Discover Europe’s Culinary Jewel: What Food is Portugal Famous For?
This country is perhaps best known for having plenty of sun-soaked days and its stunning collection of beaches in places like the Algarve.
There is something magical about the simple pleasure of walking across Portuguese houses decorated with azulejos. And in their culinary, some plates will make you look forward to lunch the moment that you’ve finished breakfast.
If this sounds like your type of holiday, then this is the place for you (and remember that the best month to visit Portugal is July).
From the buzzy cities of Lisbon and Porto to the hilly oasis of the Douro Valley, Portugal is crammed full of gastronomical delights wherever you turn. Portugal is brimming with gastronomical delights. To get your tastebuds tingling, here are three reasons why you should plan plenty of time for your meals on your next holiday.
Let’s discover what food is Portugal famous for. But before, let’s talk about prices.
Is Food Cheap in Portugal?
The average cost of a meal in Portugal is around €16.
There are many restaurants in Portugal where you can get a meal for under €10, but the average cost of a meal at a mid-range restaurant comes in at around €16. In a cheap restaurant, your dinner will likely include bread, soup, salad, and the main dish.
Be aware that the bread that the waiter puts on the table is often not for free! If you touch it, you’ll pay a little extra.
If you want to eat out but keep your expenses low, you might want to consider street food, which is quite popular in Lisbon. Meals like sandwiches and wraps start around €4 and go up from there. You can also buy some great Portuguese pastries from street vendors for less than €1.
What Food is Portugal Known For?
With the west coast of Portugal surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the country has access to a bounty of fresh seafood. As a result, there are plenty of beloved national dishes that celebrate these delicious local ingredients.
Why not be brave and try polvo à lagareiro? This dish of boiled then baked octopus is a common favorite and is traditionally served with baked potatoes. Whilst octopus might feel a little out of your comfort zone, it’s a simple dish that focuses on flavor, and you can be sure that your chef will know how to prepare it.
Another famous Portuguese food ingredient is the Bacalhau (codfish). Personally, this is one of my 3 favorite things to eat, not only among Portuguese stuff but overall.
Bacalhau is also traditional in many former Portuguese colonies. I have good memories of having it for dinner during my childhood in Brazil.
There are numerous Portuguese bacalhau dishes to choose from. It can be baked, grilled, canned, served with potatoes or rice, and more. It’s worth noting that Portuguese codfish is usually dried and salted, and not sold as fresh fish but stacked in piles.
The origins of bacalhau were one of the things that surprised us the most. Surprisingly, bacalhau is not native to the Portuguese coast.
Bacalhau is a type of fish that is imported from Newfoundland or Norway. Since the 16th century, when Portuguese fishermen first brought it back from Newfoundland, it has been an integral part of Portuguese cuisine.
The three most common types of Bacalhau dishes are:
- Bacalhau à Brás: Salted pulled Codfish, with eggs, and potatoes.
- Bolinhos de Bacalhau: Dumplings of salted pulled codfish.
- Bacalhau assado na brasa com batatas: Roasted Codfish, served with potatoes and lots of olive oil.
If you want to get involved with their national dishes, any major Portuguese local markets sell fish caught on the same morning at good prices. Even if you’re used to cooking with seafood, the quality of the ingredients will be enough to ensure that you experience your familiar dishes in a whole new way.
Pastéis de Nata
These tasty little tarts have expanded worldwide, but the best place to get them is the city where they were created — Lisbon. Originally, these tarts were made by the monks in Santa Maria de Belem. It was common to use egg whites for starching the nun’s habits, which left a large number of leftover egg yolks, so the monks got creative and the tarts were born.
There is plenty of debate over where Lisbon does the best tarts, and you’ll find that each location has its own slightly different recipe, so it’s worth leaving plenty of time to do your own taste comparison.
Portuguese Meat and Sandwiches
Meat has long been a historically important part of European diets. As well as being a status symbol, it was an essential source of protein, as there were not as many types of vegetarian protein available.
This has led to a wide range of meat dishes in Portuguese cuisine, particularly hearty stews, which combine seasonal vegetables with a rich sauce, as well as slow-roasted meats served with rice.
For a light snack, make sure to try out bifanas, a traditional Portuguese sandwich made with pork marinated in garlic, white wine, and paprika. The meat is served on white bread with a crunchy texture and is often accompanied by soup or fries.
You can also try the Portuguese adaptation of a croque monsieur, called a francesinha sandwich. This tasty treat is full of ham, sausages, and steak. It’s then covered with melted cheese and topped with an egg.
Portuguese Drinks and Beverages
The Portuguese take two drinks in particular very seriously: coffee and wine.
The idea of spending time in a coffee shop in Portugal literally is about the coffee itself. Locals often start their day with a cup from a neighborhood coffee shop, rather than a chain. They also use it as a social activity, and this has been an important part of Portuguese culture for many years.
The classic way of serving coffee in Portugal is called Bica and is somehow similar to what we know as espresso, although with some differences from the Italian version. It has more volume than the normal espresso, and it is smoother in taste.
Of course, you can order with your coffee a range of milk drinks too using the right terminology. Rather than the more common arabica beans, the Portuguese favor a blend that also has robusta beans, which is a light to medium roast.
The beans used in Portugal are usually brought from one of the best places in the world for coffee: Brazil, which is also one of their former colonies.
Later in the day, settle down with a glass of wine. If you’re looking for an immersive experience, then head to the Douro Valley wine region, which has been producing wine for over 2000 years. Not only does it offer the finest wine that Portugal has to offer, but it’s stunningly beautiful, with a winding river and luscious green slopes.
Portugal produces a wide variety of wines. The Porto wine is perhaps the most well-known, but what this Iberian country has to offer extends far beyond it.
Best Food Cities in Portugal
Portuguese cuisine has a variety of regional tastes. Unfortunately, we could not make justice to all of them, but here we selected the 3 cities to discover what food is Portugal famous for:
- Lisbon — It is not only one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal but also the capital. It’s known for its great seafood restaurants and traditional dishes like bacalhau com natas (codfish with cream sauce). There, you can find some world-class restaurants, and great street food stalls as well. You can also try the curious mix of tastes caused by the enormous Brazilian diaspora in Lisbon.
- Porto — Porto is not only famous for its port wine. This city offers some of the best street foods in all of Portugal, including Francesinha (a great sandwich, see what we wrote about it above), and Tripas à Moda do Porto (not to my taste but a lot of people enjoy it).
- Portimão — The Algarve region is well known for its beaches, resorts, and as one of the best places in Europe to retire. However, not many people know about the excellent food you can find there. Apart from multiple fish dishes like in the rest of the country, Algarve has some specialties of its own such as the Polvo à Lagareiro that we described before.
Food and Wine Tours Portugal
Here is a selected gastronomical tour for you in 3 of the places we mentioned.
- Lisbon: Treasures of Lisboa Food Tours
- Porto: Porto: 3-Hour Food and Wine Tasting Tour – Guided Experience
- Douro: Douro Valley Small-Group Tour with Wine Tasting, Lunch, and Optional Cruise.
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