There’s no better way to get to the heart of a country’s culture and traditions than by sampling its unique cuisine. Distinctive flavours bare the soul of a nation, with recipes that date back hundreds of years with fascinating stories about how they came to be. It’s like tasting a country’s history.
With its Mediterranean influences, Portugal cuisine is known for its vast array of flavours and spices. If you want to truly immerse yourself in the tastes and smells of Portugal, make sure you follow this ultimate culinary adventure!
It’s difficult to find any menu in Portugal that doesn’t include a hearty spread of fish and shellfish. In fact the national dish is a kind of salted cod, called bacalhau. It is a dietary staple and dates all the way back to the 16th century when fishermen needed to find a way to keep their cod haul preserved until they got back home. It’s even sometimes referred to by the fond nickname: o fiel amigo, “the faithful friend”.
There are as many ways of preparing bacalhau as there are many family cooks in Portugal. One of the best ways to enjoy it is in Bacalhau à Brás – a delicious, scrambled-eggs-like mix of egg, onions, olives, and potato-matchstick chips. You’ll find it on plenty of menus around the country (and you can also find a range of recipes with a quick Google search – Jamie Oliver even has one).
Another famous – and delicious – Portuguese seafood dish is Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato or clams in white wine sauce. The dish is named after the 19th-century Lisbon poet Bulhão Pato, a well-known gourmand, and today it is a popular first course in the capital's many tascas and restaurantes típicos. Jaime has a recipe for this one too!
But not just any sausage! The Portuguese alheira is typically made from poultry and game meats and has a fascinating history. It was invented by Jews in Portugal during the inquisition.
Banned from practicing their religion, Jewish people realised they were easily recognisable if they didn’t have traditional pork sausages. The alheira was invented, made from whatever non-pork products they had available.
Nowadays you can pick up all kinds of versions, from chicken, through to duck and turkey and even vegetarian. Typically it includes breadcrumbs, plenty of garlic and olive oil, and sweet paprika. It’s then smoked to give a traditional flavour.
One of the most traditional ways of serving it is Alheira de Mirandela. The sausage is deep-fried and served with an egg, rice, French fries and salad.
Cozido A Portuguesa is a traditional Portuguese stew. It has numerous variations across the country, made with all kinds of combinations of meats and vegetables. It typically includes beef shin, offal, pork, and/or sausage, and the most common vegetables include cabbage, carrots, turnips, potatoes and collard greens. It also often contains rice, or the rice can be served on the side.
This is not a dish for vegetarians, but it is definitely one for those who embrace nose-to-tail eating. It’s also something to be appreciated by your sense of smell and taste rather than your eyes. Plates of cozida are not the most appetizing or elegant meals you’ll ever see. In fact the soggy cabbage and boiled potatoes might at first make you wonder what you’ve ordered.
But wait and let your palate guide you. As the dish is boiled all together, in one pot, the various flavours from each ingredient build on top of each other to create a truly hearty and memorable meal. Make sure you’re hungry – it’s something you’re going to want to have lots of space for.
One of the simplest dishes you’ll find on your Portuguese foodie tour, caldo verde is just the thing if you’ve been out sightseeing all day, been caught in a quick downpour and need to warm yourself up. It’s also about the best comfort food out there.
Caldo verde literally means “green broth”. Typically made with kale, or collard greens, sometimes it’s simply made with the addition of potatoes, garlic and well-flavoured stock.
Other recipes include meat such as a ham hock, or sausages like chorizo. Traditionally served in a clay pot, it’s accompanied by cornbread for dipping.
This is another one that’s easy to recreate at home, and there are dozens of recipes available online.
It would be impossible to talk about Portuguese food without mentioning pastéis de nata – those famous, delectable little egg-custard tarts, built on flaky pastry, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar and best eaten warm, straight from the oven. Just mouth-watering!
You’ll find pastéis de nata at pretty much any corner bakery throughout Portugal. One of the most famous is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém bakery in Lisbon. Schedule your visit for early in the day to avoid the huge lines of customers waiting for their bite of pastry.
It’s also a great idea to ask a local for their recommendation on the best pastry wherever you are – but be prepared to spend a while talking, as discussions on who bakes the best pastry are somewhat of a national pastime in Portugal.
Portuguese sweet rice pudding, arroz doceI, is a family staple and a favourite with locals and tourists alike. While a final sprinkle of cinnamon on top is standard, the other ingredients vary widely.
Some include eggs, others don’t, some use sweetened condensed milk, or include plain milk or cream. Most contain a little lemon peel for flavour.
Traditionally eaten as a dessert at Christmas, arroz docel is still found on menus year-round although it’s definitely at its most comforting on a chilly evening.
There a plenty of recipes available online – a criss-cross pattern of cinnamon on top is the most traditional decoration.
Portuguese doughnuts are an irresistible combination of éclair and doughnut. Called Bola de Berlim, they take their name from their similarity to the ”Berliner”, a similar Germany pastry.
Deep-fried dough is split in half and filled with a velvety, egg-yolk-heavy crème patisserie, and the whole lot is coated in sugar. Imagine a jam doughnut filled with custard instead of jam.
Bola de Berlim is considered a summertime treat and is particularly popular around the country’s southern beach towns. You’ll see them on display in bakery windows alongside piles of those delectable custard tarts.
But don’t worry about choosing – just have one of each!