There are hundreds of different Portuguese dishes. Thousands probably, especially when you consider that there are apparently more than 365 ways to cook bacalhau. As much as you’d like to, you probably have the time or stomach capacity to try absolutely everything in Portugal. So what should you eat?
This article highlights the best and most typical Portuguese dishes that you’ll find on a Portuguese menu. It also covers:
- The best dishes by region
- What to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks
- The best snacks, petiscos (similar to tapas), cakes, desserts, and drinks
16 Of the Best Things You Should Eat in Portugal
When it comes to food in Portugal, the main question people have is what are the absolute best things that I should eat in Portugal? What should I look out for and prioritise? The following are some of the absolute best things. Some are regional, which means they’ll be difficult to find outside of that region, but many are available nationally.
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Pastel de nata
It’s probably Portugal’s most famous food, and there’s a good reason for that. Pastéis de nata (or Portuguese custard tarts as they’re known outside of Portugal) are just delicious. They’re also considered one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy.
Tip: While you’re in Portugal, take a cookery class and learn to make these. Compadre Cookery School in Lisbon, for example, offers a class where they teach you the secrets of making them.
Bacalhau (dried, salted cod) is Portugal’s national dish, although saying national dish is a bit confusing as there really isn’t just one recipe for bacalhau: rumour has it that there are more than 365 different ways to cook bacalhau, and some people say that’s even an under-estimation. Some estimates suggest there are more than 1,000 different recipes.
You won’t have time to try all 1,000, but a few favourites to look out for are:
- Bacalhau com natas (bacalhau with cream and potatoes)
- Bacalhau à lagareiro (bacalhau with lots of olive oil)
- Bacalhau com broa (bacalhau with a type of cornbread)
Most cafés or snack bars will also have pastéis de bacalhau (or bolinhos de bacalhau, depending on what part of the country you’re in), which are also delicious. You should be able to spot them in the glass counter where you’ll also find other salgados (savoury snacks).
Frango piri-piri or frango no churrasco com piri piri is piri-piri chicken, a dish that has its roots in the Portuguese colonies in Africa but is famously from Guia in the Algarve.
You’ll find piri-piri chicken on menus all over Portugal and you can order it as a takeaway from the churrasqueiras dotted around the country, but the best piri-piri really does come from the Algarve. Not necessarily from Guia, although there are some great restaurants there, but from the Algarve in general. If you’re visiting the Algarve as part of your trip to Portugal, wait until you get here to sample it.
Caldo Verde is a simple soup that contains shredded kale, onions, potatoes, garlic, and chouriço. It originates from the North of Portugal but it’s served all over the country. It’s also listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy. Depending on the way it’s cooked, it can be vegetarian (before the obligatory chouriço slice is added) but it’s always a good idea to check.
Bolinhos de bacalhau
Bolinhos de bacalhau (or pastéis de bacalhau) are little deep-fried patties of salt-dried cod and potatoes. This is another bacalhau dish, yes, but it’s one that’s definitely worth trying, especially as you can easily find these in cafés and snack bars in Portugal.
Arroz de Marisco
Arroz de Marisco is a rich seafood stew that’s made up of fish and rice. It’s a Portuguese favourite, and it’s also another of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy. Some people say it’s like a Spanish paella, but it’s very different due to the amount of sauce.
As well as arroz de marisco (seafood rice), you’ll also find similar dishes like arroz de tamboril, arroz de bacalhau, and arroz de polvo.
A cataplana is also a stew, but, in particular, a stew that’s cooked in a clam-shaped cataplana dish. The dish originates from the Algarve, and it’s quite hard to find it in other parts of the country.
There are many different types of cataplana, both meat and fish, and some of the most popular types are cataplana de bacalhau, cataplana de peixe, and cataplana à alentejana.
This is one of the best regional dishes from the Algarve, so be sure to try it while you’re there.
Leitão is roasted piglet. It’s one of Portugal’s least vegetarian-friendly dishes (and that’s saying a lot), but it’s also extremely tasty. You’ll find this dish all over Portugal, and many restaurants specialise in it, but it’s most commonly found in and around Coimbra.
Polvo à lagareiro
Octopus is a popular ingredient in Portugal, and Portugal has some great octopus-based dishes. One of the best, and one that’s reasonably easy to find, is polvo à lagareiro, a dish that combines oven-roasted octopus and potatoes with lots and lots of olive 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.
Grilled sardines are one of the most quintessential Portuguese things that you can eat and every summer, particularly during the month of June, the air is filled with the smell of barbequed sardines.
One of the best times to eat them is at the Santos Populares festivals like Santo António, São João, and São Pedro that take place in Lisbon and Porto every June.
Alheira is one of many Portuguese sausages, but this one is particularly popular because of its history. The sausage was developed during the Inquisition period when Jews in the Iberian Peninsula faced death if they didn’t convert to Christianity. Rather than actually convert, many Jews continues to practice their religion and tricked the locals by making pork-looking, pork-tasting sausages from chicken and other non-pork meats. Alheira is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy.
Queijo da Serra da Estrela
Queijo da Serra da Estrela is a very unique cheese: when it’s ripe, it’s so soft that you can actually scoop it out with a spoon. You can often order this cheese as a starter and it can sometimes be found on petiscos (Portuguese tapas) menus as well.
Like many of the other foods in this article, this cheese is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy.
Made from ham, steak, sausage, chunky slices of bread, melted cheese, a beer and tomato sauce, and chips, this is one hefty sandwich.
The francesinha definitely has novelty value, but it’s more than that: the Portuguese love them for their taste as well. Head to Porto, where the dish originates from, and you can easily end up in an argument with a local over which café makes the best francesinha. Head to Braga and they’ll tell you their francesinhas are better.
Even though Francesinhas come from Porto, they are starting to appear in other parts of the country as well. Whether they’ll be as good as the ones from Porto is up for debate, but at least there’s an increasingly good chance you’ll be able to try one.
Many of us think of tinned food as student food or something we might keep in the cupboard in case there’s a power cut or a nuclear war. In Portugal, however, tinned food is held in much higher regard. That’s because they put a lot more effort in.
Smoked octopus, tuna and preserved lemon, spicy sardine mousse…these are just some of the flavours that you can expect to find in Portugal.
So popular are they that you’ll even find some petiscos restaurants that specialise in tinned food.
Arroz de Pato
It’s simple, and often a little bit greasy, but arroz de pato (or duck rice) is one of the most comforting dishes that you’ll find in Portuguese cuisine. It’s a regular on daily menus, takeaway menus, and it’s also something that you can easily cook at home as well.
Authentic Dishes That Aren’t For Everyone
Portuguese food is great, it goes without saying, but some dishes have strong flavours that many tourists won’t like. And, of course, there are plenty of weird dishes like an omelette made from pig’s brains or a roasted jawbone of a pig (complete with teeth).
In practice, you probably won’t come across too many of the weird ones as they’re mainly found in rural parts of Portugal but you may come across some of the following:
- Cozido à portuguesa – While incredibly authentic (especially the version on Ilha de São Miguel in The Azores), this dish is meaty, heavy, and often quite fatty or chewy. It’s not for everyone.
- Sardines – An incredibly authentic Portuguese dish, particularly in the summertime, but a very strong “fishy-tasting” fish.
- Grilled fish of any sort – Be aware that most traditional restaurants will serve the fish with its head (the cheeks and eyeballs are often considered some of the best bits) so if this is going to freak you out, be sure to ask for it without the head (sem a cabeça).
- Tripas à moda do Porto – One of the main dishes in Portugal, Tripas is tripe which isn’t a flavour or texture that people like unless they’ve grown up with it.
- Mão de vaca com grão – One of the “weird” Portuguese dishes that you’re most likely to see, this dish is made from a calves hoof.
What to eat for each meal
The following is a guide to all the different meals in Portugal, and what to eat for each meal.
First thing (e.g. between 7.00 and 8.00)
Breakfast may be the best meal of the day in some countries, but in Portugal, it’s quite a simple affair (even in a café).
Most people have a milky coffee (either a galão or a meia de leite) and something bread-based like buttered slices of toast or maybe even a toasted cheese sandwich.
If you’re wondering when all the cakes get eaten, that’s usually at lanche (next) but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you having one for breakfast. Or, if you want something that’s kind-of-sweet-kind-of-savoury, go for a sandwich made with pão de deus bread rolls.
Read more about breakfast in Portugal
Lanche da manhã
The Portuguese have this extra snacktime called “lanche,” and there’s usually one in the morning (lanche da manhã) and one in the afternoon (lanche da tarde). This is a good opportunity to try some of Portugal’s many different cakes and sweet pastries.
If you’re looking for something that’s not too sweet, try a bolo do arroz, queque, or pão de Deus (either “simples” or as a sandwich).
Around 13.00 – 14.00
You can eat anything on the menu (providing they’ve got it) but to be truly authentic, go for the dishes on the menu do dia. Ordering from the menu do dia is cheaper than ordering à la carte and often includes additional courses like the couvert (bread and butter basically), dessert, and coffee and even wine.
Prices range from less than €5 in some very rural parts of the country to around €10 or more in city centres. Some places offer everything from the couvert to the dessert while others will just offer a main meal.
In a rush? If you’re visiting Portugal, you’ll probably have time to sit down and have lunch. If you’re in a hurry, however, people will often eat soup and a bifana. Alternatively, ask which dishes are already made-up as some are made in bulk and ready to serve.
Lanche da tarde
Around 16.00 – 17.30
During the late afternoon, you may find yourself feeling hungry. If that’s the case, you’re in luck: it’s time for second lanche!
Like the morning lanche, this is an opportunity for another snack and a coffee. You might have already have a cake and dessert by now, which means it’s a good opportunity to try a savoury snack or salgado like a pastel de bacalhau (or bolinho do bacalhau), an empada da galinha, or a coxinha.
Pre-dinner (or dinner)
Petiscos, which are essentially Portuguese tapas, aren’t something that you eat every day but you might have a petisco and a drink before dinner or perhaps several petiscos instead of dinner. Like tapas, they’re snacks that you have with a beer—something to keep you going until dinner.
Petiscos vary and can be something as simple as a bowl of olives or a basket of bread to more elaborate dishes like chouriço assado (flame-roasted chourizo) or salada de polvo (octopus salad).
20.00 – 21.00
Dinner is a little more flexible than lunch in that there isn’t usually a set menu do dia, so you can feel comfortable ordering anything in the menu.
Depending on whether you had meat or fish for lunch, you might feel like ordering the opposite this time around (although that may depend on what part of the country you’re in). And if you haven’t already sampled some Portuguese wine, this is a good opportunity to do it.
Best Dishes from Different Regions
Food is incredibly regional in Portugal. While you’ll find pastéis de nata and bacalhau dishes everywhere, some dishes are really difficult to find outside of their native region. Cataplanas, which come from the Algarve, are a good example of this.
If you’ve worked your way through some of the best Portuguese dishes overall, this section will help you discover some of Portugal’s best regional dishes.
Pastel de nata – Portugal’s most famous cake, the pastel de nata, originates from its capital city. As well as Pastéis de Belém, the shop that originally began selling these custard tarts, you’ll also find several other bakeries around Lisbon that have their own take on the famous recipe.
Bacalhau à Brás – Made with shredded potatoes and eggs, this bacalhau dish originates from Lisbon but can be found throughout Portugal.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato – Found all over Portugal, but originating from Lisbon, this dish combines clams with several of the most typical Portuguese ingredients: coriander, olive oil, garlic, and wine.
Sande de Pernil – Porto’s most famous dish is the francesinha, but many tourists miss out on its equally (if not better) sandwich: the sanduiche de pernil (famously from Casa Guedes).
The Francesinha – The Francesinha is such a bizarre regional dish that it’s just one of those dishes that you absolutely have to try.
Éclair – You probably associate éclaires with France, but did you know that they’re the regional sweet of Porto? They’re also slightly different to the French variety, which means you absolutely have to try one.
Read more about the food of Porto
(Oh, and don’t forget to drink lots of Port wine too!)
Piri-piri chicken – Grilled chicken that’s flavoured with a slightly spicy sauce, this is one of Portugal’s most famous dishes after the pastel de nata and the Algarve is where it originates from.
Cataplana – The cataplana is both the name of the dish and the unusual clam-shaped copper pot that the dish is cooked in. Cataplana recipes include both meat and fish dishes.
Queijo de Figo – The Algarve has plenty of great cakes and sweets but one of the best ones that you can try is Queijo de Figo, a no-bake cake that’s made from compressed figs, almonds, and usually a hint of medronho (local alcohol) as well.
Read more about the food of the Algarve
Bolo dona Amelia – Not only is this one of the best cakes in The Azores, but it’s arguably one of the best in the whole of Portugal.
Alcatra – This stew from Terceira, which comes in both meat and fish varieties, is rich and highly-recommended.
Polvo guisado – A dish that’s found all over The Azores, but particularly on Terceira, São Jorge, and Faial, this is one of the best octopus dishes in the whole of Portugal.
Read more about the food of The Azores
Peixe Espada com Banana – Arguably one of the weirdest dishes in Portugal, this dish contains a breaded and fried piece of scabbard fish that’s topped with a banana and a custard and passionfruit sauce.
Bolo do caco – Soft and versatile, whether it’s for sandwiches or dunking in stews, this is one of Portugal’s most popular breads.
Madeira Wine – It’s not as famous as Port, and many would argue that it isn’t as good, but it’s still a drink that’s worth trying while you’re on Madeira.
Read more about the food of Madeira
Portugal has a lot of meal options, but it also has plenty of snacks just in case you get hungry in-between meals. Here are a few of the best ones to look out for.
Bifana – One of Portugal’s best sandwiches, this simple pork sandwich is perfect for a mid-afternoon snack.
Pastéis de bacalhau – Made from Portugal’s favourite ingredient, bacalhau, pastéis de bacalhau (or bolinhos de bacalhau) are little deep-fried patties of cod-fish and potato. Tasty and surprisingly filling.
Coxinhas – A Brazilian savoury snack that you’ll find in cafés all over Portugal, these are one of Portugal’s best salgados.
Read more about Portuguese snacks
Best Cakes & Pastries
Although most people have never tried a Portuguese cake besides the pastel de nata, there are literally hundreds of different cakes and pastries. Some are more common than others, and some are only found in certain regions of Portugal, but here are a few to look out for.
Pastel de Nata – Every trip to Portugal deserves at least one pastel de nata, if not many, many more.
Travesseiro de Sintra – Another favourite among both tourists and locals, a stop off at Casa Piriquita is a must for anyone visiting Sintra.
Pirâmide De Chocolate – This is quite a weird-looking cake but, if you can get beyond that, it’s very rich, chocolatey, and very easy to find.
Read more about Portuguese cakes & pastries
Sericaia – Originating from the Alentejo, this dessert is a favourite across Portugal and one you sometimes find on menus in other parts of the country.
Pudim Abade de Priscos – Commonly found in Braga, this dessert is delightfully sweet and sticky and one you’ll find yourself ordering again and again.
Mista Algarvia – Hailing from the Algarve, and also quite hard to find outside of Portugal’s most southerly region, this dessert combines local ingredients like figs, almonds, and carob.
Read more about Portuguese desserts
Port wine – Portugal produces some great wines but Port wine, its most famous dessert wine, is arguably its best wine.
Vinho Verde – A light, frizzy, and low-alcohol wine, Vinho Verde is a crowd-pleaser, particularly during the warmer summer months.
Medronho – Made from Medronho berries, aguardente de medronho is a clear spirit whose potency ranges from 40% to around 80% (depending on whether you’re buying it from the supermarket or your neighbour). It looks like vodka, but it’s much more drinkable.
Is Portuguese food spicy?
No, not really. Piri-piri chicken can be spicy, although it usually isn’t that hot. Generally, chilli isn’t used that much in Portuguese cookery.
Is Portuguese food vegetarian-friendly?
Begin a vegetarian in Portugal is challenging. It’s very hard to find a traditional Portuguese dish that doesn’t contain meat or fish, but vegetarianism is growing in popularity in Portugal. You’ll find plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, and many restaurants there will have at least one vegetarian option.
In really rural parts of Portugal, however, vegetarianism and veganism isn’t really understood, so be prepared for this.
Is food expensive in Portugal?
Eating out in Portugal is incredibly affordable, particularly outside of Lisbon and particularly at lunchtime. Avoid the tourist traps and the more modern restaurants, and you should be able to find restaurants serving dishes that range from €5-10 per dish in just about any part of Portugal.
What’s the national dish of Portugal?
Bacalhau is Portugal’s national dish. There are apparently 365 different ways of cooking bacalhau, and it’s recommended that you try at least one version while you’re in Portugal.
Is Portuguese food healthy?
It is possible to eat healthily in Portugal, but be aware that Portuguese cuisine is typically high in salt, carbs, and olive oil, while at the same time being low in vegetables. Obviously, all of the cakes and desserts aren’t particularly healthy either.
To eat healthily in Portugal opt for dishes like vegetable soup and grilled fish.