Enjoy the best Portugal food

A seafood-loving state with much Mediterranean influence, Portugal is well set up for the gastronomic vacation of a lifetime. While you might previously have gotten your lips around a Pastel de Nata, there are a number of other Portuguese snacks and dishes that you may not have tried, leaving you many more tastes to sample on your Portugal trip. Alongside its fresh fish and salty stews, Portugal has just the thing; a deep red port to wash it all down. All that leaves us to do is find a restaurant in Lisbon’s hills or at Porto’s riverside at sunset and order as dishes as you have room for.

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With at least one Bacalhau recipe for every day of the year, don’t delay in tasting the national dish of Portugal and ‘faithful friend’ of any local

1. Bacalhau (Cod fish)

The saltier the recipe the better it seems in Portugal, so much so that over 1,000 dishes are cooked with Bacalhau, a salted dried cod adding intense flavour to pretty much anything. With at least one Bacalhau recipe for every day of the year, don’t delay in tasting the national dish of Portugal and ‘faithful friend’ of any local. Start with Bacalhau à bras, a dish of scrambled egg, potato, onions, garlic and of course Bacalhau, served up simply in just about any traditional restaurant.

2. Cataplana de Marisco (Seafood stew)

Originally an Algarve speciality, the Cataplana de Marisco has since become a staple dish across Portugal. Cooked and served up in a copper pan (la cataplana), the Cataplana de Marisco comes packed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and white wine, made even tastier with whole prawns and juicy chunks of chorizo. There are two types of Cataplana recipes to enjoy; one comes with pork and clam and the other is exclusively seafood, both very distinct from the other and varying with each chef.

Algarve | Photo: Max Zed

Photo: Mogens Petersen

3. Caldo Verde (Kale soup)

The soup to try while on winter vacation or any time of year for that matter, Caldo Verde is always a hit. Hued green and served up specially at New Year, this simple soup is rarely found outside of Portugal in its pure form because its Kale-like veggie base is uncommon beyond the country’s borders. As well as the regional greens, the dish also features a blend of potato, chorizo and olive oil for hearty texture and a creamy taste, with added heat the further south you travel.

4. Polvo à Lagareiro (Octopus Dish)

Another Portuguese traditional food for the seafood lovers among us, Polvo à Lagareiro arrives on the table with its star ingredient of octopus baked and roasted in a generous dousing of locally made olive oil. Skin-on potatoes are usually baked alongside the tender octopus, soaking up all the juices to balance the fruity and slightly bitter flavour of the olives. Sometimes, however, the dish is served up in other creative ways such as in appetizers, salads and on rice to satisfy any kind of hunger.

5. Sardinhas (Sardines)

Grilled fish is to the Portuguese as the baguette is to the French. An affordable snack on bread or as part of an appetizer salad, Sardinhas play heavily on the Lisbon food scene, particularly in June around the Santo António Festival when the air comes heavy with the smell of grilled sardines. Locals need no excuse to eat sardines and consume an average of 5 kilograms each year, enjoying them fresh in their peak season between June and August or canned the year through.

Photo: Alex Teixeira

Photo: Cottonbro

6. Francesinha (Smoked meats and cheese sandwich)

On the lunch list of all the restaurants in Porto, the Francesinha comes with zero fanfare but huge flavour. Porto’s signature version of the French croque monsieur, the Francesinha is simply two thick slices of bread filled with meat (steak, ham, sausage or chorizo), melted cheese, spicy tomato sauce and an over-easy egg for all the more gooey satisfaction. The Francesinha is a Portugal food favourite for obvious reasons, varying throughout the country and served with a side helping of beer sauce and fries piled high.

7. Feijoada (Bean stew)

One of the more famous dishes to come out of Portugal, the Feijoada is like a hug in a bowl. Variations of the recipe can be found in countries like Brazil, Azores and India to name just a few, but the traditional combination of black beans, garlic, locally cured meats and bay leaves stewed in a thick clay pot is a Portugal original. Named for its key ingredient of feijão (that’s Portuguese for beans, honey), this colourful stew is perfect for a rainy day, extra filling thanks to a side of fluffy rice. If you’re a pescatarian, head to the coast where a version of feijoada made with sea snails makes an appearance.

8. Carne de Porco à Alentejana (Pork with Clams Alentejo Style)

Seared pork and clams is the curious mix of this Portuguese dish, simmered together in a large skillet with a marinade of white wine, vinegar, paprika, bay leaf, coriander and Massa de Pimentão (red bell pepper paste). Portugal’s take on surf n’ turf, Carne de Porco à Alentejana takes richness from the clams and tang from the wine and garlic to elevate this Algarve dish to new levels. If that wasn’t enough, the side serving of fried cubed potatoes will surely do it.

Photo: Cottonbro

Photo: Helena Ije

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Made of flour, butter, eggs, cinnamon and sugar, the Pastel de Nata will ruin your detox but lighten your life with a crisp buttery base to compliment its rich custard filling

9. Pastel de Nata (Pastry)

Pastéis de Natas, pastel de Nata or simply egg custard tart, however you want to call it, this pastry is up there with the croissant as the world’s most loved pastry dessert. Made of flour, butter, eggs, cinnamon and sugar, the Pastel de Nata will ruin your detox but lighten your life with a crisp buttery base to compliment its rich custard filling. Best served warm and accompanied with a small Portuguese coffee known as ‘bica’ in Lisbon, this dessert can gladly be found anywhere in Portugal, though the best is surely to be found at Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, under the original name Pastel de Belém.

10. Portuguese desserts

If you’d like one more Portugal dessert for the road, you’ll have to choose from what the Portuguese call conventual desserts, which basically refers to pastries that were created in a convent or monastery. Like the Pastel de Nata, all these desserts play heavily with sugar, cinnamon and egg yolk (the nuns traditionally saving the egg whites to starch the priest’s clothing), to create a series of heritage sweet treats. Try the almond-cream puff pastry ‘Queijadas de Sintra’ in Sintra, comparing it with the similar ‘Queijadas de Evora’ in Evora. Otherwise, the Tíbias de Braga, Sericaia, Toucinho de Céu, Travesseiro or the Pao de Lo all do well to fulfil even the strongest sugar cravings.

Photo: Magda Ehlers

Pasteis de Nata | Photo: Dilyara Garifullina

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