Portuguese cuisine comes from mainland Europe's westernmost country. Portugal's Atlantic coast and the Age of Discovery have left their marks on the nation's cooking. Although Portugal does not lie on the Mediterranean Sea, its food is compared with those cuisines and is often classified as such. Portugal's only neighbour is Spain, and while their cuisines share some common traits, they have numerous differences. Among Spain's regional cuisines, Galician is closest to Portuguese. The Portuguese tend to have a sweet tooth, so sugar-laden desserts and snacks can be found all over.
Portuguese cooking uses simple ingredients and uncomplicated techniques. It's a cuisine based in the countryside and on the coast, passed down to current generations from their farming and fishing ancestors. The Portuguese are a frugal people. They waste no part of the animal, relishing parts that many other modern-day Westerners would dispose of—pig's ears, cow's trotters, tripe, and various organs. Still, in many cities you will find restaurants offering new takes on Portugal's culinary heritage.
- Breakfast — pequeno almoço
- Lunch – almoço
- Snack — lanche or merenda
- Dinner or supper – jantar or seia
Sete maravilhas da gastronomiaEdit
In 2011, a panel of judges selected the "Seven wonders of (Portuguese) gastronomy" from an initial list of 70 nominations, later whittled down to 21 finalists. The winners, all covered in greater detail later in this article, were:
- Alheira de Mirandela
- Arroz de marisco
- Caldo verde
- Leitão da Bairrada
- Pastel de Belém
- Queijo Serra da Estrela
- Sardinha assada
Portuguese cuisine abroadEdit
For many years, Portuguese people emigrated to resettle in foreign lands, seeking better opportunities to support their families. These immigrants brought recipes from home. Many opened restaurants and grocery stores.
Canada has several Portuguese communities, including:
- Alberta: Calgary
- British Columbia: Vancouver
- Ontario: Brampton, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Mississauga, Toronto
- Quebec: Montreal
In the United States, Portuguese communities can be found in many coastal states, including:
- California: Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose
- Hawaii: Honolulu
- Massachusetts: Fall River, New Bedford, Provincetown
- New Jersey: Elizabeth, Kearney, Newark
- New York State: Long Island has several communities, New York City has a sizable community dwarfed by other nationalities, Westchester County has several communities
- Rhode Island: East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence
Nando's is a noted South Africa-based chain featuring Portuguese–African dishes, especially its "peri-peri" grilled chicken. It has branches on five continents, with large concentrations found in Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom.
External influences on Portuguese cookingEdit
Piri-piri peppers (often spelled "peri-peri" in English) originated in Africa and were cultivated by Portuguese settlers in Mozambique. The pepper is used to produce a hot sauce, used to flavour chicken and meat.
The Portuguese "discovered" many spices in India and brought these home to improve the flavour of their food.
The Chinese introduced chá (tea) to Portuguese priests and merchants, who brought the commodity to Europe.
Portuguese influence on other cuisinesEdit
Portugal left a culinary mark on its trading posts and colonies during the height of its power. The use of vinegar in many Goan curries such as pork vindaloo, in contrast to other parts of India where other souring agents are used, comes from the state's Portuguese colonial heritage. The small soft bread roll pav, which is an essential component of many Mumbai street food dishes including pav bhaji and vada pav, is based on the Portuguese pão.
In Macau, the local Macanese cuisine is a unique fusion of Cantonese Chinese and Portuguese culinary traditions, along with influences from Portugal's other colonies. Some unique Macanese dishes include galinha à africana, galinha à portuguesa and pato de cabidela. Perhaps the most famous local adaptation of Portuguese food is the Macanese egg tart, which was inspired by the pastel de nata.
The Eurasian community in Malacca is a result of the city's Portuguese colonial period, when many Portuguese settlers married the local Malays, and their cuisine reflects a mix of European and local culinary influences. The signature dish of this community is the fiery devil's curry.
Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese-born queen consort of Charles II, introduced tea and quince jam (marmelade, from the local name marmelada) to the British in the 1660s.
Organic food, labeled biológico (-a/-os/-as) and sometimes shortened to bio, is widespread in Portugal, from supermarkets to farmers' markets to specialty shops.
Meat and poultryEdit
Carne de porco (pork) and frango or galinha (chicken) are the most abundant types of meat in Portugal. Carne de ovelha (lamb or mutton) and carne de cabra (goat) are also used as a source of meat. Carne de vaca (beef) was historically shunned due to expense and poor quality, but it's better and more prevalent nowadays.
Sausages such as chouriço and linguiça can be eaten alone (usually with bread) or incorporated into various recipes.
Fish and seafoodEdit
- Bacalhau (salt cod) is extremely popular in Portuguese cooking, though most of this fish nowadays originates from Norway. Local lore says that there are at least 365 ways to prepare cod, so you can eat it every day of the year without repeating a recipe.
- Carapau (mackerel) is a widely-available fish, often grilled.
- Polvo (octopus) is a favoured octopod offering versatility as a main ingredient or in combination with other seafood.
- Sardinha (sardine) is a delicious fresh fish popularly grilled at cookouts and festivals. It's also available in the tiny canned version.
Queijo (cheese) is usually unfussy and unpretentious in Portugal. It is typically made of cow's milk, but you will also find sheep and goat milk cheeses.
- Queijo Serra da Estrela is an artisinal sheep's milk cheese from mainland Portugal's highest mountain range. This white or slightly yellow cheese is very soft semi-liquid when young and soft but sliceable solid when older. It has a smooth, thin rind and traditionally came bound in cloth.
- Queijo São Jorge, from the Açores (Azores) archipelago, is a firm, yellowish, hard or semi-hard cow's milk cheese. It's aged at least three months and has a minimum of 45% fat content.
- Queijo Serpa is a cured, buttery, semi-soft sheep's milk cheese from the Alentejo region.
- Queijo de Azeitão comes from Setúbal.
- Tremoços (lupini beans) are kept in salted water and are served as a starter or as a bar snack.
Fruits and nutsEdit
- Ameixas (plums) are tangy and juicy.
- Azeitonas (olives) are indeed fruits. Portuguese olives are usually black, indicating ripeness. They are used as a garnish and eaten as a bar snack.
- Castanhas (chestnuts) make a popular roasted treat in the autumn, especially for Dia de São Martinho (Saint Martin's day on 11 November).
- Pêra Rocha (rock pear) has a hard, firm, crunchy, juicy, and sweet pulp, with a fine, smooth skin mottled in yellow and green, with some russeting. This delicious fruit is grown mostly in the Oeste region and gets exported to several continents.
- Uvas (grapes) are used not only for winemaking, but are also a popular, juicy, sweet treat to enjoy fresh from the vine.
- Alho (garlic) and cebola (onion) enhance the flavour of many savoury dishes.
- Azeite (olive oil) is both widely produced and consumed in Portugal. It is used to add flavour and mouthfeel to food. Salad dressing is often just olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and perhaps other herbs and spices. Traditional Portuguese cooking eschews heavy, creamy dressings.
- Colorau (paprika) is a popular spice used for flavouring and for colour.
- Cravinho (cloves) helps to kick up the taste in many dishes.
- Louro (bay leaf) seasons various savoury dishes, particularly meats.
- Pastéis de bacalhau (codfish pastries), despite the name, are savory fried fritters of cod, potatoes, eggs, parsley, and onion. The best ones are slightly cruchy on the outside with a smooth, creamy interior.
- Rissóis de camarão (shrimp turnovers) are smallish, savory, fried half-moon dough pockets stuffed with shrimp in a creamy sauce.
- Caldo verde (green broth), originating from the Minho province, is a simple soup of finely-chopped couve-galega (similar to collard greens, though kale is sometimes substituted) and chunks of potato, typically with slices of chouriço or linguiça sausages added.
- Canja de galinha or simply canja (chicken congee) is a soup of shredded chicken with small pasta or rice. It is a comfort food, often eaten when ill with cold or flu, or used as a starter before the main course.
Fish and seafoodEdit
- Arroz de marisco (seafood rice) is a dish of rice and various seafood, including shrimp (prawn), clam, crab, lobster, mussel, cockle. Flavouring can include garlic, tomato, onion, olive oil, white wine, and coriander (cilantro). Superficially similar to some versions of Spanish paella, it differs greatly.
- Bacalhau à Brás is a dish of shredded salted cod, onions, and thinly chopped, matchstick-sized fried potatoes, all bound with scrambled eggs, garnished with black olives and fresh parsley.
- Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a casserole of cod, potatoes, eggs, olives, olive oil and onion originating from Porto but now enjoyed throughut the country. It's named for Gomes de Sá, the 19th century son of a cod merchant who created the recipe.
- Caldeirada is a fishermen's stew similar to a French bouillabaisse. It's made with lean whitefish (such as cod, monkfish, hake, flounder, and haddock) and oily fish (such as mackerel, swordfish, or tuna) and can contain clams, mussels, squid, or octopus. Other ingredients can include conger eel, angel shark, sea bass, sea bream, red gurnard, sardines, ray, and shrimp. Vegetables and spices are also added.
- Sardinha assada (grilled sardines) are much more tasty and substantial than the tiny canned fish by that name that many are familiar with. They are typically seen at fairs and village festivals. They are prepared simply over an open flame, with just a touch of salt and other "peasant" seasonings, and often accompanied with a garden salad or roasted potatoes.
Meat and poultryEdit
- Bifana is a thinly-sliced pork cutlet sandwich. It can be as simple as just the meat and bread (a papo seco roll), or it can be marinated with dry white wine, lemon juice, paprika, garlic, bay leaf, and vinegar.
- Chanfana is the meat of an old goat (or sometimes lamb) stewed in a clay pot with potatoes, garlic, bay leaves, paprika, and red wine.
- Cozido à portuguesa (Portuguese stew) is one of the country's most emblematic dishes. It's prepared with a multitude of vegetables (cabbages, beans, potatoes, carrots, turnips, rice), meat (chicken, pork ribs, bacon, pork ear and trotters, various parts of beef), and smoked sausages (chouriço, farinheira, morcela, and blood sausage), among others.
- Frango de churrasco (grilled chicken) is a popular dish throught the country. It is marinated or basted with a hot piri-piri pepper sauce, but is otherwise simple, uncomplicated, and comforting. You'll find it at take-aways throughout the country, at Portuguese cookouts, and at village fairs. Popular accompaniments include chips (fries), crisps (chips), rice, or a simple salad.
- Cabidela is a type of stew made with chicken, with blood added at the end and mixed with vinegar. A variant of the dish that uses duck instead of chicken (known as pato de cabidela) is part of the local cuisine in Macau.
You can satisfy your sweet tooth by making a bee line for the nearest pastelaria (pastry shop) or café.
- Arroz doce (rice pudding, literally "sweet rice") can include sugar, milk, egg yolks, cinnamon, lemon zest, vanilla and nutmeg. It is thick, soft, and held together. It's decorated by sprinkling ground cinnamon with the fingertips. Although commercially available, the Portuguese often prepare it from scratch at home during the holidays.
- Bolo-rei (king cake, fruit cake) is eaten during the Christmas season. It contains raisins, nuts, and crystalized fruit.
- Filhós are deep-fried dough balls. They can be round or flat and wide, similar to funnel cakes. They are dusted with sugar and cinnamon.
- Pão de ló is a type of sponge cake available in various regional varieties.
- Pastéis de nata (singular: pastel de nata) are egg custard tarts. They are often called Pastéis de Belém after the Lisbon bakery that bought the recipe from the monks of Jerónimos Monestary and made the pastry world-famous. Many people add a dusting of cinnamon before eating. They should have some dark browning on top, similar to a crème brûlée, but without crystalization. The pastel can be found in pastry shops all over Lisbon, throughout the country, and around the world. The original recipe, however, remains a secret under lock and key at Belém.
- Pudim flã is a caramel-topped custard pudding akin to a French crème caramel or a Spanish flan.
- Regina is a Portuguese novelty chocolate maker, in business since 1927. One of their most enduring and beloved products is Sombrinhas, tiny foil-wrapped milk chocolate parasols.
- Alheira de Mirandela (Mirandela sausage) are stuffed with meat and bread, often with garlic (alho, hence the name). Originally made by Portuguese Jews using veal, duck, chicken, quail or rabbit, they can now contain pork.
- Carne de porco à alentejana, from the Alentejo region, combines fried pork with clams and a side of fries.
- The Francesinha hails from Porto. It is a sandwich containing ham, linguiça sausage, steak, or roast meat, covered with melted cheese and spiced tomato and beer sauce. Exact ingredients vary by chef. It usually comes with fries (chips). The sandwich was inspired by France's croque-monsieur, and the name translates as "litte French girl".
- Leitão da Bairrada or Leitão assado à Bairrada (Bairrada-style roasted piglet) is a pig aged 1–1½ months, seasoned with salt and pepper and spit-roasted for two hours in a wood-burning stove. The skin comes out crispy and golden.
- Tripas à moda do Porto (Porto-style tripe) is a stew of cow's stomach lining with various meats, sausages, and beans.
- Bolo de mel (honey cake) comes from Madeira and can be made with molasses instead of honey. It often contains walnuts and almonds and is flavoured with clove, cinnamon, black pepper, anise seeds, and allspice.
- Cavacas das Caldas, from Caldas da Rainha are a small-bowl-sized, concave confection of flour and eggs, with a crunchy sugar coating. Beijinhos das Caldas ("little kisses") are similar, but smaller and spherical.
Although sources disagree on the country's exact rank, Portugal is one of the world's top nations in per capita wine consumption. It produces many varieties of vinho (wine) in various regions throughout the country. Beyond the famous Port wine houses, the brands that have made the biggest splash abroad are Lancers and Mateus, both known for their distinctive bottles and TV ads of yesteryear.
- Vinho do Porto (Port wine) is Portugal's most renowned export. The grapes are grown and processed in the Douro Valley. The wine is stored in wooden barrels and it was traditionally shipped down the Douro river to Vila Nova de Gaia, across from Porto, where it is aged in a wine lodge (cellar). Port is typically a sweet red wine, often served as a dessert wine, although it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.
- Vinho da Madeira (Madeira wine) originates from Portugal's subtropical Atlantic archipelago of Madeira. The varieties of this fortified wine range from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif to sweet wines usually consumed with dessert.
- Vinho Verde ("green" wine), a young slightly sparkling wine, comes in red, white, or rosé. It originates from the old Minho provice and is known for being light and refreshing.
- Moscatel de Setúbal is a wood-aged fortified wine made from muscat grapes.
The Portuguese love their wine, but they don't toss aside their cerveja (beer). The country produces several brands.
- Coral comes from Madeira and is available in lager, stout, and non-alcoholic varieties.
- Sagres, a 5.0% abv pale lager, is also available in several other varieties. It is widely exported to expatriate communities.
- Superbock is the country's leading beer brand. It is also popular elsewhere in Europe and in other Portuguese-speaking countries.
- Aguardente, literally "burning water", is a strong moonshine-like liqueur. It's 50–80% alcohol by volume and will likely leave a burning sensation in your throat. It is added to café com cheirinho, for coffee with a kick. The most popular brand is Macieira.
- Ginjinha or Ginja is a sour-cherry liqueur available in Lisbon, Alcobaça, Óbidos, the Algarve, and Serra da Estrela. It is served as a shot with a piece of fruit. Sometimes, the "glass" is made of chocolate.
- Licor Beirão comes from the Lousã in the former province of Beira in Central Portugal. Originating in the 19th century, it is the most consumed alcoholic spirit in Portugal. It's flavoured with seeds and herbs, including mint, cinnamon, cardamom, and lavender and is 22% alcohol by volume.
Coffee and teaEdit
The Portuguese introduced chá (tea) to the English, but nowadays café (coffee) is more popular here.
In addition to cafés, you can get your coffee fix at a pastelaria (pastry shop) or a restaurant. While visiting Portugal, you'll want to ignore Starbucks, Costa, McCafé, or any other chains that you know from home. Your taste buds will thank you for patronizing local, independent cafés. You'll often find coffee producer logos on café signs and awnings. The coffee cups and sugar packets are also usually branded. The country's major coffee brands include Bicafé, Buondi, Delta (the most ubiquitous brand), Nicola, Sical, and Torrié.
The most common way for the Portuguese to drink their coffee is the bica, a strong espresso served in a tiny cup with a tiny spoon to mix in the huge sugar packet. This is the default style you get when you order um café. Another popular preparation is the galão, a tall glass filled 50/50 or 25/75 coffee and milk—a "latte" if you will. A pingado is a tiny espresso with a splash of milk. A garoto is a tiny espresso with an equal amount of milk. Café com cheirinho includes brandy or aguardente (a moonshine-inspired liquer). You can specify café com Beirão if you'd prefer that specific liquer. A delightful Portuguese pastry makes an excellent accompaniment to your cup.
- Água mineral (mineral or sping water) is widely produced in Portugal. The tap water is perfectly safe to drink, but some may prefer the taste of the bottled stuff. Notable brands include Carvalhelhos, Castello, Fastio, Frize, Luso, Pedras Salgadas, Penacova, Vidago, and Vitalis. Waters are available com gás (carbonated, sparkling) or sem gás (non-carbonated, still).
- Compal is a brand of fruit juices and nectars.
- Laranjada is a carbonated orange-flavour soft drink. Launched in Madeira in 1872, it's older than Coca-Cola.
- Sumol is a brand of refreshing lightly carbonated soft drink. Its most popular flavours are laranja (orange), ananás (pineapple), maracujá (passion fruit). Orange and pineapple are available in the "Zero" variety, flavoured with sucralose instead of sugar. You can find Sumol in iconic small green glass bottles, in cans, and in larger plastic bottles.
Restaurante is the general Portuguese word for a restaurant and is the word that travellers will most often encounter on eatery signs. Quality and comfort can vary greatly, from expensive, cosmopolitan, big-city fine dining to inexpensive, homely, small-town holes-in-the-wall.
A tasca or taberna (tavern) is a simple eating and drinking establishment, usually found in rural areas, where they often form the centre of social life. The food here is simple, hearty, and affordable. For lighter food, they serve petiscos, similar to Spanish tapas, but that word is too hipstery to be used in a tasca.
Bar can mean the same as in English, an establishment that serves alcoholic drinks. However, the term in Portuguese can also mean a snack bar or a place to get soft drinks, which is why you often hear bars mentioned in relation to schools and workplaces.
A churrasqueira offers grilled or rotisserie chicken, meats, and even fish. They also carry side dishes such as rich, fries (chips), and salad. Nearly all offer takeaway and many provide seating.
Cafés are places to relax, socialize, and savour your coffee, perhaps with a pastry. You can even enjoy light, savory fare. The pace is unhurried. The Portuguese don't pop in and out to grab a quick venti triple pump mint mocha pumpkin spice frappe. They sit and while away the time in conversation with friends and family or spend some quality time with a newspaper or a good book. Phone, tablet, and laptop use at the café is less common than in other countries, even where there's free Wi-Fi. You can find cafés everywhere from bustling city centres to quiet neighborhoods and from small towns to the countryside. Many date back decades or centuries and are more ornate than the coffee shops found in some other countries. Most offer a few outside tables; others have a larger esplanada with a sizable seating area. Naturally, these are in high demand during nice weather.
A pastelaria (pastry shop) is similar to a café. They serve coffee, but the emphasis is on the pastries.
Head to a padaria (bakery) if you want to buy fresh, hot, delicious Portuguese bread. Wheat, corn, and rye are the most sought-after grains. The bread comes in the many forms sizes and shapes, from large, crusty loaves to small, fluffy rolls.
Comida rápida means "fast food", but the Portuguese usually just use the English phrase. Home-grown burger chains include Burger Ranch, H3 Hamburgology, Hamburgueria da Baixa, Hamburgueria do Bairro, and Honorato Hamburgueres Artesanais. Beyond offering your basic fast-food burgers, these chains add a Portuguese touch to the meal. Non-burger Portugal-based chains include Rei dos Frangos (grilled chicken) and Mr. Pizza.
Many supermercados (supermarkets) and hipermercados (superstores) have a section with prepared, ready-to-go hot meals. You'll take a number from a red ticket dispenser. When your number is called (and often shown on an electronic display), tell the employee what you want, using hand gestures and pointing if needed. Some stores offer seating, and some have full-service cafés. Portugal has many supermarket chains, most of which originate from other European countries. Home-grown chains include Continente (including Continente Modelo, Continente Bom Dia, and the Meu Super franchise), Minipreço (originally Portuguese, but now owned by Spain's Dia), and Pingo Doce (including the Amanhecer franchise).
Many better hotels (hotéis) have an on-site restaurant for both its own guests and others who wish to partake. These might feature Portuguese cooking, international cuisine, or both. Room service is often available at these hotels. Most mid-range and better hotels include a continental breakfast in the room rate. This meal takes place in a designated breakfast room if there is no restaurant. It's self-serve buffet style, typically featuring various breads (which can be toasted), cold cuts, cheese, pastries, cereal, yoghurt, fruit, coffee, tea, and fruit juice. You'll have to weigh the pros and cons of saving money versus venturing out into the city to enjoy breakfast at a café.
Vegetarians should have little trouble in finding food options that meet their needs. Vegans will have a tougher time, but with some diligence will find vegan-friendly restaurants in medium and large cities.
Although Jews have a long history in Portugal, kosher food is scarce nowadays. You can find a handful of kosher restaurants and even a grocery store in Lisbon. Off the beaten path, Belmonte in Beira Baixa is home to a Jewish community, the only one in the Iberian peninsula to have survived the inquisitions.
To the surprise of many, several halal establishments are available in major cities.
Portuguese restaurants are usually very diligent in accommodating food allergies and intolerances. Although staff in major destinations usually speak English, you should learn the Portuguese words for your food allergies if you plan to go off the beaten track.
Gluten-free foods are labeled sem glúten and can be found more easily in supermarkets than in restaurants.
Lactose-free foods carry a sem lactose label (or sometimes sem leite, without milk).
When all else fails, Portugal is blessed with loads of fresh, tasty fruits and vegetables!