It includes dessert
I am Portuguese. But — heads up — I am also vegetarian, which means I don’t eat most of the items on the list below. But, for 27 years, I did, and I am here to tell you about all the Portuguese specialties you must try when you visit my home country.
Portugal has a reputation for delicious food. The country is conveniently located in Southern Europe, and half of its borders touch the Atlantic Ocean, making it an ideal place to try seafood and a healthy Mediterranean diet.
This list includes both fish and meat dishes and ends with the most typical Portuguese sweet. Here are the six delicacies you should not miss when visiting Portugal!
When I lived in France, I realized that people there have this crazy idea that the Portuguese eat “bacalhau” (codfish) every day. Why would they think that? Just because we claim to have 1,001 ways to cook this fish?
With a massive coastline, you’d expect “bacalhau” to be fished along the country’s coast, but this is not the case. “Bacalhau” is a term that refers to the way the Portuguese prepare codfish: it is fished in Northern Europe, conserved in salt, and then this salt is removed to allow for the fish to be eaten.
It is the base of a wide range of dishes, some of the most famous being bacalhau com natas, bacalhau à brás, bacalhau à Gomes de Sá or bacalhau à lagareiro. You will find these in most Portuguese restaurants, and they are also a staple in every family’s kitchen. There is even a restaurant in Lisbon that only serves bacalhau, D’Bacalhau.
Fun fact: literally, “francesinha” means “little French.” Rumor has it that the dish’s inventor baptized it this way because it is “spicy and very pleasant — just like a French girl.”
This dish is a heart attack served on a plate — a yummy one. It is a sandwich with all kinds of meat inside, covered in melted cheese and topped with spicy sauce.
Francesinha is typical of Porto, the second-largest Portuguese city located in the north of the country. You will find it in other cities but, for the best Francesinha, you need to go to Porto.
One of the most typical Portuguese dishes is also a very simple but comforting one. It consists of grilled or fried beef with a fried egg on top, with some sauce, usually served with fries and/or rice.
It is served in most traditional restaurants, but if you want to try one of the best, go to Portugália, in Lisbon.
Portugal is located at the Westernmost point of continental Europe, benefiting from a long coastline, which naturally impacts its cuisine.
Grilled fish is widely available throughout the country, especially along the coast, as one would expect. You can find a great variety of fish, but make sure to try “sardinhas” (sardines), as they are one of the most typical and unique.
Every year, in June, there are local festivals across the country where sardine is the main dish. It can be eaten on a plate, with potatoes and salad, or simply put on top of a bread slice.
Cozido à Portuguesa
It means “Portuguese stew.” This is not something the Portuguese eat very regularly, for two reasons: it’s a very heavy dish, and it takes a long time to cook, considering it’s made up of many ingredients. It’s a mix of meats, chorizo, cabbage, potato, carrot, turnip, rice, and beans.
Still, it’s a must-try on a visit to the country, especially if you want a taste of the more traditional side of Portuguese cuisine.
Pastel de Nata
The most typical Portuguese sweet!
It’s a small cake that disappears in a couple of bites and leaves you wanting another one. The outside puff pastry is filled with a creamy interior prepared with milk, sugar, flour, eggs, cinnamon, and lemon.
You can find it in every Portuguese bakery throughout the whole country.
If you want recommendations on the best places to try pastel de nata, you can check this article, all devoted to this delicacy.
The Portuguese have a healthy obsession with food, making it a pivotal part of their days and social life. Anthony Bourdain, the famous late chef and travel documentarian, said this about Portugal:
Portugal was the first country where I went to, to do a show, where, you know, they have four hour lunches and they’ve been talking what they’re having for dinner.
— Anthony Bourdain
The natural consequence of this is broad, rich gastronomy, with exciting dishes and surprising flavors. What are you waiting for to visit Portugal?