To say that food is a big part of Portuguese life would be an understatement. The Portuguese love to eat, and they especially love to eat out.
Meals out are frequent and usually multi-course affairs that include the couvert, a main meal, a dessert, and a coffee. There’s wine as well, of course, and the whole thing often takes at least an hour for lunch and several hours for dinner. In between meals, there are often frequent trips to the café for cakes and savoury snacks.
The following are just a few of the different types of Portuguese food that you can expect to come across while you’re in Portugal for breakfast, lunch, dinner, lanche (a late afternoon snack), and everything in between.
If you like this blog post, be sure to check out some of the other foodie articles:
- The most popular cakes & pastries in Portugal
- A guide to Portuguese desserts
- Different types of coffee you’ll find in Portugal
- A guide to Portuguese breads
- Portuguese wine for beginners
- An introduction to petiscos (Portuguese tapas)
Breakfast in Portugal isn’t usually a grand affair. Even if someone goes to a café, a typical breakfast might be buttered toast (torrada com manteiga) or a cheese and ham sandwich, and a milky coffee like a meia de leite or a galão.
Orange juice or fruit is popular as well. Interestingly, as a rule, oranges are really only eaten in the morning and afternoon and not in the evening due to their acidity.
Breakfast could involve a cake or two either, which is absolutely what you should go for since you’re just visiting and it’s much more interesting than toast.
Portuguese cakes & pastries
Portugal has plenty of great cakes and pastries that are worth trying including the very well-known pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart), as well as cakes like bolo de arroz, guardanapos, queijadas, and pastéis de feijão.
The list of Portuguese cakes you should try is so long that it has its own post but, if you only have a couple of days in Portugal, here are a few that you should look out for.
Pastel de nata
The pastel de nata is Portugal’s most famous cake, and probably Portugal’s best cake as well. It originates from Lisbon, and was originally invented by monks at Jerónimos Monastery.
The monastery was using a lot of egg whites to starch the nun’s habits, and the monks wanted to put the leftover egg yolks to good use. After experimenting with different ways of using them, they began making pastéis de nata. The natas became popular both inside and outside of the monastery and, when the monastery needed to raise funds to prevent closure, they began selling them commercially. Eventually the monastery closed, and the monks sold the recipe to a sugar refinery whose owners then opened Pastéis de Belém.
Pastéis de Belém is still the most popular place to get a pastel de nata in Lisbon, but it isn’t the only good place. In recent years, a number of other bakeries have won the The annual melhor pastel de nata award and the topic of where makes the best natas has become more of a debate. The only way to really know is to try them all for yourself (see our list of the best places to get a pastel de nata in Lisbon).
That’s just Lisbon, of course. Porto has its own list of favourite bakeries, as does just about every town or city in Portugal.
Bolo de Arroz
Bolo de arroz is a muffin-style cake made from rice flour. It’s nowhere near as decadent as the pastel de nata, and is a good option if you’re looking for something that’s not too sweet (a lot of Portuguese cakes can be).
Along with pastéis de nata you’ll find bolos de arroz in just about every café in Portugal, so it’s definitely a cake that you’ll get to try.
This is just a sample of the different cakes and pastries that you can expect to find in Portugal. If you want to know more, read our longer and more in-depth post of all the different Portuguese cakes and pastries you should try.
Lunch & Dinner
You’ll find the same dishes on both lunch and dinner menus, but the lunch menu is typically better value for money. Look out for restaurants or cafés that offer a menu do dia (menu of the day) or just a prato do dia (dish of the day).
A prato do dia would be just a main dish, while a menu do dia would include a main meal and usually a starter or a dessert and, depending on the place, can include both and wine and coffee as well.
With the exception of soup, which is usually caldo verde, starters aren’t really a major focus in Portugal as most people just eat the couvert.
Whenever you sit down at a restaurant in Portugal, the waiter will bring over a basket of bread along with butter and sardine paste and usually a bowl of olives as well. Some places also bring cenouras à algarvia (slightly picked carrots) as well as cheeses and cured meats. This is the couvert, and it’s essentially your starter.
A lot of people visiting Portugal for the first time get confused by the couvert, and assume it’s free. It’s not, but it’s fairly inexpensive – definitely much cheaper than everyone at the table ordering a starter.
Expect to pay €0.50-€2.50 for the bread, €0.50-€1 for the butter and the same again for the sardine or tuna paste, and €0.50-€1.50 for the olives. Meats and cheeses vary in price, but typically cost between €2 and €5 per item. All in all, it should cost you less than €5 if you don’t have meats and cheeses and less than €10 if you do.
The couvert is normally just placed on your table rather than anyone asking for it. If you don’t want it, ask them to take it back and you won’t be charged. You can also send back individual items such as the more expensive items like cheese which some restaurants try to get you to buy simply by including them as part of the couvert.
Caldo verde is Portugal’s favourite soup, and probably it’s best soup as well. Although it originates from the Minho region in Northern Portugal, you’ll see caldo verde on menus throughout the entire country.
Soup is an important part of the Portuguese diet as its actually where the Portuguese get a lot of their vegetables: they prefer to have them in soup form, and to focus on the mean and fish for the main course.
Caldo verde is made from shredded kale and potatoes as well as onions, garlic, olive oil, and salt. A slice of chouriço is added right at the very end which, very unusually for Portugal, means that this dish can be vegetarian. If you want to keep it vegetarian, simply ask for it without the chouriço (sem chouriço).
Sopa de Pedra
Sopa de pedra (Stone Soup) is a hearty Portuguese soup that’s famous for the folktale that tells this dish’s origins. The dish is associated with Almeirim, just north of Lisbon, and it’s considered the regional dish of the area.
Sopa de pedra contains a wide variety of ingredients including beans, pigs ears, chouriço, pork belly, potatoes, onions, coriander (cilantro), garlic – essentially as much of the pig as you can use, and whatever else is available as well.
To really appreciate this dish, and why it contains quite so many ingredients, it’s important to read the legend behind its creation and the message that signifies.
Açorda or Açorda à alentejana is a soup that originates from the Alentejo, and is made from bread, garlic, salt, olive oil, bread, and fresh herbs like coriander (cilantro) or penny royal. It is usually served with a poached or boiled egg, but could also be served with fresh fish or bacalhau.
Cozido à Portuguesa
Cozido à Portuguesa is a bit like a traditional Irish stew in the sense that it could contain anything. The dish is made from all kinds of vegetables including beans, potatoes, turnips, and carrots, as well as a mixed selection of meat that includes things like chicken, pork, ribs, bacon, pig’s ears, and pig’s feet.
Often the meat is fatty, and occasionally it’s actually just a lump of fat. In more ways than one, this dish isn’t for the faint-hearted which is why the Portuguese rarely recommend that non-Portuguese try this dish.
Feijoada is a stew made from beans, pork, and beef. The name comes from feijão, the Portuguese word for beans. As well as Portugal, Feijoada is eaten in Macau, Angola, Cape Verde, Goa, Mozambique, India, Guinea-Bissau, and Brazil. It’s actually considered the national dish of Brazil, but don’t be mistaken: it originates from Portugal.
This is a dish that regularly features on Portuguese menu, and so you won’t have too much trouble finding it.
Bacalhau com Natas
The Portuguese say that there are 365 ways to cook bacalhau, but what they’re really saying is that they’d eat bacalhau every day if they could. It’s probably true that there are that many recipes for bacalhau, in much the same way as Eskimos have so many words for snow, and bacalhau com natas is definitely one of the most popular recipes.
This is quite a filling dish that’s very similar to dauphinoise potatoes but with added bacalau: thinly sliced potatoes are combined with cream, onions, and of course bacalhau, and baked in the oven.
As with many Portuguese dishes, this one will leave you wanting to have a siesta afterwards.
Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá
Made from bacalhau, onions, and potatoes, and garnished with slices of hard-boiled eggs and black olives, this is one of the most typical bacalhau dishes in Portugal. It originates from Porto, and you’re likely to find this on a lot of menus in the city and surrounding region.
Bacalhau à Brás
Bacalhau à Brás is another popular way of cooking bacalhau, and this dish can be found on menus throughout Portugal as well. This time bacalhau is cooked with shredded potatoes, and onions, and bound together with scrambled eggs.
Bacalhau com Broa
Bacalhau com broa is a bacalhau topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven, until the olive oil-coated breadcrumbs form a crust on the top of the dish. Some recipes also combine chouriço with the breadcrumb crust.
The smell of sardines being cooked on a BBQ is something that’s quintessentially Portuguese, and it’s hard not to think of Portugal if you get a whiff of it somewhere else. The Portuguese love sardines and, when they’re in season, you’ll find them on almost every menu in Portugal.
There are also several sardine festivals in Portugal, most famously the Dia de Santo António in June but also the annual Festival da Sardinhas in Portimão (Algarve) and the Festa de São João do Porto in Porto.
Some restaurants have sardines on their menu for the entire year, but they’re really best eaten during the summer: outside of that period, they’re likely to be frozen.
Alheira sausage is quite literally a lifesaver, at least if you were a Jewish person living in Portugal during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. When the inquisition arrived in Portugal, Jews were either forced to convert to Christianity or face being burned alive in Rossio Square.
Many Jews decided to do neither. Instead they pretended to have converted to Christianity, but kept practicing their faith in secret. To remove any suspicion, they created a sausage that was designed to look like a pork sausage and proudly hung it where all of their neighbours could see it.
Alheira is usually made from meats like chicken, duck, veal, quail, or rabbit, as well as flour, paprika, and garlic. You’ll also find variations on the traditional recipe for example alheira sausages made from bacalhau or alheira sausages made from vegetables.
Alheira can be served in a number of different ways, but the most common is Alheira de Mirandela. Here the sausage is deep-fried and served with a fried egg, chips (french fries), and a salad on the side.
Note: If you’re looking to avoid pork, double check that the sausage is actually pork-free. Although the original recipe for alheira contains no pork, some modern Portuguese versions actually contain pork or pork fat.
Farinheira is another pork-imitation sausage that became a lifesaver during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Portugal. This smoked sausage is primarily made with flour and flavoured with paprika, wine, and massa de pimentão (red pepper paste).
The Francesinha is a sandwich that hails from Porto, although you can find them in cafés throughout Portugal. There are no airs and graces to this dish. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was something that had been created by a student.
The dish is based on the French croque-monsieur sandwich but, rather than just having ham and cheese as the ingredients, the Francesinha is made from ham, linguiça sausage, steak, and cheese before being covered in a beer and tomato sauce and served with chips (fries).
Frango com piri-piri
Frango com piri-piri (or just frango piri-piri) is a dish that is said to have originated in Guia in the Algarve and, although you’ll find it in restaurants and churasqueiras across Portugal, the Algarve is the part of Portugal where you’ll get the best piri-piri chicken.
Some restaurants marinade the chicken in the sauce while others cook it on the charcoal grill and then cover it in the sauce. Regardless of which way they do it, the sauce is an essential part of this recipe. A typical sauce (every place has their own take) will include Malagueta chilli peppers, garlic, olive oil, bay leaves, salt, vinegar or lemon, and paprika.
Don’t assume that just because you’ve had Nando’s peri-peri chicken, that you’ve had Portuguese piri-piri chicken. Although the two are similar, after trying Portuguese piri-piri you’ll definitely be in agreement as to which is better.
Forget pulled pork, in Portugal it’s all about leitão. Leitão is roast suckling pig or piglet, and it’s a dish that’s most commonly associated with the Bairrada region of Portugal.
Leitão da Bairrada is considered one of the 7 Gastronomic Wonders of Portugal, which tells you a little bit about just how good it is. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, the fatty meat is garnished with slices of orange and served along side potato-chip style french fries.
Leitão is also served as a sandwich (sandes de leitão) in a soft bread bun, often topped with a spicy peppery sauce.
Arroz de Marisco
Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice) is a liquidy rice-based dish that originates from Vieira de Leiria. It is one of the 7 wonders of Portuguese gastronomy and, as the name suggests, contains all kinds of different seafood. A typical seafood rice might include a mixture of clams, prawns, mussels, and cockles as well as crab or lobster. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, and olive oil are also used, and these create the liquid for the stew.
As well as Arroz de Marisco, you’ll also come across several other rice dishes like arroz de tamboril (monkfish rice) and arroz de peixe (fish rice).
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato
Clams ‘à bulhão pato’ is a simple dish that combines clams with olive oil, white wine, garlic, lemon, coriander (cilantro). The dish originates from Estremadura, the region on the Atlantic Coast where Lisbon is located, but the dish is eaten throughout the whole of Portugal.
There isn’t a lot of meat on the clams, and mostly what you taste is the oily garlic and coriander sauce. As great as the clams are, the best part of this dish is grabbing a slice of bread and using it to soak up the sauce.
Cataplana de Marisco
The cataplana is a type of stew that’s named after the metal dish that it’s cooked in: a copper dish that’s shaped like a giant clam. The food is cooked in the bottom section of the cataplana and the top part folds over and locks in the steam and juices.
There are a number of different cataplana dishes, and some of the ones you’re most likely to come across are cataplana de peixe (fish stew), cataplana de marisco (seafood stew), cataplana de amêijoas (clam stew), and cataplana de porco à Alentejana (Alentejo-style pork and clam stew).
Caldeirada is similar to a cataplana, but it’s a soup rather than a stew. It’s traditionally fish or seafood-based, and often includes a mixture of different fish that have been caught that day.
In Mozambique and Angola, two former Portuguese colonies, caldeirada de cabrito (goat) is more typical, while the Brazilian version is closer to a stew and contains more exotic ingredients like coconut milk and palm oil.
Porco Preto is a breed of pig that’s found in Spain and Portugal. In Portugal it’s mainly found in the Alentejo, which is why it’s often called Porco Preto Alentejano. The pigs are raised on a diet of acorns, and the meat is used for roasted and grilled pork dishes as well as for making presunto (cured ham that’s similar to jamón ibérico or prosciutto).
Look out for Secretos de Porco Preto and plumas de porco preto, two of the most common porco preto dishes you’ll find on a Portuguese menu.
Polvo à Lagareiro
Polvo à Lagareiro is a popular octopus dish that can be found all over Portugal. The octopus is cooked, often in a pressure cooker, before being baked in the oven with garlic, onions, potatoes, and lots and lots of olive oil.
Sometimes the octopus is served with batatas a murro (punched potatoes). These are potatoes that are roasted and then punched (or just pressed with a fork) and then lavishly drizzled with olive oil.
Yes, the Portuguese like their olive oil.
Favas com chouriço
Favas com chouriço is a traditional Portuguese dish that combines fava beans with different types of sausage including chouriço, black pudding, and chouriço de vinho, as well as onions, garlic, coriander (cilantro), and bay leaves.
Espada com banana
Espada com banana is a traditional dish from Madeira, and it’s one of Portugal’s most unusual dishes. It is made from breaded or battered swordfish and has a fried banana on the top or side. Sometimes there’s a passion fruit sauce, like in the picture, which is made from passion fruit, butter, and cream and poured over the fish and banana.
Espetada refers to food cooked on skewers, which is a style of Portuguese cookery. In Madeira, the skewers are made from bay laurels which flavours the cubes of beef that are then cooked over a charcoal or wood fire. Along with Espada com banana, this is one of the most famous dishes from Madeira.
Tripas à Moda do Porto
A slow-cooked casserole made of tripe, pig’s trotters, chicken, sausage, beans, and vegetables, this is Porto’s most famous dish. It’s so typically Porto that people from the rest of Portugal often refer to people from Porto as ‘tripas‘ (tripes).
Cabidela (often called arroz de cabidela) is a type of rice stew made with chicken or rabbit that’s cooked in its own blood: after it has been killed, the animal is often hung above the pot while the blood drains into the dish. Although the dish is quite rich, it’s also quite sour as vinegar is often added to the stock which gives it a much sharper taste.
This dish is very traditional, but it’s more commonly found in the North of Portugal. It’s also something that you’ll find in the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Brazil, Macau, and Goa, although with some variations in the recipe. In Goa the dish is made with pork rather than rabbit or poultry, while in Macau duck is commonly used.
Arroz de Pato
Arroz de pato (duck rice) is a simple dish made from shredded duck, rice, onions, chouriço, and carrots. The duck is boiled in a broth, shredded, and then baked with half-cooked rice until the rice turns golden.
The dish is believed to have originated in Braga, in the North of Portugal, although there are also variations that come from Lafões in Central Portugal. Although it is sometimes greasy, it really isn’t supposed to be: the fat is trimmed from the duck, and lemon juice is often added to the stock to separate any remaining duck fat. It’s often served with orange slices to help cut through any remaining fat.
Carne de Porco à Alentejana
Carne de Porco à Alentejana hails, as the name suggests, from the Altentejo region of Portugal. Cubes of pork loin are marinaded in a red pepper and white wine sauce and then fried in lard, along with cubes of potatoes and clams.
Migas à Alentejana
Migas à Alentejana combines cubes of pork with large bread-based dumplings, making use of the large amount of grains that are produced in this region of Portugal. The dumplings are made from local Alentejo bread, pork lard, salt, garlic, and chilli paste.
This is an extremely heavy dish, maybe the heaviest of the Portuguese dishes. It’s the kind of cheap and high calorie dish that would be ideal for those working in manual labour jobs, but that today would be too heavy for many people.
Portugal is known for its fantastic array of seafood, and the Portuguese love to visit their local marisqueira (seafood restaurant). Here, you’ll find all kinds of creatures from the sea including crab, lobster, prawns, percebes (goose barnacles), oysters, clams, and tiger prawns.
Tiger prawns are definitely one of the most exciting things that you can order. Similar to a lobster, they’re cooked in garlic, butter, and then drizzled with lemon at the end.
Chocos Fritos is a dish that’s most commonly associated with Setúbal, a small city that’s situated around 45 minutes drive from Lisbon. A choco is a cuttlefish, which is quite similar to octopus, and chocos fritos is similar to calamari.
Every weekend, thousands of Lisboetas jump in their cars and drive down to Setúbal to eat chocos fritos by the sea. To get the true chocos fritos experience, it’s worth heading to Setúbal to do the same.
Grilled Fish Dishes
Almost every Portuguese menu will have grilled fish on it, and often it’s served as one of the pratos do dia (dishes of the day). Robalo and Dorado are probably the most common fishes you’ll see, but you’ll also find other grilled fish like corvina, carapau (horse mackerel), Salmão (salmon).
Usually these dishes are served with boiled potatoes. This may seem a bit boring on the taste buds, but watch what the locals do: they bathe their food in olive oil. It may not be the healthiest in terms of calories, but it definitely makes the potatoes taste a bit better.
If you’re lucky your fish might come with batatas a murro or punched potatoes. These are potatoes that are baked and then punched (or pressed down with a fork) to open them up, and then generously covered in olive oil.
There are a lot of people that don’t order dessert at a restaurant, or who only order it if it’s a special occasion. Those sort of people don’t exist in Portugal: having a meal without dessert is almost unheard of and, even if you did that once, you certainly wouldn’t make a habit out of it.
Bolao Bolacha or biscuit cake is one of the most decadent and rich cakes that you’ll find on the dessert section of a Portuguese menu. The ingredients are maria biscuits, butter, sugar, as well as egg yolks and coffee.
Aside from the coffee, there’s no cooking involved in this recipe. The eggs, butter, and sugar are mixed together and then spread between layers of cookies.
As well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe a mid-morning snack, the Portuguese usually have another snack in the later afternoon: lanche. This is usually something small like a cake or a savoury snack like a pão com chouriço (bread stuffed with chouriço), tosta mista (ham and cheese toasted sandwich), or an empadinha de frango (mini chicken pie).
Pão com chouriço
Pão com chouriço is the Portuguese equivalent of a sausage roll: bread dough is wrapped around chouriço sausage and then baked in the oven. You’ll find Pão com chouriço in cafes throughout Portugal, as well as in the bakery section of the supermarket. It’s eaten as a snack throughout the day, particularly if someone is looking for something savoury around Lanche time.
In between meals, the Portuguese – like everyone else – might have a snack to keep them going. This could be a cake, savoury snack like pão com chouriço, fruit, or just about anything else. Often it’s a Portuguese sandwich like a bifana or a prego, which are Portuguese sandwiches that you can get at any Portuguese café.
These sandwiches are cheap (usually they cost around €2) and come quickly, and are probably the closest thing that there is to Portuguese street food.
These sandwiches are popular as a late evening snack, in much the same way as other countries will eat a kebab or portion of chips on a night out, eaten at lunchtime instead of a main meal, or really at any time of the day that you’re feeling hungry.
The bifana is a simple sandwich, but don’t be fooled by its simplicity: this is without doubt one of Portugal’s best dishes. Sautéed strips of thin pork are cooked in garlic, spices, and white wine, and then served in a crusty bread roll.
There are different regional takes on the bifana. In Lisbon and the South of Portugal, people tend to pour squeezy yellow mustard on their bifanas. In Porto, the bifanas are served dripping in the sauce that they’re cooked with and so don’t require any condiments. Both are delicious, and it’s worth trying both styles to see which is your favourite.
The prego is the sister of the bifana: while the bifana is made from pork, the prego is made from thin Portuguese steak. Like the bifana, this is usually topped with cheap squeezy mustard and washed down with “an imperial” (or fino, if you’re in the north of Portugal) which is a small 20cl beer.
In Lisbon, it’s traditional to finish a seafood meal at the marisqueira with a prego for dessert. It’s quite strange to eat lobster, tiger prawns, and crab, and then to have a cheap steak sandwich with squeezy mustard but aren’t all traditions a bit weird?
Ovos moles are a type of sweet that originate from Aveiro, a coastal town situated between Coimbra and Porto. Like pastéis de nata, ovos moles were invented inside a monastery: the monastery used large amounts of egg white for the nuns’ habits and wanted to find a use for the yolks. After much experimentation they came up with the recipe for ovos moles which is incredibly simple and consists of just egg yolks, water, and sugar.
You’ll find ovos moles in pastelarias throughout Portugal, as well as in the supermarkets, but the best place to try them is in their hometown of Aveiro.
Petiscos are the Portuguese equivalent of tapas, and you’ll find petiscos menus in bars throughout Portugal as well as an increasing number of restaurants that specialise in petiscos.
Sometimes people will eat one or two petiscos, or sometimes they’ll order a few and make a meal out of them.
A tábua is a board of some sort and could be a cheese board (Tábua de Queijos), cured meats board (Tábua de Carne), or a combination of both (Tábua de Frios). Ordering one of these can be a good way to sample a variety of different Portuguese cheeses and meats without having to buy them all individually at the supermarket.
Presunto is the Portuguese equivalent of Spanish Jamón or Italian Prosciutto: cured pork that is cut into thin slices and used as an appetiser or petisco or as an ingredient in another dish. Like Jamón, there are different regional variations of Presunto as well as variations in quality.
Presunto is different to Jamón: it usually has a smokier flavour, it can be chewier, and it’s also not always as fatty as jamón ibérico. Ordering presunto as a petisco is a good way to try presunto, or you can easily pick it up in any supermarket as well.
Pastéis (or Bolinhos) de Bacalhau
Pastéis de bacalhau, and their closely-related cousin bolinhos de bacalhau, can be found on petiscos menus throughout Portugal (pastéis de bacalhau come from Lisbon, while bolinhos de bacalhau come from Porto). They’re made from bacalhau, potatoes, egg, parsley, and onion, which is mashed together to form a little ball or oval shape and then fried.
Rissóis are similar to a croquettas: they’re made from flour, stuffed with ingredients like meat or prawns, covered in breadcrumbs, and then fried.
You’ll fine Rissóis on petiscos menu, and you’ll also see them in the counter of Portuguese cafés and the deli section in the supermarket.
Chouriço Assado is roasted chouriço, but the fun thing about this dish is that it’s usually cooked on your table in front of you. Chouriço is placed on a terracto grill, the bottom of which is filled with aguardente alcohol, and then lit on fire. The chouriço then cooks on the table in front of everyone until someone comes along and puts it out.
Chouriço is quite rich to begin with, and the charred flavour makes it even more so and you’ll need a good glass of wine or beer to wash this one down with.
Queijo da Serra
Of all the different Portuguese cheeses, Queijo Serra da Estrela or Queijo da Serra is probably the biggest crowd-pleaser. This cheese is eaten when it’s extremely ripe and the inside becomes so gooey that you can scoop it out with a spoon. You’ll find it on a lot of petiscos menus, and you can also get it at just about any Portuguese supermarket.
Salada de Polvo
Salada de Polvo (octopus salad) is a salad made from octopus, olive oil, and herbs. Although it’s called a salad, don’t think of this as a salad in the normal sense i.e. lettuce and tomatoes. This is essentially just chopped octopus that’s doused in olive oil, although some recipes have diced peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables stirred through.
For many people, tinned fish means tuna in brine but that’s not the case in Portugal. Tinned foods are taken a lot more seriously in Portugal, so much so that there are specialist shops that just sell tinned foods (conserveiras). You’ll also often find a section of the petiscos menu dedicated to tinned foods (conservas) and there are even some restaurants that only focus on conservas.
Go to a conserveira and you’ll not only find tinned tuna and sardines but also salmon, cod roe, octopus, mussels, eel, trout, swordfish, bream, sea bass, you name it. These fish aren’t just preserved in olive oil or tomato sauce either. Often they’re smoked beforehand, and often they’ll include other ingredients like capers, lemon, anchovies, or herbs.
Sometimes the idea of going to a restaurant and ordering tinned fish can be hard to get your head around. If that’s the case, why not visit a conserveira or deli and pick up some of these foods to have at home? You can also get many of them in the supermarket, although it’s worth noting that the range of fish and seafood isn’t normally as extensive as in the specialist conserveiras.
Pica-Pau means woodpecker, which is a strange name for a dish that’s normally made from beef (although occasionally it’s made from pork). The dish is called this because it’s eaten with toothpicks and the action of picking up the meat and vegetables with a toothpick resembles a woodpecker.
The meat is fried in garlic, white wine, bay leaves, and mustard and then served in its juices before being topped with pickled vegetables. It’s eaten with toothpicks, but there’s usually also some bread to mop up the juices.
Just like the French, the Portuguese also eat snails which are known as caracois or are seasonal and, when they’re available (usually May until September, but it varies), you’ll see signs up saying “Há caracóis”.
Prior to being cooked, the snails go through a cleaning process where they’re kept in an enclosed bag or container for around two weeks. During that time, they’re fed ingredients like thyme, flour, and potato, which helps to cleanse them off their toxins and also to fatten them up a little.
When they’re ready to be eaten, they’re placed in boiling water along with ingredients like garlic, dried herbs, salt, piri-piri, and a stock cube. They’re then served on a plate, often with the addition of olive oil and usually with some crusty bread.
A tremoço is a lupini bean, a type of bean that’s often eaten in bars in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Brazil, and the Middle East. They’re quite bitter normally, and need a lot of soaking and cooking before they become anywhere near edible. Even then, they’re still very much an acquired taste.
In Portugal, they’re eaten as a petisco or bar snack alongside a beer. You’ll also see them being sold at street fairs, outside church, or at markets. They’re fairly cheap and if you’re just looking for something salty and slightly different to have with your beer, it’s worth giving them a try.
What Portuguese foods have you tried? What did you like and what didn’t you like? Let us know your thoughts about Portuguese food by leaving a comment below.
Spot a mistake? If you notice a mistake, or would like to suggest improvements to the article, please get in touch. This article was last updated in December 2018.
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