Portugal is a country known for its rich culture and delicious cuisine. With its Mediterranean climate and abundance of fresh seafood, it’s no surprise that the traditional food of Portugal is a feast for the senses. From hearty stews to grilled sardines, Portuguese cuisine is both diverse and flavorful.
Portuguese and Galician cuisine share many traditions and features due to proximity. The influence of Portugal’s spice trade in the East Indies, Africa, and the Americas is also notable, especially in the wide variety of spices used.
In this post, we will explore some of the best traditional foods in Portugal that you simply must try when you visit.
Bacalhau, or salt cod, is one of the most popular dishes in Portugal. It is said that there are over 365 ways to cook bacalhau, one for every day of the year. This versatile fish can be baked, grilled, fried, or boiled, and is often served with potatoes and vegetables.
Cod is a popular dish in most areas of the world, especially in former Portuguese colonies such as Cape Verde, Angola, Macau, Brazil, and Goa.
Bacalhau is often served with potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and fresh bread. More traditional flavourings include but are not limited to garlic, onion, olive oil, black pepper, white pepper, Piri Piri, bay leaves, parsley, coriander, and allspice. Green wine (vinho verde) or mature wines are served alongside.
Cozido à Portuguesa
Cozido à Portuguesa is a hearty stew made with various types of meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausages (chouriço, farinheira, morcela), along with vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, beans, potatoes, and turnips. This dish is traditionally cooked for several hours, allowing the flavours to meld together and create a delicious and satisfying meal.
In São Miguel Island, Azores, a local version of the Cozido à Portuguesa is cooked underground with heat and steam coming from the volcanic phenomena in the area.
Sardinhas Assadas, or grilled sardines, is a must-try when visiting Portugal. This dish is simple but delicious, with the fresh flavours of the sardines enhanced by the smoky char from the grill. Sardinhas Assadas are often served with a side of roasted peppers and potatoes, and sometimes salad.
Bear in mind that sardines are nutrient-rich (source of omega-3 fatty acids), small, oily fish widely consumed by humans and as forage fish by larger fish species, seabirds, and marine mammals. Sardines are often served in cans, but can also be eaten grilled, pickled, or smoked when fresh.
Grilled sardines are the snack of choice on Saint Anthony‘s Day, June 13, when Portugal’s biggest popular festival takes place in Lisbon.
Arroz de Marisco
Arroz de Marisco, or seafood rice, is an exquisite dish that combines the freshest catch from the sea with fragrant rice and juicy sauce, resulting in a flavorful experience that captures the essence of coastal living.
It contains an assortment of seafood, which can include prawns, clams, mussels, squid, and others which is sautéed with aromatic onions, garlic, and sometimes tomatoes, infusing the dish with a rich depth of flavour. The rice is then added, absorbing the seafood’s essence as it cooks, resulting in grains that are plump with succulent juices. The dish is often seasoned with a medley of herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, and sometimes a dash of white wine for an extra layer of complexity.
Pastel de Nata
Pastéis de Nata, often simply referred to as “natas,” are the beloved custard tarts that have become synonymous with Portuguese sweets, and are currently common in most countries in the world.
These popular pastries consist of delicate, flaky pastry shells that cradle a luscious filling of creamy, caramelized custard. The custard is flavoured with a hint of vanilla and often a touch of lemon zest. The tops of the custard tarts develop a beautiful caramelized crust during baking, adding a delightful contrast to the silky custard beneath.
Caldo Verde is a beloved Portuguese soup that originated in the Minho region in the north of the country. It combines just a few humble ingredients to create a deeply satisfying dish.
The basic traditional ingredients for caldo verde are finely shredded cabbage or couve-galega (essentially a type of collard green), (or alternatively other leafy greens such as kale or mustard greens), potatoes, olive oil, black pepper and salt, mainly flavoured with onion and garlic. Some regional recipes favour slight variations, like turnip greens or added meat, such as ham hock, making it similar to Italo-American wedding soup. Traditionally the soup is accompanied by slices of paio, chouriço or linguiça (boiled whole with the potatoes, then sliced and added to the finished soup when serving) and with Portuguese broa corn-bread or rye-bread for dipping.
It is typically consumed during events such as weddings, birthdays and popular celebrations. It is sometimes consumed before a main course or as a late supper. It is traditionally served in earthenware bowls called tigela.
Polvo à Lagareiro
Polvo à Lagareiro is a delicious Portuguese dish that showcases the country’s love for seafood and the art of simple but flavorful preparation.
It starts with a tender octopus which is prepared using a traditional method known as “lagareiro.” The octopus is first cooked until it’s tender and then roasted or grilled until the skin becomes crispy and slightly charred. The term “lagareiro” refers to the olive oil press, and this dish is named as such due to the generous drizzle of high-quality olive oil that’s poured over the octopus before serving.
The result is a harmonious dish with the succulent octopus contrasting with the crispy exterior and the rich, fruity notes of the olive oil. The dish is often accompanied by boiled or roasted potatoes, which are cooked alongside the octopus and soak up the flavours of the olive oil. A final touch of garlic and sometimes other herbs add depth to the dish.
Arroz de Pato
Arroz de Pato (Duck Rice) is a dish that harmoniously blends the heartiness of duck with the comfort of rice, resulting in a sumptuous one-pot wonder.
The dish begins with a good piece or pieces of duck meat, which is typically slow-cooked until tender and imbued with rich flavours. The duck is then combined with rice, allowing the grains to soak up the delicious essence of the meat. The rice is often cooked in a broth made from the duck, infusing it with a depth of taste that’s both savoury and satisfying. The dish is often enriched with smoky chorizo sausage, adding an extra layer of complexity and stronger flavour. It is lastly baked until the top develops a tantalizing golden crust.
Francesinha is a sandwich that originated in the city of Porto. It is made with layers of toasted bread and assorted hot meats such as roast, steak, wet-cured ham, linguiça, or chipolata over which sliced cheese is melted by the ladling of a near-boiling tomato-and-beer sauce called Molho de Francesinha. It is typically served with french fries.
This is Porto’s second most notorious local product, after the world-famous Porto wine. It is heavy as you see by its ingredients and picture, but it is worth trying. Santa Francesinha is a great place to enjoy one.
Bolo Rei, which translates to “King Cake,” is a traditional Portuguese cake/dessert that is commonly eaten during the Christmas season. This festive treat is a symbol of celebration with family and friends. The cake’s origins are rooted in Catholic tradition, representing the gifts brought by the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus.
It is made with a sweet dough that’s studded with candied fruits, nuts, and sometimes crystallized ginger. The cake’s circular shape symbolizes eternity and the crown of the kings. In the centre, a hole is often left as a nod to the biblical story of the Three Wise Men, allowing for a candle to be placed once the cake is served. The surface of Bolo Rei is adorned with a dusting of powdered sugar, giving it a snow-like appearance, and sometimes includes a colourful ribbon or two, signifying the gifts brought by the Wise Men.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato (Bulhão Pato clams) is a popular seafood dish that makes great use of the abundant clams found along Portugal’s coast. It is named after the renowned Portuguese poet Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato.
This dish preparation is straightforward: fresh clams are sautéed in a fragrant mixture of olive oil, garlic, and fresh cilantro. As the clams open, they release their briny juices, infusing the oil with their distinctive taste. The result is a harmonious blend of oceanic essence, aromatic garlic, and the herbal freshness of cilantro. It is normally served with a squeeze of zesty lemon juice and some cilantro or parsley leaves.
Caldeirada is a Portuguese and Galician fish stew consisting of a wide variety of fish, potatoes and other ingredients that vary from recipe to recipe.
The fish can also vary, depending on the area and the catch of the day. Additional vegetables can include onions, green peppers, tomatoes and tomato purée or tomato paste); spices can include salt and black pepper, bay leaf, coriander, parsley, sweet and hot paprika, white pepper, oregano and some recipes add even more ingredients such as vermicelli, olive oil, allspice, port wine, white wine and whisky or brandy.