Although eating out in Portugal often revolves around sitting down for big meals, there’s also quite a big snacking culture as well.
This almost always takes place at the pastelaria (café), which is the centrepoint of Portuguese life. People come here not just for breakfast and maybe lunch as well, but for cakes, pastries, and other savoury snacks throughout the day.
Cakes & Pastries
There’s more to Portuguese cakes and pastries than the pastel de nata. In fact, you could spend several weeks in Portugal and not make it through all of the different cakes and pastries that there are here.
I’ve been doing my best to try as many of them as I can, and have a big list of all the different cakes in a separate article.
As well as sweet pastries, your pastelaria counter will also have a selection of savoury pastries which usually contain meat or cheese or both.
Pão com chouriço
Pão com chouriço is a Portuguese take on a sausage roll: it’s slices of chouriço that are wrapped up in pastry and baked in the oven.
You’ll find pão com chouriço in a lot of pastelarias as well as in the bakery section of the supermarket.
Bôla de carne
Bôla de carne is a bread, often a sweet bread, that’s filled with meat and then baked. It’s particularly common in the North of Portugal around Lamego and The Douro.
As well as bôla de carne, which is normally filled with a few different types of meat but especially chorizo, you’ll also find bôla de frango (chicken), bacalhau, and sardinha (sardines).
A folhado is essentially puff pastry that’s folded over, and a folhado misto is puff pastry that’s filled with ham and cheese and baked in the oven.
Like pão com chouriço, you’ll find folhados in your local pastelaria, the bakery section of the supermarket, and the bakery itself (padaria).
Salgados is the umbrella term for fried snacks like pastéis de bacalhau, rissóis, croquettes, chamuças, coxas, caprichos, and empadas, amongst other things. It translates as ‘salty’, and that’s essentially what these things are.
Pastéis de bacalhau
Pastéis de bacalhau are fritters made from bacalhau, potatoes, and onion. The ingredients are mashed together and formed into little patties and then fried in olive oil. They are, without doubt, one of the best options on the salgados menu.
These fritters actually have a different name depending on where you are in Portugal: in Lisbon they’re called pastéis de bacalhau, whereas in Porto they’re called bolinhos de bacalhau.
Croquetes are similar to the Spanish tapa with the same name, croquetas. The most common type of croquette that you’ll find in Portugal is probably croquete de carne. This is a beef, onion, and herb patty that’s covered in breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil.
As well as croquetes de carne, you’ll also find croquetes de bacalhau (salt cod), croquetes de alheira or farinheira (types of sausages), and croquetes de frango.
A rissol (plural: rissóis) is another example of a salty fried Portuguese snack that you’ll find in your local pastelaria. It’s usually shaped in a half-moon and is typically filled with either shrimp and bechamel sauce, chicken, or ham and cheese.
Coxinhas originate from São Paulo in Brazil, but you’ll see them in the savoury section of many pastelaria counters in Portugal.
They’re normally made with shredded chicken, covered in dough made from wheat and occasionally mashed potato, and then shaped to resemble a chicken drumstick before being battered, covered in breadcrumbs, and fried.
Empadinhas de galinha
Empadas or empadinhas are little pies, and are typically made from chicken, but you can also find varies made from tuna and other ingredients as well.
There isn’t a great deal of variety when it comes to sandwiches in Portugal, but what is available is definitely worth trying.
The bifana is a simple sandwich that consists of a bread roll filled with thin slices of moist, garlicky pork. It’s a sandwich that you can get in just about any café in Portugal, and it’s one of the best snacks that you can have inbetween meals or as a meal in itself.
The prego is similar to the bifana, but it’s made with beef rather than pork. Prego means nail in Portuguese, and it’s apparently called this because the garlic is chopped into little spikes and “nailed” into the beef with a meat tenderiser.
A tosta mista is a grilled cheese sandwich with ham and cheese: mista means mixed and, in the context of sandwiches, usually means ham and cheese.
Petiscos are essentially Portuguese tapas. They’re small plates that you have with a glass of wine or beer, either instead of a meal or before it. They’re traditionally quite simple but, these days, a lot of places are experimenting with more and more creative recipes.
Typical petiscos include pastéis de bacalhau, pica pau, and salada de polvo. For more info, read the guide to the different types of petiscos you can try in Portugal.
Other types of Portuguese food
For a big list of other dishes that you should try besides just Portuguese snacks, be sure to read the much bigger, and more comprehensive guide to Portuguese food.