Portuguese cuisine has many Mediterranean influences and is made with simple and fresh ingredients. If you are visiting or moving to Portugal, you must try these national gastronomic treasures and unique drinks for a true taste of Portuguese tradition.
Sun, sand and heritage: Portugal has emerged as a popular destination for world-class tourism, curious travelers, and history enthusiasts. From breathtaking golden beaches to a rich history and culture, the small southern European country has something for everyone, making this a country unlike any other. If you decided to visit Portugal, you will discover a new lifestyle: arriving later than scheduled is OK; prepare yourself to be kissed by everybody; Portuguese can be a noisy bunch and party all night long; children go to bed at 9 p.m. or later; dinner time starts at 7 or 8 p.m.; Portuguese have sarcastic sense of humor; wine is essential at dinner time; three, four or five daily espressos are crucial to the everyday survival; family time is important and so is food.
Fish and seafood
The Portuguese coast is extensive. With a marine territory of 1,727,408 km2, Portugal has Europe’s highest fish consumption. Tuna, sea bass, sargo, mullet, Atlantic wreckfish, sea bream, flounder, redfish, snapper, sardine, swordfish, mackerel, horse mackerel, trout, largemouth, monkfish, carp, octopus, squid, stone and spider crab, shrimp and prawns, lobster, eels, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, periwinkles, barnacles and goose barnacles are just a few of the harvested species off Portugal’s coast but codfish is the true national obsession. Cod is not native to this particular coastline but Portuguese has been trading and fishing cod since the 15th century. The beginning of this love affair may have started because codfish was (and still is) an inexpensive and easy-to-preserve fish. Currently, you can find more than 365 different cod-inspired dishes but the “bacalhau à bras” is one of the best and my personal favorite.
Bread, Pastries, Cakes & Tarts
Portugal is overrun by bakeries and coffee shops, and we are totally ok with that. You can easily buy fresh bread and delicious Portuguese sweet treats at these locations, but be prepared to spend several minutes of your time trying to decide which one you will feast on – each town has its own local specialty and dozens of more options. Rich egg-based custards, sweet breads, fried cakes, tarts and puddings are some of the options you will find at these shops.
The “Pastel de Nata” (Portuguese custard tart) is probably the #1 snack in the country and it is usually paired with a hot cup of espresso right after breakfast. This famous pastry is also known as “Pastéis de Belém” because they originally come from Belém, a historic district in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. The original recipe dates back to the 1800s which is recreated every day in the original bakery in Belém. The best way to enjoy these amazing tarts is to eat them on site when they come straight out of the oven, and with a sprinkle of powdered cinnamon and sugar.
Because dinner only comes at 8 p.m., a mid-afternoon snack is necessary to keep you going. You will find that most bakeries and coffee shops are completely full around 5 or 6 p.m. – Portuguese rush to these locations to either eat toast, a sandwich, or a pastry.
Any Portuguese can tell you how coffee is important on a daily basis – Portugal is ranked #24 on the top 25 coffee consuming nations. National brands like Sical or Delta thrive in this steady market and Portuguese show no signs of slowing down the caffeine addiction. Anything can be used as an excuse to get together for coffee and coffee breaks can last for hours, if not the whole afternoon.
Coffee lovers will appreciate what Portugal has to offer but keep in mind that if you ask for a cup of coffee, you will only get one type – an espresso. If you are looking for a particular coffee beverage, take a look below at the different varieties you will be able to request.
Café or Bica (Espresso)
Standard black espresso.
Café Cheio or Bica Cheia (Full Espresso)
A full (espresso) cup with standard black espresso.
Duplo (Double Espresso)
The Duplo is served on a larger cup and contains from 2 to 3 espressos.
A decaf espresso.
Bica/Café Pingado (Espresso with a dash of milk)
The closest thing to a latte.
Bica/ Café Com Cheirinho (Espresso with a dash of alcohol)
Aguardente or Brandy will be added to your espresso.
Carioca (Weak espresso)
Made from coffee grounds that have already been run through with water, the Carioca is a much weaker version of the Espresso.
Abatanado (Long, black coffee)
The Abatanado is the closest option to regular American coffee.
Garoto (Milk with a dash of espresso)
Weak and milky coffee.
Galão (Espresso and foamed milk)
The galão contains about one quarter of espresso and three quarters of foamed milk. It is served in a tall glass, as opposed to his smaller version, the Garoto.
Meia de Leite (Half coffee, half milk)
Half coffee and half milk served in a bigger coffee mug.
Mazagran (The original iced coffee)
Sweetened espresso poured over ice cubes and served with a slice of lemon.
Snails are Portugal’s favorite summertime snack and locals can’t wait for the warmer months to come around for a daily dose finger-licking. Caracóis (Portuguese snails) are much smaller compared to the popular French escargot, and they are also prepared differently – after a week of properly cleaning the snails, they are cooked in a broth of garlic, olive oil, salt, thyme, laurel, and a whole lot of oregano. Some locals take a step further by adding prosciutto and piri-piri (sauce made with malagueta peppers).
You can buy the snails by the liter and you can purchase them in most of the coffee shops and restaurants throughout the county. Soak up the bread on that delicious cooking broth and enjoy your snack time with a cold glass of Sagres or Superbock beers.
The 65-year old Portuguese beverage company specializes in the production of fruit-based soft drinks. This brand was quickly embraced by the country in the mid-50s and to this day, Sumol continues to be a favorite of many. Although the company released new flavors in recent years, Portuguese will tell you that the best flavors are the original ones: Pineapple and Orange. It’s delicious, refreshing and a must-try beverage during your stay.
Just imagine perfectly grilled strips of pork seasoned with garlic, salt, spices and white wine, and served inside a light, crusty roll – Anthony Bourdain loved the Portuguese bifana, and so will you. This is Portugal’s best sandwich and it became so popular over the years that the local McDonald’s have a special menu called “McBifana”. Pair it with Sagres or Superbock and you will understand what true happiness is all about.