawns and cook until they are firm. When the prawns are almost cooked add the lemon juice, the wine, and the parsley. Leave to simmer for 1 minute and…voilà!
A very popular petisco is called pica-pau and can be translated to the woodpecker, getting its name from the fact it is usually eaten with toothpicks. It consists of small cuts of meat, which can be pork, beef, or a mix of both, and which have been marinated in garlic, oil, chili, and mustard, whereas the gravy sauce is usually prepared beer-based. This dish can be served with Portuguese-style pickles, carrots, cauliflower, and black olives.
One of the very few Portuguese petiscos that is vegetarian is called peixinhos da horta and consists of battered and deep-fried green beans. The origin of the name is not known for sure, but it is believed that it derives from its resemblance to crispy small fried fish. Basically, it's tender green beans fried in a batter, but the preparation technique is actually called “tempura”, which most people only associate with Japanese cuisine. However, it is believed that Portuguese people are behind the invention and diffusion of this cooking technique, intending to preserve vegetables on Portuguese ships. It was in the 16th century that a Chinese ship with three Portuguese sailors on board was swept off course on its way to Macau and ended up on the Japanese island called Tanegashima. The three mysterious Portuguese sailors were Jesuit missionaries and the first Europeans to ever set foot on Japanese ground and they introduced tempura to Japan. Next to that, the term tempura comes from the Latin “tempora”, referring to a period of fasting imposed by the Catholic Church and being the origin of this very traditional recipe.
Although Portugal is not a big country, it has a wide variety of different cheeses and cured meats to offer, which is perfectly suited to be presented as petiscos on a board. These boards can include cheeses with cow, goat, or sheep mils or a mix of them, as well as a different selection of regional cured meats, whereas most of those are pork-based, for example, presunto, which is a type of cured Iberian ham and can come from different pigs, which also determines its price. The popular presunto ibérico gets its name not only from its place of origin, the Iberian Peninsula but also from a specific breed of pig, the black Iberian pig or Alentejo pig, that can be found in western and southwestern Spain, as well as southern and central Portugal. The thing that makes this ham so unique and pricey is the acorn-rich diet the pigs are doing, while they can roam around hilly fields of oak and cork trees, depending on where they are. Next to providing the pigs with a unique aromatic combination of sweetness, nuttiness, and earthiness, the oleic acid in the acorns guarantees the soft and melty fat of the ham.
Another very classic Portuguese petisco dish that can also serve as the main course is called moelas/moelinhas. Since Portuguese people don’t want anything to go to waste in their kitchens, this is a typical example of making the best out of parts of the chicken that otherwise wouldn’t be used. So basically, moelas are chicken gizzards cooked until tender, which are then served in a flavorful and usually spicy broth of sautéed garlic, onions, red wine, and tomatoes.
Choco Frito is another very traditional petisco consisting of fried cuttlefish, even though some people might think that it could have something to do with chocolate, due to its name. It is the most famous local culinary specialty of Setúbal, where almost every restaurant advertises it on its menus and even a museum exists, which specializes in the different ways of preparing and cooking cuttlefish. Before it had commercial value, it was the fishermen from there that used to bring the caught cuttlefish home or into bars, where they were fried and served, which is a tradition that grew and grew over time. Nowadays, the demand is so big that it even has to be imported from other places.
Most commonly, the cuttlefish is boiled with garlic and bay leaves, marinated in wine and lemon juice, then coated in seasoned, savory cornflour before being fried, the crispy batter making up for a chunky and crunchy outside. Typically, it is served alongside potato chips or fries, salad, and lemon wedges.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, a popular petisco that can be found on the menus of most seafood restaurants and that was a finalist in Portugal’s Sete Maravilhas da Gastronomia (Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy), consists of fresh steamed clams bathing in a delicious sauce that is prepared with olive oil, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, and very often dry white wine for even more flavor. Before the clams are served, lemon juice is drizzled. The interesting story, in this case, is how this dish got its name. As you might have probably concluded, amêijoas is a Portuguese word for clams, but what is Bulhão Pato, even better, who is Bulhão Pato? The first answer would probably be that this person is a famous chef, however, that isn’t true. Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato was a 19th-century poet, gastronomist, and epicurean, and overall, an important figure in the intellectual and artistic circles of that period. But what is his deal with these clams? Rumour has it that a chef wanted to thank him for mentioning his name in his book so he named the dish after the poet. Another theory is that, when hosting parties for the Portuguese elite, Bulhão Pato would often serve this magical specialty, one of many other Portuguese specialties.
Salgados are salty, savory, and deep-fried Portuguese snacks.
One of the most popular and known salgados is the pastel de bacalhau, which is a salted, oval-shaped croquet or cod fritter made up of codfish (bacalhau) and other ingredients like mashed potatoes, eggs, parsley, and onion. After they are fried in oil, they tend to be crisp on the outside and very smooth on the inside. This specialty originated in Minho, which is located in the north of Portugal, where the people call it codfish cake (bolinho de bacalhau) instead of pastry (pastel). Regarding the appearance of its recipe, it can be said that it happened a few years after the introduction of potatoes in Portugal, which was in the year 1798 when Queen Mary I encouraged the plantation of them in the Azores. It turned out that there were two other similar recipes: one that included cheese and another one where the preparation required the cooking of the codfish cake instead of the frying. In the following years, a standard recipe was introduced, where milk is used to connect the codfish with the potatoes, and the egg whites are whisked, before being fried in olive oil.
Rissóis (rissoles) are also very popular and common to be served as an appetizer or snack in cafés, at parties, at home, or at festivities in Portugal. They are a Portuguese version of a croquette – a breaded pastry in the shape of a half-moon – that can be filled with meat or shrimp, before being deep-fried. Most commonly, they are filled with shrimp (rissóis de camarão) or meat such as pork or beef (rissóis de carne), although there a many other variations, for example with tuna, octopus, vegetables, cod, duck, and spinach.
Enchido is a type of food that is prepared by filling animal guts with anything one wants.
Chouriço assado is a very popular type of enchido. It is a cured pork sausage that is either cooked or flame-grilled. Typically, it is brought in a special clay bowl – an assador de barro –, which has been soaked in high-proof alcohol (like aguardente) and then set on fire and cooked in front of the person who is going to eat it. As soon as it is crispy and hot inside and the flames have ceased, it is ready to eat, usually accompanied by bread or a nice Portuguese wine. This dish can also be served cold, but with this special preparation technique, it is for sure a traditional Portuguese culinary experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Scrambled eggs with a sausage called farinheira is a delicious starter or simply a great breakfast. Everyone knows how to prepare scrambled eggs, but farinheira gives this dish that special touch, which is why the Portuguese love it so much. This is a sausage, however, it doesn’t really taste like meat. It is a smoked sausage made from wheat flour, pork fat, and seasonings such as garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, and white wine.
You will find this sausage in many other traditional dishes such as cozido à Portuguesa but it can also be eaten on its own, roasted or fried but never raw since it contains flour which gives it a somewhat doughy texture. In terms of color, it is yellowish-brown.
Morcela is a another very typical Portuguese sausage. Its color is black because it is made from pork blood and fat, which also makes it extremely soft. It is also known as Portuguese Black Pudding or Blood Sausage. You can eat it on your own, but it is also highly likely to be found in a cozido. It is very healthy as it is full of iron. So put on your brave face and taste this delicious blood sausage!
Alheira is a type of sausage, but it is for sure not like any other sausage you have seen or eaten so far, it is a sausage that back in the day saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.
During the times of the Spanish inquisition in 1492, a lot of Jews were exiled to Portugal. For a while everything was alright, but after some time the king decided he wanted to marry an heiress of the Spanish throne, which made him follow the Spanish example, ordering either the expulsion or the conversion of the Jews to Catholicism. Some Jews converted but others, the so-called Marranos, which is a Spanish pejorative term for Jews and means pig, continued to practice their religion in secret and this well-known sausage played a crucial part in their disguise. Jews obviously don’t eat pork, which is what most of the sausages are usually made from, so they decided to play a little trick to fool the public by making their sausage, only this one didn’t include pork but other meats such as poultry, veal, duck, chicken, rabbit, quail and hunted meat, rolled into shape with bread to give it a nice texture. They would then dry and hang the sausages for everyone to see because it is something that Portuguese Christians would often do; this was one of their forms of disguise. Pretty smart move, because how could anyone ever know that there is no pork inside the sausage?
This traditional homemade sausage was born in the northeast of Portugal, in the regions of Trás-os-Montes and Beira Alta, and the most famous one, initially made from just chicken and bread, comes from a town called Mirandela. In the year 2011 alheira de Mirandela was declared one of the nation's 7 gastronomic wonders.
The name alheira actually comes from the Portuguese word for garlic (alho) and is used to refer to all sausages seasoned with this ingredient.
Present-day alheira is not necessarily kosher, since the Christians eventually adopted the recipe and can therefore include pork, as well as any other type of meat. There is even a vegetarian version of this sausage.
In case you would like to try the alheira with a sprinkle of sweetness, make sure to join our Portuguese Food Tour in Porto.
Olive oil is the essence of Portuguese cuisine. There is not one household in the country that does not possess at least one bottle of olive oil in its kitchen. It has been with the Portuguese throughout history, and it is present in almost every meal. It is unthinkable to prepare a dish without it, and the country is very famous for its high-quality olive oil. In fact, Portugal is nowadays the 4th largest producer of olive oil in Europe and 8th in the world.
The best-known and probably most consumed olive oil brands in Portugal are Azeite Galo and Azeite Oliveira da Serra. Other than these, it is highly necessary to mention brands that have already received and keep on receiving worldwide awards such as Herdade do Esporão, Monterosa, Secrets of Côa, Rosmaninho, Porça de Murça, Carm, etc. The regions with the highest olive oil production in Portugal are Alentejo and Trás-Os-Montes, however, there is also a big production in Ribatejo and Beira Interior.
In Portugal, despite what some people from other countries might think, bread is an integral part of Portuguese cuisine. In fact, the Portuguese love bread so much that every meal needs to be accompanied by a slice of bread, for which most locals buy fresh bread every day, for example at a typical Portuguese bakery called padaria. Usually, the day starts with a bread roll or toast, but bread is also often included in each major meal or even as a snack in between meals. Although there is some bread available and popular throughout the whole country, they are different from region to region, depending on ingredients, forms, colors, tastes, and textures.
One of the oldest varieties of bread from Portugal is a cornbread which comes from the North and is made from corn and wheat, but there are other variations as well. It is called broa de milho and is very compact, although its core is dense and soft. Usually, it accompanies soups like the popular Caldo Verde or Portuguese cold meats as well as traditional Portuguese dishes, for example, bacalhau com broa, which is codfish topped with crumbles of this bread. Next to that, it can also be simply enjoyed with butter or cheese or both.
Another iconic Portuguese bread is called pão alentejano, which comes from the Alentejo region, as the name suggests. It is characterized by a large and compact core, a thick crust, and a dense aromatic inside, whereas it is famous for its shape because it looks like there is a head that sits on top of the loaf. To be authentic, the wheat flour that is used should come from the Alentejo region, the yeast should be home-made and it should be cooked in a wood oven. Often, it is used for local Alentejo cooking, particularly for dishes like açorda (a bread-based soup), Migas (bread-based dumplings), and stews.
Another unique kind of bread
is called bolo do caco, which comes from the island of Madeira, but can still be found throughout other parts of the country as well. Its name comes from the hot clay-slate that it is cooked in, called caco. It is different from typical types of Portuguese bread since it has a round shape and is made from wheat flour and sweet potato, making it very soft and fluffy and giving it a slightly sweet taste. Usually, it is served with garlic butter, but it can also be used for sandwiches with typical fillings like ham or cheese or both, among many others.
One of the most typical Portuguese buns is called pão de Deus, which can be translated into the bread of God and which is traditionally eaten on All Saints’ Day. It is a round-shaped fluffy and sweet brioche roll with a topping made of grated coconut-based cream, which is prepared with sugar and eggs. It can be eaten just as it is and is perfect for breakfast or as a sweet snack, but it can also be eaten with savory foods such as ham, cheese, and other cold cuts, which is a very common thing in Portugal.
Bolo lêvedo is a gem that comes from the Azores islands. It is a mix between bread and cake, often referred to as a sweet muffin. You can find these all over the islands and in the whole country in general, however, the most famous Portuguese muffins come from Furnas, on São Miguel Island, which is the biggest out of nine volcanic islands. They are made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, milk, yeast, and water, and that’s it – a recipe that will take your taste buds to paradise. In terms of shape, they look like small balls, which are dusted with flour and cooked over low heat until they reach a golden-brown color. Once they are done, just spread some butter or jam, pair it up with a cup of coffee and your perfect Portuguese breakfast has been served. If you want a bigger meal, just put some steak between a sliced bolo lêvedo and all the hunger should be gone in a blink of an eye.
Even though many people aren’t familiar with this fact, Portugal is an absolute cheese paradise and has many variations to offer that come both from the mainland and the islands.
Here are some of the best Portuguese cheeses:
Queijo da Serra da Estrela
Queijo (cheese) da Serra da Estrela is for sure the most famous and oldest cheese from Portugal. It comes from the highest mountain in mainland Portugal, hence its name. It is a cured cheese made exclusively of Serra da Estrela or Churra Mondegueira breed of sheep that produce the milk used for this raw milk cheese which is then curdled with thistle flower. This cheese has a maturation period of at least 30 days which can be extended to 120 days. The cheese is very soft and buttery and needs to be scooped, which is why it is not possible to cut it into slices unless you have the hard version in front of you (Queijo da Serra da Estrela Velho). Whichever version you end up trying, the taste will be unforgettable. In fact, Serra da Estrela cheese has been granted PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status by the European Union, just like many others on this list.
Queijo de Azeitão
This PDO cheese is pretty similar to the Serra da Estrela one. The only difference is the breed of sheep and the type of soil. It has a cylindrical shape, thin and yellowish rind, that too can be eaten. Once again, the cheese is made from raw sheep milk, and the curing time lasts about 20 days until it reaches a semi-hard yet buttery consistency. It also isn’t supposed to be cut. It is produced in the district of Setúbal.
Queijo de São Jorge
The production of this cheese began 500 years ago on the island of São Jorge in the Azores archipelago. It is made from cow’s milk, it is generally hard but can be semi-soft, slightly spicy, and has a yellowish color. Its maturation period lasts around 60 days.
Queijo de Cabra Transmontano
As the name reveals, this cheese comes from the mountainous region Trás-Os-Montes and can only be made from the raw milk of the Serra breed of goats. It can be semi-hard (maturation lasts between 60 and 90 days) or hard (maturation can last between 90 days and 2 years). Its aroma and more or less spicy taste will of course depend on the duration of maturation. It is commonly rubbed with olive oil or paprika, which can sometimes give it a reddish rind.
Other cheeses to try in Portugal are: Queijo de Évora, Queijo de Nisa, Queijo do Rabaçal, Queijo de Serpa, Queijo de Castelo Branco, Queijo do Pico, and many more.
There are so many different textures, flavors, and varieties to taste. If you are a cheese lover, this country will definitely not disappoint you as it possesses some of the best cheeses in the world even though many people unfortunately aren’t familiar with this fact. Goat, sheep, cow…you will find all kinds of cheese in Portugal. They are hardly marketed outside Portugal to maintain loyalty to traditional production methods and let us tell you, as cheesy as it may sound, Portugal is genuinely cheesing its way to the top.
As we have already previously explained, beans are a very common ingredient in Portuguese cuisine and the best example of it is Feijoada.
When people hear feijoada, they always think of Brazil first, since it is one of the country's national dishes, but the truth is that feijoada actually first appeared in Portugal and made its way to Brazil only later.
The original, Portuguese version has origins in the north of Portugal, but it is nowadays eaten all over the country.
Feijoada is a stew composed of white or red beans and pork, but it can also include beef and sausages like morcela (blood sausage), farinheira, or chouriço.
Obviously, there are many different versions of this delicious bean stew and we will mention the two most popular variations: feijoada à transmontana and feijoada de mariscos.
As the name suggests, feijoada à transmontana comes from Trás-os-Montes, northern Portugal and it is traditionally eaten on Domingo Gordo, which is the Sunday before Carnival. It is made from red beans, various parts of the pig such as the ear, foot, snout, belly, etc., and accompanied by white rice.
If you thought this bean stew only works well with meat, think twice because feijoada de mariscos includes white beans and seafood like fish, shrimp, mussels, and sometimes even shellfish, and it is mostly eaten on the coast.
Soups and Broths
This soup is not only delicious and healthy, but also simple and cheap, and one of the most traditional recipes of Portuguese cuisine. It was even awarded the title of one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal’s Gastronomy since it is made and loved across the country. This was a hand-picked list of Portuguese dishes chosen to represent the heritage, history as well as traditional food production in Portugal.
Literally, Caldo Verde means “green broth”, but it is so much more than that. All over the country, depending on the region, there are variations concerning the recipe, but the main ingredient is called couve galega, which is a typical vegetable in Portugal and which gets cut into thin pieces to leave its flavor. Other typical ingredients include a combination of potatoes, olive oil, onions, and garlic, whereas the soup is served with a boiled and sliced chouriço sausage, which is the traditional way, but other types of Verde meat can also be used. Next to that, it is usually accompanied by broa de milho, which is a Portuguese corn bread with a round shape and a hard and crunchy crust.
Originally, Caldo Verde comes from the northern Minho region of Portugal, where people have been eating it for centuries. It can be served for almost any occasion, no matter if it’s a festivity of any kind, a starter in a restaurant of any class, or just a simple and comforting meal at home.
Sopa de Pedra
Stone sou is a literal translation of this dish. Legend says that there was a traveling monk who came to the town of Almeirim and asked the locals for help since he was very poor. Ignored by the villagers who lived in poverty themselves, he picked up a stone, filled the pot with water, and started “cooking”. The villagers were very curious and would often ask what the monk was making and each time he would say that he was indeed preparing a stone soup. However, he was clever and while answering whether the soup was good or not, he would always say something like this: “Yes, but to get the real flavor, a nice homemade chouriço would come in handy” and this way each of the villagers stopping by would bring something to get that supposedly real flavor, flavorcluded beans, potatoes, garlic, onions, pork cuts, sausages like chouriço and morcela etc. In the end, the monk took out the stone and invited all the villagers to join him for lunch. And that is how the stone soup, that the Portuguese still enjoy preparing today, was created.
Canja de Galinha
Canja de galinha or simply canja is a popular Portuguese chicken soup that dates to the 16th century. The soup is very light and is often cooked for the sick but can also be found at weddings and similar festivities, basically it is eaten all year round. To prepare it, the Portuguese put water, the whole chicken, and onions into a large pot. Afterward, rice or orzo pasta is added to the chicken broth and sometimes vegetables such as carrots or celery and once it is done, they often squeeze a bit of lemon juice to give it a nice additional touch and that’s it. A nice and healthy soup is ready to fill your stomach and chase away the cold.
Açorda is a very simple and easy and therefore extremely popular Portuguese soup, rich in varieties throughout the country. If you take a quick look at the etymology of the word “açorda”, you will notice that it is linked to the Arabic language and actually afterward means “to break the bread”, which leads to a conclusion that this is a bread soup. Bread is cut into small pieces, over which boiling water, together with olive oil, garlic, and a
variety of herbs is poured to soften the bread.
Even though it was originally created as a dish for the poor, nowadays everyone adores this soup and almost every region has its own version. Three of the most popular açordas are açorda alentejana which comes with a poached egg on top, açorda de camarão (shrimp), and açorda de mariscos, which is seafood-based.
Sopa de Castanhas
This is a soup made from a popular Portuguese street snack, and as you can certainly already guess, it is prepared with unpeeled boiled or roasted chestnuts. The chestnuts are cooked in water or broth together with carrots, celery, garlic, onions, olive oil, and butter.
Sopa Rica do Mar
If you like seafood, this is a soup for you. Listen to this: wheat flour, mussels, shrimps, clams, onion, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, white wine, salt and pepper, and maybe a touch of Piri Piri. Sounds amazing, right? All seafood lovers, go and order your fantastic Portuguese seafood soup right now. If you want a try the best one, head straight to the wonderful town of Ericeira, the surfing Capital of Europe. You are welcome!
Inhabitants of the Portuguese cold ocean waters
Ever wondered which creatures live on the Portuguese coast? If yes, take a look at the list of inhabitants that pay rent in the Portuguese piece of the Atlantic Ocean:
tuna, sardine, mackerel, Atlantic horse mackerel, European hake, clams, redfish, wreckfish, cuttlefish, conger eel, sea bream, guilt-head bream, red sea bream, croaker, swordfish, flounder, squid, mussel, lobster, prawn, crab, oyster, black scabbardfish, Peter’s fish, sea bass, octopus, red mullet, spider crab, brown crab, monkfish and so forth.
But do you notice something odd on this list? There is no cod, no codfish at all. Wondering why? Check out our article about Codfish in Portugal and find out why there is no cod on this list, and the Portuguese eat it more than any other fish.
Seafood & Fish
Octopus is well appreciated in the traditional Portuguese cuisine and is a quintessentially Portuguese seafood dish, that can be prepared in many different ways. The most typical and worshiped recipe is the so-called Polvo á lagareiro, which appeared in the Beiras region, between Douro River and Tejo River, which is where the oldest cities and villages were founded, even before the official consolidation of the Portuguese nation. The original versions of this dish go back many centuries and include the octopus being desalted, breaded with leftover bread, fried in olive oil, and then taken directly from the mill and eaten with raw or roasted garlic. Next to that, the main ingredients are boiled potatoes and onions, but the important part of the recipe is the octopus being dipped into olive oil, where it gets its name à lagareiro from. This originated in processes at olive oil mills (lagar), where Portuguese people used to crush the olives by hand and turn them into a paste to pass through big presses to extract the olive oil, which is a very delicate procedure, requiring agility and the maximum attention of those who work on it.
Nowadays, a small fishing village called Santa Luzia in the South of Portugal is often called “the Capital of Octopus”, since people there have been practicing the old-fashioned octopus fishing technique for generations. Using this environment-friendly technique, fishermen lay clay pots called Alcatruz in the water, where the octopi cuddle to sleep and get caught when the pots are removed from the water.
Another very hearty and traditional dish that is devoted to the octopus is called Arroz de Polvo, consisting of cooked diced octopus and rice, incorporated into a rich base of tomatoes, sautéed onions, garlic, and various spices. Usually, it is prepared in a particular style called malandrinho, which means that the rice is supposed to be solto (loose), so that not all of the liquid is absorbed by the rice and it resembles more of a thick rice stew, whereas the flavor of the rice comes from the water the octopus has been cooked in and the water it releases during that time, giving the rice a meaty flavor and a slightly pink color.
In the end, it can be served garnished with fresh parsley or cilantro, but the actual recipes can vary depending on the restaurant and region.
Another dish that includes the beloved octopus and which is typically a petisco or even a couvert, particularly at seafood specialized restaurants, is called Salada de Polvo. This is a recipe that is very delicious and still easy to prepare, since it includes tender-boiled octopus cut into small pieces and accompanied by fresh vegetables, such as onion and peppers. The salad then swims in an abundant tangy marinade seasoned with onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, vinegar, and, olive oil.
This fish, called sea bream, is on the menu of almost every restaurant in Portugal and is considered one of the tastiest of all fish worldwide since it has a really clean taste, a delicate flavor, and a satisfying meaty texture. The possibilities of preparing this fish with its juicy white flesh are endless, since it always makes a delicious dish, no matter if it is cooked on a barbecue, grilled, or baked, but the most typical way of serving this fish in Portuguese restaurants is grilled: dourada grelhada. Then it can be served with a salad, baked potatoes or boiled vegetables.
This is one of the most traditional Portuguese dishes originating in Portugal’s Algarve region, something that people can find on almost every menu of the local restaurants, whereas the ingredients vary depending on the region and the restaurant. The name cataplana stands for both the dish and the pot that it is cooked in, which is a pan with two rounded sides connected by a hinge that opens and closes like a clam, allowing hermetic cooking of the dishes, making the cataplana a truly ancient primitive pressure cooker. Although its origin of it is little known, it is believed that it is connected to Moorish influences, since there is a very ancient utensil from North Africa, whose cooking processes are similar to the one of the cataplana and it was first introduced to Portugal during the period of Arab dominance in the region. To this day, cataplanas are made in the Algarve region by artisans who are masters in the art of working with copper, for which this region was once known.
In general, there is no end to the number of dishes you can make in a cataplana – it can be either seafood packed with both fish and seafood, or a pork and clam version. To enjoy it at its best, it should be eaten straight from the pot with warm crusty bread.
Arroz de Marisco
This delicious and traditional Portuguese dish is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal’s Gastronomy, a special contest held in 2011 with a hand-picked list of Portuguese dishes chosen to represent the heritage, history as well as traditional Portuguese food production. The region it originated in is the coastal area of Leira, even though nowadays, this dish can be found across the country, the combination of ingredients varies from region to region, depending on the income, availability, and price of shellfish.
As the name implies, it consists of rice and various seafood ingredients, such as prawns, mussels, squid, or clams, and is usually seasoned with fresh herbs and white wine and accompanied by vegetables such as peas or tomatoes. The key to making this dish special and enjoyable lies in having the rice cooked for a sticky, moist texture amid a fish stew.
Caldeirada da peixe
The Caldeirada stew is a specialty of Póvoa de Varzim in Portugal. The dish is basically a fish stew that can include any kind of fish, depending on the region, however conger, grouper and monkfish stand out. Apart from that, the dish includes potatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, tomatoes, white wine, salt, and coriander.
Sardines are another very famous Portuguese dish, especially in Lisbon and especially in June. Why June? Because June is the month of the Festas dos Santos Populares (Feast Days of the Popular Saints). The most important day is the 12th of June, which is the day of Lisbon’s patron saint – Saint Anthony. People mostly know him as Saint Anthony of Padua, however, his origins are Portuguese, he was, in fact, a member of a noble Lisbon family in the 12th century.
Now, what is the connection between Saint Anthony and sardines? Legend says that during one of his expeditions in Rimini, Italy, he was having trouble converting the people since they ignored him, so he decided to preach to the fish instead. Apparently, the sardines came to the sea edge and listened to his sermon, which he took as a sign of God. Another reason why the sardines are so important in Lisbon is that they are associated with the poor. Since he was a Franciscan friar, he took the vow of poverty.
It is because of all of these reasons that June is full of Sardine Festivities, but you will be able to eat them during other months as well. After being grilled on charcoal, salty sardines are usually placed in a small bun. Other than that, you can find them served with the famous roasted peppers salad, boiled potatoes, and bread. The most traditional type of bread is cornbread.
Should you be interested in learning more about traditional food in Lisbon, we invite you to join our Portuguese Food Tour in Lisbon to try it all out and don’t forget to book your spot. Incredible Lisbon restaurants are waiting for you.
Lulas, Calamari, Squid…
call it however you want, the Portuguese absolutely love their squids. And there are so many ways to prepare them in Portugal.
There is even a stew made from squids, also known as caldeirada de lulas (Portuguese Squid Stew). This hearty and traditional dish is a combination of fresh squid and rich tomato sauce.
If you are into fried squids, you must try lulas fritas à algarvia. This delicious squid recipe comes from the Algarve region and includes olive oil, bay leaves, pepper, garlic, white wine, and a bit of water. It matches well with boiled potatoes.
Camarão de Vinha D’Alhos
Camarão is a Portuguese word for shrimp. Vinha d’Alhos is a very popular cooking technique in Portugal and isn’t used to just cook shrimp or other seafood and fish, but meat as well. This marinade is in fact very simple – wine, garlic, salt, and other regional seasonings. It is a perfect marinade to enjoy Portuguese shrimps. It’s quick, it’s tasty, and it’s all you need on a hot summer day in Portugal.
This funny-looking seafood dish also known as Lucifer´s Fingers when translated to English literally means “Do you understand?”. Yes, you read it right, Portuguese has a dish called “Do you understand?”. Do you understand that?
The devilish nickname is understandable because percebes are actually goose barnacles, crustaceans that live attached to the hard surfaces of rocks, which is why it is extremely difficult to harvest them and why they are kind of pricey, but very delicious.
Regarding the preparation of this dish, that is quite easy –
they are boiled in salty water for a few seconds and that is it, sometimes a bay leaf is added. As far as eating is concerned, it is necessary to squeeze the bottom so that the flesh can pop out. Most people say that they taste like something between lobster and clams, while others argue that they taste like the ocean. So, it is up to you to decide. Fun fact: the shell also contains genitalia, so be careful in the sense not to swallow something you maybe wouldn’t want to.
Percebes, do you get the joke now?
Percebes are very common in the south of the country, especially in Vila do Bispo.
Lobster (lagosta) is a true gem among many Portuguese delicacies. The meat of Portuguese lobster is much sweeter than the meat of lobsters that live in the Mediterranean Sea because the Atlantic Ocean is way colder.
The best lobsters are to be found in Ericeira and Peniche. If you find yourself in Peniche, make sure to try Lagosta Suada à Moda do Peniche. The lobster needs to bathe in olive oil, parsley, white wine, and Port wine and be slowly cooked on low heat. Afterward, it is sprinkled with lemon juice and a tiny bit of Piri Piri.
If you like lobster soup, then go for sopa de lagosta do Peniche. And while you are at it, you might as well stop by Estremadura to try açorda de lagosta.
This is a very cool dish. Anyone up for some crabs? YES! You will absolutely love this, imagine a crab with its claws and legs steamed and the inside of the crab filled with a delicious creamy sauce made from shallot, egg, capers, paprika, beer, mayonnaise, and mustard. Crab meat and that sauce is just something else. And there you have it, your charming Portuguese stuffed crab!
Meat and Portuguese pork love affair
Cozido à Portuguesa
Cozido à Portuguesa is a dish that many people in Portugal would consider a national dish and a part of Portuguese heritage. It could be translated as a Portuguese Stew since it is a traditional boiled meal. The origins of this meal are in the Beira region, however, today, every region has its own version and interpretation of the dish. The recipe is pretty much the same, but the ingredients are sometimes different (for example, different types of meat are used, etc.).
The dish is cooked in an abundant amount of water and is made up of different meats and vegetables. The most common version of cozido includes beef shin, pork, offal, sometimes bits of chicken, sausages like chouriço, farinheira, moura, and different types of vegetables like carrots, kale, cabbage, potatoes, beans, turnip, as well as rice. All of this needs to be cooked slowly to get that perfect taste. And of course, they usually garnish it with olive oil. The dish itself is very heavy, which makes it ideal for winter and is also one of the best comfort foods.
Another thing the Portuguese really enjoy is the cozido soup which is basically made from all the sauces of the meats used to prepare the cozido and comes served with bread, rice or pasta, as well as beans.
All in all, Cozido à Portuguesa is a true family meal!
Cozido das Furnas
Now, this is a special type of cozido, this is not just any kind. Are you up for an underground cooked delicacy? You know, just your everyday volcanic meal, nothing special. Here is the deal: a large pot full of chicken, beef, pig ears, sausages such as chouriço and morcela, ham, pork belly, ribs, and some vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, is placed in an underground hole, buried under hot volcanic soil and is left to slowly cook by the steam from the hot springs for around 5 hours. Once it is all perfectly cooked you can enjoy your volcanic meal – cozido das Furnas. Probably wondering where this wonder is happening. Well, in case you want to see the real deal, go to the magical island of São Miguel (Azores) and stop your car in Furnas Valley. Have fun and take it all in as this is a meal you will quite definitely never forget. In fact, a lot of these underground wholes are actually owned by locals and a lot of restaurants. This island is full of surprises, and cozido das Furnas is just one of many. Already booked a ticket to enjoy this volcanic meal? That’s the way!
Cabrito is goatling and it is to be found on the table mostly during Easter time. In the past, it was a secret ritual to please the goats. Cabrito assado is eaten all over the country, however, the biggest fans live in the region of Minho. If you want to enjoy a delicious goatling, the meat must be marinated overnight in a mixture of wine, olive oil, garlic, and all kinds of spices and herbs. Then it needs to be slowly cooked, preferably in a wooden oven. It is traditionally served with potatoes, but rice is quite common as a side dish as well.
Tripas à Moda do Porto
This is a dish that represents the city of Porto and its people in the best possible way. Okay, the name of the dish might not sound that appealing, but it shows their bravery, sacrifice, and devotion. Literal translation of this dish is Porto-style guts and let us tell you these people have some serious guts. They are not messing around. To be able to understand the history and importance of this dish, we need to go back in time, namely to the age of Portuguese discoveries.
The year is 1415, Prince Henry the Navigator commends the expedition of conquering Ceuta. The ships are about to set sail from Porto, and its inhabitants decide to help the brave sailors by giving them all of their good and fresh meat so that they wouldn’t be hungry during this exhausting journey. The people of Porto were well aware that this selfless gesture would leave them only with leftovers – guts or tripes, whichever name you might prefer. However, they were very creative and invented a dish that accompanied them during the dark times.
They cooked tripe and fat meat, accompanied by thick slices of dark bread, and that was their meal. The dish has obviously changed a bit over time and although there are many different variations, the dish typically consists of veal’s and pig’s feet, chicken, smoked ham, chouriço, white beans, carrot, lard, bay leaf, garlic, onion, cumin, clove, paprika, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
This is yet another finalist of 7 Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy and for a very good reason. In fact, it is thanks to this very delicacy that the people of Porto got their nickname – Tripeiros, or translated animal gutters. Not only do they have the guts, but they eat them as well, or do they maybe have the guts because they eat them? I guess you will never know unless you taste it. Go ahead, and taste what it is like to be a true Tripeiro.
Arroz de Pato
This signature rice dish, which consists of duck meat and rice as the name indicates, is a very typical Portuguese recipe that originated in the north of Portugal, in Braga. It is not only appreciated in Portugal, but it also became popular abroad around the middle of the 20th century, especially in Brazil, where some people call it “Arroz à Portuguesa” or “Arroz de Braga”.
Generally, it is a simple dish with only three main ingredients, but the preparation of it is the part that requires care. Primarily, the whole duck alongside either smoked meat or sausages like chouriço is cooked in a seasoned broth with onion, carrot, garlic, and bay leaves. Once the rice is cooked in the same broth and the liquid is almost all absorbed, the shredded duck meat and the chopped sausage are placed in a clay pot and stirred into the rice. Before baking this mixture, it is usually topped with sliced sausages or pieces of smoked meat and additional spices or herbs can be added as well. In Portugal, the main variations of this dish include different types of wine (red or white) and rice (medium-grained or long-grained rice).
Frango Assado com Piri Piri
This is an outstanding traditional Portuguese chicken dish and one of Portugal’s favorite choices for fast food. Usually, it is made with a whole butterflied chicken that can be marinated in a combination of olive oil and seasonings and accompanied by homemade fries and pillows of rice. After it is either roasted or grilled, it is served with a Piri Piri sauce, which is a mixture of dry or fresh chili peppers and oil, along with other optional ingredients.
Since this dish is closely connected to an African dish known as Piri Piri chicken, it is believed that during the Age of Discoveries, Portuguese explorers discovered several new spices and regional ingredients while they were traveling through coastal Africa. One of the things they brought back included the crushed chili pepper called Piri Piri (also called “African devil”), which is used to make a spicy sauce, nowadays being part of many recipes in Portuguese gastronomy.
This is a very traditional Portuguese dish originating in the Beira region, gets its name from being cooked in wood-burning ovens in the oil mills, while the olives were milled. It is a simple and quick dish that can be found all over the country. It consists of a lean fried or grilled steak or pork and is usually accompanied by fries, rice, various salads, and then topped with a crispy fried egg. The sauce to complement this dish has several variations and styles, commonly being a tomato or custard sauce and including ingredients like bay leaf, garlic, and white wine. There also exists a sandwich variety of this dish, called prego.
THE PORTUGUESE PORK LOVE AFFAIR aka THE PORKuguese LOVE AFFAIR aka THE PortPORK LOVE AFFAIR
Boy, do the Portuguese love pork meat. They eat it in many different ways and no part of a pig goes to waste. A-a, one could easily say that that is absolutely forbidden in Portugal. For the love of pork, there is even a Pork Museum in Portugal. Need we say more? Probably not.
But why do they eat it so much? Quite simple – pigs are easy to maintain, there is a lot of them, pork meat is affordable and above all extremely delicious.
Now, remember when we said that no part of the pig goes to waste? Well, the Portuguese really are sticking to that motto to the point that it gets a bit bizarre for most tastes. They will even eat pork testicles. No, you did not misread it, they truly eat pork testicles. How to recognize them? If you order túbaros from the restaurant menu, you are about to be served pork testicles. The testicles are particularly popular in Algarve, Alentejo, and Ribatejo. They are marinated in vinegar and cold water and fried with leaves, garlic, sweet pepper, and Piri Piri.
Carne de Porco à Alentejana
The black Iberian pig is a very special breed of pig, also known as raça alentejana because it can only be found in the Alentejo region of Portugal, where it is on a so-called diet of the acorn, roaming freely over the countryside and eating the acorns of holm oaks and seeds of cork oaks that are native to the region. The acorns are the secret to the extraordinary taste of these pigs, giving the meat a somewhat nutty and earthy flavor and a soft and melty fat content that is a bit healthier than that of other pork. These free-range pigs are called Porco preto and can be found as the star of several dishes, the most typical and famous of Portuguese cuisine being Carne de Porco à alentejana, whereas the name was chosen to make it clear from which region the pork originates. The key to this dish is in the slow cooking, where the pork is marinated and then fried and served mixed with already cooked clams, paprika, bay leaves, and wine and garlic, among other possible seasonings. In the end, it can be garnished with fresh coriander and lemon and accompanied by potatoes.
Secretos de Porco Preto
The best-kept secret of the Black Iberian pigs are secretos (secrets) themselves. Secretos are by far the best part of this pork meat, they are hidden near the belly, or else this part of pork meat is hidden among other layers of bacon or belly fat, and it is also known as butchers secret since it is quite hard to find.
In terms of preparation, secretos do Porco Preto is seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon, garlic, and white wine. Then they are quickly grilled in their own fat on high heat. Once the surface gets crispy and the interior fat melts and makes the meat moist, you know that all of these secrets are ready to be revealed to your curious taste buds. Other than grilling, you can also fry them. Black Iberian pigs eat a lot of acorns among other things. This kind of diet makes the fat of their meat very soft, which is why the fat melts once the meat is grilled. The flavor is very different and much better when compared to regular pork meat. But, shuh, don’t tell anyone, let this be our little secret!
Leitão Assado da Bairrada
This dish, featuring roasted suckling piglets, is one of the best-known regional dishes in Portugal and one of the country’s most praised gastronomic delicacies. It originates in the Bairrada region, where several cities are part of the traditional method of preparing this, employing thousands of people. Once consumed on special or celebratory occasions by locals, there are countless restaurants dedicated to it today, also attracting lots of tourists and visitors that want to taste this very traditional dish.
It is known that Romans already appreciated piglets and the oldest known document that refers to a recipe that is almost like the current dish is from a convent record from 1743, but due to the lack of documentation, the actual origin is not certain. However, it can be said that since the 17th century, more pigs were raised in the lands of the Bairrada region, which lead to the extensive commercialization of leitão. These pigs are considered the best in Portugal. Next to that, the pigs used for this dish are suckling piglets, still in the first weeks of life and still feeding on their mother’s milk, which means that their flesh is rich in collagen and has yet to develop strong, robust muscle fibers and that the meat is incomparably moist, tender and delicate.
To become leitão da Bairrada, the piglets are basted in a sauce with garlic, white pepper, salt, bay leaves, and big fat and then slowly roasted in a wood oven, whereas the point of the basting is to ensure a moist and smoky tender meat and at the same time a paper-thin crispy skin. In general, cooking isn’t difficult, but many things can go wrong, for example, undercooking or scorching the piglet. After that, the meat is cut into perfect bite-size squares and usually served with slices of orange for each bite, potatoes, and a green salad, but traditionally, to preserve its original taste, it should not have many side dishes that could alter its flavor.
Leitão à Negrais
Negrais is a small town near Sintra and it is also popular for its way of preparing a suckling pig. In the style of Negrais, the piglet is traditionally cooked over a grill and is way spicier than leitão à Bairrada.
Sandes de pernil
This is a very simple sandwich that consists of shredded pieces of roasted pork haunch which are placed on a crusty bread roll. It is usually enjoyed plain because the pork juice is already absolutely heavenly, but it can sometimes be found with mustard, caramelized onion, or cheese.