Portuguese cuisine varies by region, although foods such as fresh fish and shellfish are found across the country. The country’s national dish is ‘bacalhau’, which is dried and salted cod. The dish dates back to the early 16th century. When fishing boats reached Newfoundland, the sailors sundried their catch and salted it to preserve it for the long journey home. Portugal today has nearly 365 different methods of preparing bacalhau, apparently one for each day of the year.Also popular in Portuguese cuisine are grilled sardines and horse mackerel, which are commonly prepared in the coastal towns. These ingredients, along with other varieties of fish, are added to a stew known as ‘Caldeirada’. It’s no wonder that Portugal has so many specialty seafood restaurants. Another popular dish on the menu is ‘arroz de marisco’, a seafood rice dish consisting of crabs, oysters, shrimp and lobster. ‘Cozido à portuguesa is another national dish. It’s a rich stew of vegetables and different kinds of meat. Pork is a popular ingredient too, and is prepared and served in varied ways, such as roast suckling pig or ‘leitão assado’. It is especially common in the north of Portugal where another pork sausage or ‘chouriço’ is also commonly eaten.
Tripe with haricot beans is a commonly prepared dish in Porto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. The story behind this dish is that when Henry the Navigator sent forces to conquer Ceuta in Morocco, the inhabitants of Porto slaughtered all their livestock to give to the crew. They only kept the intestines for themselves, thus giving birth to this dish. The people of Porto came to be known as ‘tripeiros’ or tripe eaters since those times.
Breakfast in Portugal is usually just a bread roll and coffee, but lunch is a more elaborate affair and can continue for up to two hours. Dinner is served after 8pm and there are traditionally three courses plus soup. ‘Caldo verde’ is the most common soup and is made with shredded kale, potato and pieces of sausage. The traditional desserts of Portugal include flan, caramel custard and cinnamon-flavored rice pudding. Many traditional pastry recipes were created in the 18th century by nuns in order to supplement their earnings.
Some of these pastries have interesting names such as ‘papos de anjo’ or angel’s chests and ‘toucinho do céu’ or bacon from heaven. Portuguese bread is delicious and usually served at restaurants before a meal. To get you further acquainted with the delectable Portuguese cuisine, here are nine traditional dishes you really should try.
Cozido à Portuguesa
This is a traditional stew made with vegetables and meat. It utilizes almost all the meat provided by an animal, including pork, beef, chicken, blood sausages, smoked port parts and smoked sausages such as morcela, farinheira and chouriço. This is mainly a treat for meat lovers, although there are some vegetables, such as turnips, carrots, collard greens, potatoes and cabbage, added to the stew. Cozido à Portuguesa has its roots in the Beira, one of the six traditional provinces of Portugal, and is commonly served with olive oil and wine.
One of the most traditional Portuguese soups is Caldo Verde. It is a simple soup made with onions, potatoes, kale and garlic, cooked in olive oil. A comfort food made during the winter, the soup is served in a traditional clay pot. The soup is thickened by mashing some of the potatoes. Sometimes pureed potatoes made smooth by mixing in olive oil are also added. The age-old way to serve this simple but hearty meal is with a slice of smoked pork sausage or ‘linguica’ and cornbread.
Feijoada à transmontana
This is the most popular way of preparing Portuguese feijoada, which is a bean stew. All other feijoadas are based on this recipe. Originating in the northern parts of Portugal in the 14th century, it is a key dish in the gastronomy of the country. It is usually made in large amounts and combines a variety of local spices and flavors. In true Portuguese style, it is made wholesome with the addition of different meats. It utilizes the parts of the pig that are not usually used. This was because the dish was traditionally made at a time when the peasants couldn’t afford to waste any part of the animal.
There are a variety of meats in the stew and if you’re picky about what you eat, it’s best to ask before eating. Feijoada à transmontana may even include pig knuckles or ears. A feijoada is usually made with white beans, but red kidney beans are used in the Tras os montes region, from where this dish originates. The dish is often served with a Portuguese rice dish or with bread such as Pao Caseiro, a traditional home-style bread. The great thing about Feijoada à transmontana is that it’s one of those dishes that taste better the next day.
Bacalhau à bras
The Portuguese have several ways of preparing salted cod, one of which is the ‘bras style’, where the cod is shredded and sautéed along with onions and potatoes. The onions are cut into fine rings, while the potatoes are cut into matchstick-like pieces. The dish is completed with beaten eggs added to the pan, which form a sort of omelet. The dish is garnished with parsley and black olives and served hot. Bacalhau à bras is considered to be ideal comfort food in Portugal.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato
Named after a 19th century Lisbon poet called Bulhão Pato, this dish is a favorite in the country’s capital city of Lisbon. It is found in most traditional Portuguese restaurants, tascas. The Spanish also have a variation of the dish, which is called almejas a la marinera or clams cooked in fisherman style. Clams cooked in the Bulhão Pato way serve as an excellent snack and are often enjoyed along with cold beer. It is also a popular appetizer. The clams are cooked in olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and cilantro until they become tender. Another variation involves cooking the clams in white wine, butter and herbs. It is served along with bread, which helps to soak up all those delicious juices.
Rojões à Moda do Minho
The Portuguese love for pork is apparent in this dish as well. Rojões à Moda do Minho is made from pork loin cooked in lard and flavored with garlic and white wine. It is served with stewed potatoes. In some versions of this dish, roasted chestnuts are added. Rojões à Moda do Minho is most commonly served with ‘arroz de sarrabulho’, a rice dish that includes pork blood and bits of meat.
Bolinhos de bacalhau
Bolinhos de bacalhau literally means codfish cakes. The dish is called pastéis de bacalhau (codfish pastries) in central and southern Portugal, mainly in Lisbon and the Portuguese-speaking African countries. In the French Antilles, it is called accras de morue. The key ingredient in the dish is codfish, which is mixed with potatoes, onion, eggs and parsley. They are also sometimes referred to as salt cod fritters or salt cod croquettes. The bolhinos are deep fried after shaping them with two spoons, and served either hot or cold as an appetizer before meals, or sometimes as the meal itself with a serving of rice and salad. They taste best when they are golden and crunchy on the outside, and soft and tender on the inside.
A typical Portuguese dish, Açorda is made with thinly sliced bread, garlic, coriander, poached eggs, vinegar, olive oil, salt and water. It is most popular in the Alentejo region. The way to make Açorda Alentejana is to poach the eggs in salted water, while a coarse paste is made with the coriander, garlic, salt, olive oil and vinegar. This mixture is spread over bread and the eggs are placed on top of the bread as the water in which the eggs were poached is poured on the dish. This is then left to steam for a little while. A rustic meal, Açorda Alentejana may sometimes also include shrimp or codfish. It is not really a soup, and neither is it a stew, but a dish that is somewhere in between, and great comfort food.
Alheira de Mirandela
Alheira refers to a smoked sausage that gets its name from the Portuguese word for garlic ‘alho’. Unlike other Portuguese sausages, which primarily include pork, this one is filled with poultry such as chicken and turkey, and also game meat such as rabbit, venison, duck, pheasant and partridge. The sausage has a smokey, garlicky flavor. These days, Alheria is also made from codfish and vegetables. The typical recipe for Alheira consists of a base of pork and pork fat. Breadcrumbs, lard, olive oil, garlic, paprika and salt are added to the base, and it’s then smoked.
The most well-known Alheira comes from the city of Mirandela in the Tras os montes region. It is regarded as the traditional sausage of the region and the preparation must adhere to strict regulations as it is protected with the IGP certification (Product of Geographic Indication). This dish was once a pork-free food as it is believed to have been created by Jews. The most popular way of making Alheira de Mirandela today is by deep frying it and serving it with a fried egg on top, along with rice, French fries and a small salad.
No list of traditional Portuguese foods can be complete with a mention of local desserts. There are nearly two hundred types of Portuguese sweet treats. Many of these are rich egg-based custards, while some are made with chocolate or marzipan. These desserts are found across the country in cafés, bakeries and restaurants. Each town in Portugal has their specialty. One such sweet delight is Pastel de Nata or custard tarts. It is among the most popular desserts in the country and is basically an egg custard tart with filo dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon, and served freshly baked. You can find these in any bakery or café in Portugal.
Another dessert worth mentioning is the Bola de Berlim or Berliner, which is fried dough filled with an egg yolk cream and coated with sugar. A huge favorite during Christmas time is the Bolo Rei or king cake. This dessert is meant to resemble a king’s crown and is a round cake with a hole in the middle with decorations of crystallized dried fruit. It’s traditional to include a small prize embedded in the cake. The person who gets the piece of cake with the prize in it must either buy or make the cake the following Christmas. Leite Crème translates to creamy milk and is a simple dessert made with cream, eggs and roasted sugar. Countries such as Spain and England have their own version of it.
Beverages are another important component of Portuguese cuisine. There are many uniquely Portuguese drinks found across the country such as Ginjinha, a thick liqueur made from sour cherries. This sweet drink has been made for over 200 years in the central region of Portugal. It is sometimes served in a chocolate shot glass wherein it is the practice to drink the liqueur first and then eat the chocolate. Port was once only found in the city of Porto, as it is a local drink. It is also known as Port Wine and is wine mixed with other spirits such as brandy. You will find port in almost every home where it is served as an after dinner drink. A beverage that is popular during the summers is Vinho Verde or Green Wine. It is a sparkling wine that is served chilled. Despite the name, it is available in red and white varieties. The wine is consumed when young and that’s what gives it its name. Green wine is more affordable than the other wines. It makes a great accompaniment to a barbecue during the summer months.