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Booked your villa rental in Portugal and now looking forward to some genuine food experiences? Here is our guide to what to eat and where to eat it!
Once a dying breed there are now many artisanal “padarias” (bakeries) springing up everywhere in Portugal. As well as different types of bread, you can also order a coffee to go with the quintessentially Portuguese “pastel de nata” (custard tart) – a must-try!
A “pastelaria” (pastry shop) or a “confeitaria” (confectionary) is where you might end up having breakfast every day, especially if the magic words “fabrico próprio'” (made on the premises) is advertised. Freshly baked daily sweet pastries with coconut, cinnamon or almond are simply delicious. Avoid the croissant however, it’s a quite a dull version of its French cousin.
But do also try the savouries on offer such as “rissois de camarão or leitão” (prawn or suckling pig rissoles), “croquetes” (meat croquettes), or a “chamuça” (slightly spicy, samosas originating from Portugal’s ex-colonies in India.
A recent trend of reviving traditional kiosks has brought new life into Lisbon and Oporto’s old quarters, with some kiosks dating back to the 1800s. Strategically located in parks, squares or by the riverside, they sell snacks and beverages, even wine by the glass. Order a coffee and do as the Portuguese do: sit down and watch the rest of the world go by. If you’re lucky a live music band might be playing nearby!
Popular all year round but in particular when the weather is warmer, a “cervejaria” (beer hall) is the place to go for a cooling beer, most likely served with a bowl of “tremoços” (lupin beans). Sit at the bar or at a table set-up on the pavement just outside. Draft beer is called “imperial” and brands like Sagres and Super Bock are the most popular (bottled as well draft versions) but there are other great craft beers now being made in Portugal well worth a try, such as “Musa” or ciders like “Bandida do Pomar”.
Many beer halls also double up as a “Marisqueira” (shellfish restaurant). Prices for oysters, crabs, lobsters, clams etc are generally by the kilo, but can easily add up. So, order small portions and try it all. And order some “vinho verde” too (light sparkling wine from the Alvarinho grape), which will complement seafood perfectly.
In Lisbon two particular eateries offer beer, shellfish and a great atmosphere: Cervejaria Trindade at Rua Nova da Trindade 20 C (Tel +351 21 342 3506) and Cervejaria Ramiro at Avenida Almirante Reis 1 (Tel + 351 21 885 1024).
There is no real translation for the word “tasca”, other than a no-frills, hole-in-the-wall eatery just around some street corner. It is most likely to be family-run and serves up cheap and cheerful Portuguese food.
A “taberna” (tavern) in Portugal is a small upgrade from a “tasca” – a bit cosier but not costly.
Not to be confused with more trendy eateries in Portugal that have used the name of “Tasca” or “Taberna” with some poetic licence; these simple eateries are likely to be crowded at lunchtime and will offer a dish of the day (traditional fare prepared for locals), ready to serve up almost as soon as you sit down, thus the appeal for those who work and live nearby. Tables will possibly be shared, food will be served piled high on steel platters and wine by the jug full, with paper tablecloths used after the meal to add-up what you have eaten. A super sweet dessert or fresh fruit will likely be followed up by a “bica” (expresso coffee) or a brandy.
These are good places to try out Portugal’s best “petiscos” (savoury snacks) or more traditional dishes – see our guide further down this post.
Specializing in “frango no churrasco” (barbecued chicken) these super popular hole-in-wall restaurants (mostly take-aways) owe their simple recipe to the country’s colonial past – “frango piri-piri” was and still is the national food of Mozambique! In Portugal, you can order it with or without “piri-piri” (red hot chilli sauce). But you should also order some “batatas fritas” (potato crisps) to go with it.
This is where to go when you’re up for a more formal, full two or three-course lunch or dinner. The Portuguese food scene has recently exploded into an exciting mix of innovative cuisine and traditional gourmet experiences with a surge of local and international chefs and a new wave of cuisine that’s uniquely modern Portuguese.
Restaurants generally open for dinner at 19:00 hours with last orders taken at around 22:30 hours, but you won’t see locals eat much before 20:30 hours. More trendy and modern restaurants usually have 2 sittings per night with the last one starting quite late – reservations are essential.
Signature cuisine will, of course, be more expensive than the food choice offered by a more typical restaurant, but it will still be quite reasonable in comparison to the rest of Europe or the USA.
Whilst in no way an extensive list, here are just a few tips for enjoying some genuine Portuguese gastronomy!
When walking around any urban centre from Autumn to Spring in Portugal, you are likely to find a man or woman with roasting chestnuts on the street – “castanhas assadas” are not only delicious they are also a healthy snack!
As soon as you sit down for a meal at most eateries you will be served bread, olives and cheese (butter and pâté too in some cases) to nibble on whilst you order, on the basis that you pay for what you eat. But to be clear, make sure to tell your waiter to take it away if you don’t fancy any of it and don’t want to be charged for it.
“Petiscar” is a made-up verb that best describes nibbling on small shared dishes. Many eateries offer a choice of “petiscos” (snacks) which you can order instead of a larger meal ranging from pasteis de bacalhau (cod fritters), “caracois” (snails), “presunto” (smoked ham) to “chouriço assado” (grilled pork sausage).
Mostly a northern Portugal soup, “Caldo Verde” is made with cabbage, potato and a slice of pork sausage; whilst “Sopa á Alentejana” is typical of the Alentejo province and consists of a broth of garlic and coriander, with an added chunk of bread and topped with a poached egg.
“Queijo Fresco” is fresh goat’s cheese whilst “Queijo de Niza” is cured (orange in colour), both usually served as appetizers; and “Queijo de Azeitão” is usually served quite runny with the lid cut-off, ready for you to dip your spoon in. The one to look out for however and considered quite a delicacy in Portugal is the “Queijo da Serra” which comes from the Serra da Estrela region. It is also served quite runny with the lid cut-off, so that you can spoon it off and rub on a piece of bread – try this with a glass of port!
In general, meat dishes can be quite ordinary, but chicken, pork and game, somehow seem to be much tastier in Portugal – probably because it is mostly free-range.
“Carne de Porco à Alentejana”, is a wonderful surf and turf dish of spicy pork chunks and clams; whilst “Cozido à Portuguesa” is a boiled stew of Portuguese sausage, chicken and pork, potatoes and cabbage; and truly delicious if you’re a meat eater, “Leitão Assado” or crispy roast suckling pig, is served with orange slices and sparkling wine.
Freshly caught Atlantic Ocean fish is delicious and prepared in several ways in Portugal, but topping the list is “Peixe ao Sal” (salt-baked fish) which is encased in mounds of hardened salt and baked slowly in the oven. Once cooked and the salt crust cracked open, the fish within only needs a drizzle of olive oil.
Charcoal-grilled “sardinhas assadas” (sardines) smell and taste delicious when in season from June and throughout the summer months.
“Lulas grelhadas” (grilled squid) are normally also grilled over a charcoal fire. A speciality of the Alentejo coast, “choco frito” (cuttle-fish) is battered and deep-fried; whilst “polvo á lagareiro” (octopus) is more typical of northern Portugal, oven-baked with olive oil, garlic and herbs, served with roast potatoes.
The traditional fish stew of “caldeirada” uses up a wide variety of fish (depending on the catch of the day); and Portugal’s national dish of “Bacalhau” (cod) can be served in many ways, so ask the restaurant how they prepared it.
Other seafood dishes to try are “Arroz de Marisco” (rich fish and shellfish rice); “Açorda de Marisco” (shellfish bread stew) with lots of garlic and coriander; and typical of Southern Portugal, the “Cataplana” is a specially shaped dish for pressure cooking seafood and strips of ham or pork sausage. There are however several variations to this dish, so ask about it first.
Quite unique and a speciality of the Portuguese coast, shellfish like “Percebes” (goose barnacles) are prized-off precarious rock formations and taste of the sea when simply boiled; there ere are also several types of “Ameijoas” (clams); as well as “Conquilhas” which are similar to a clam but flatter and more oval in shape, with a very delicate taste.
“Arroz Doce” (rice pudding), “Pudim Flan” and “Leite Crème” (both variations of crème caramel) and “Salami de Chocolate” (chocolate and biscuit roll served in slices) are a norm in most conventional Portuguese restaurants.
The term “Doces Conventuais” covers a varied number of very rich puddings that originated in convents where nuns and monks bred chickens and had to use up their surplus eggs, as well as dried fruits like fig and almonds that grew on the grounds. These puddings are also made with a great deal of sugar and cinnamon.
“Dom Rodrigo” is a speciality of the Algarve that comes wrapped in coloured foil and is made of almond, fig and egg, usually eaten at the same time as a coffee to counterbalance its sweetness; whilst “Queijadas” are typical of the Lisbon region and look rather like a small pie/cheesecake.
A “prego” (steak sandwich) or a “bifana” (pork sandwich) cooked with garlic are our final suggestion and either tastes particularly good, before you head back to your villa after a late night out although you can eat them any time of the day! Roadside stalls, a “cervejaria” or indeed at some “tascas” are all likely to serve them.
Forget the diet until you return home!