Portugal may not enjoy the same culinary profile as other European palates, but what it lacks in status it makes up for in earthy authenticity and fresh, enlivening flavour. The country owes its roster of homegrown dishes to its seafaring heritage and rustic agricultural bent, with fresh fish, meat and vegetables taking pride of place within many national dishes.
For those visiting Portugal for the first or fifteenth time, the country surprises with its gastronomic offering, which continues to evolve thanks to the progressive approach taken by Lisbon, Porto and the Douro’s top chefs. Here, tradition meets flair, with a menu of dishes pushing Portugal’s culinary envelope further than ever before.
To celebrate the unique cuisine of this Iberian nation, here we showcase 11 delicious dishes to try in Portugal, and some of the restaurants you can visit to sample the dishes listed.
The Portuguese, like so many European nationalities, take breakfast seriously, so you can expect to be suitably well fed in the AM. Here are a handful of Portugal’s favourite breakfast dishes and where to find them.
Uma Torrada — Order uma torrada in any Portuguese café or pastelaria (pastry shop), and we hope you brought your appetite. This Iberian delicacy comprises of fresh bread served with several spreads and dips, which vary from place to place. Uma torrada bread is served ‘doorstop style’, so you may want to share if you aren’t accustomed to a big breakfast. The dish can be enjoyed in most establishments advertising pão quente, or ‘hot bread’.
Tosta Mista — Similar to a French croque-monsieur, tosta mista is a cheese and ham toasted sandwich, predominantly served at breakfast time. Though equally as tasty, Portugal’s variation of this timeless classic is much simpler than the French, and is normally served in cafes and padarias (bakeries). In some eateries, the bread is topped with oregano before toasting, which certainly adds to the flavour.
Pastéis de Nata — The French may be renowned for their collective sweet tooth, but the Portuguese are equally as impassioned when it comes to sugar, and often eat sweet treats at breakfast time. One of the most popular of these is the pastéis de nata, a small egg custard tart wrapped in crisp, crackly pastry. The best place to sample this delicious breakfast snack is Confeitaria Arcádia, one of the oldest and most revered bakeries in Porto.
Like their Spanish neighbours, the Portuguese make a meal out of lunchtimes, with most sittings lasting well over an hour. Lunch is usually served from noon to 2pm, with serious diners making steady progress through three courses during this time. Here are three typical dishes normally consumed at lunchtime in Portugal.
Caldo Verde — Perhaps the most famous of Portugal’s national dishes, caldo verde is a delicious soup served as an appetiser at lunch or dinner. This Portuguese staple traditionally contains just four ingredients: potatoes, kale, olive oil and salt. Although there are now several variations which incorporate ingredients like ham hock, garlic and onion. The dish originates from Portugal’s beautiful Minho Province, and has become a beloved national dish, enjoyed during public holidays.
Try the caldo verde at DOC, a contemporary restaurant overlooking the Douro River.
Caldeirada de Peixe — With the Atlantic seaboard providing a fruitful larder of delicious seafood, it’s small wonder fish plays such a vital role in Portuguese gastronomy. While caldeirada de peixe won’t be the last seafood dish we list here, it’s easily one of the best — a thick, rich fish stew comprising of just about every type of seafood the chef is able to get their hands on. Clams, oysters, cod, this dish has it all, and is topped off with fresh herbs and tomatoes.
For the most authentic caldeirada de peixe in Portugal, make for Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon. Nicknamed the ‘seafood temple’, this is, perhaps, the best seafood restaurant in all of Portugal.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato — We warned you caldeirada de peixe wouldn’t be the last fish dish on this list, and here we have the next seafood entry, amêijoas à bulhão pato. Seemingly impossible to pronounce, this wonderful, clam-based dish is one of the country’s most popular lunchtime staples, and is best enjoyed with a side of fresh bread and a cold, refreshing beer.
To try fresh, delicious amêijoas à bulhão pato at its finest, visit the A Tasquinha, a traditional Portuguese restaurant in the riverside town of Regua.
Like lunch, Portuguese dinners are conducted with pomp and grandeur, with most extending long into the twilight hours. Expect to sit down to dinner no earlier than 8pm, and brace yourself for a late night of culinary opulence. Here are five of the best dishes for a Portuguese dinner.
Arroz de Pato — Looking for a rich, deep dish to complement a glass of Portuguese port wine? Enter arroz de pato, a delicious risotto dish served with shredded duck and slices of chorizo sausage. A restaurant staple, arroz de pato has its origins in peasant fare, but has since been adopted by Portugal’s finest restaurants.
To taste Arroz de Pato at its authentic best, visit the O Lager restaurant during a port call in the beautiful village of Pocinho.
Bolo do Caco — More of a side dish than a main event, bolo do caco is a traditional Portuguese bread loaf whose recipe originates from the island of Madeira. The loaf is baked using an artisanal basalt stone, and is usually served hot alongside a fish or meat stew. Tear a chunk from the bolo do caco loaf and dunk it in a hot stew for a true taste of Portugal.
Bolo do caco can be purchased from most bakeries in Portugal; just look out for shop fronts displaying the padaria sign.
Sardinhas Assadas — There’s no finer joy in life than savouring fresh seafood by the coast, and Portugal’s staple fish dish, sardinhas assadas is among the most delicious, authentic and fragrant seafood dishes on the planet. Beloved by locals; sardinhas assadas comprises charcoal-grilled sardines served with fresh lemon, roasted pepper salad, sliced potatoes and corn bread. The dish is a classic dinnertime favourite, but can also be enjoyed on the street in cities like Porto and Lisbon. For the most authentic experience, be sure to cover the fish in copious amounts of olive oil.
Polvo à Lagareiro — Portugal’s favourite national dish, polvo à lagareiro, may be something of an acquired taste to foreign visitors. The dish is made using fresh octopus, onions, parsley, and baked potatoes, and is so special to locals it is commonly served on Christmas Day. When cooked correctly, the octopus is tender and easy to chew, and is absolutely delicious when drizzled with olive oil. In restaurants, the dish is occasionally served as a starter without the potatoes, although we prefer the full ensemble.
Keen to try Portugal’s favourite national dish? Head for Porto’s fabulous Taberna dos Mercadores, easily one of the city’s finest seafood restaurants.
Ovos Moles de Aveiro — Following a hefty Portuguese feast, you might not fancy anything too rich for dessert. Thankfully, Portugal is home to a number of delicate sweet treats that are light enough to enjoy after a meal. One of our favourites is ovos moles de aveiro, a sweet, egg-yolk pastry wrapped in a thin, shell-shaped wafer. The recipe for these sweet little delicacies originates in the 19th century, and ovos moles de aveiro remains one of Portugal’s best-loved sweet pastries.
If only for its food alone, Portugal deserves your attention. Our luxury river cruises on the Douro transport you to some of Portugal’s best-loved destinations, including Porto, Pocinho and Vega de Terron. For more information, visit the homepage or call us on 0808 252 0665.