Portuguese Food & Drink
Briony Stephenson introduces the hidden delights of Portuguese
Despite the lasting influence it has had on food in such far-away
places as Macau and Goa, Portuguese cuisine is hugely underrepresented
outside Portugal. Often confused with Spanish cooking, it is, in
fact, quite distinct.
At its best, Portuguese food is simple ingredients impeccably prepared.
Based on regional produce, emphasising fish, meat, olive oil, tomato,
and spices, it features hearty soups, homemade bread and cheeses,
as well as unexpected combinations of meat and shellfish.
For a relatively small nation, Portugal has surprising gastronomic
variety. The Estremadura
region, which includes Lisbon,
is famous for its seafood - the fish market at Cascais,
just outside the capital, is one of the largest in the country -
while the production of sausages and cheese elsewhere adds another
dimension to the national cuisine.
The Algarve, the last
region of Portugal to achieve independence from the Moors, and situated
on North Africa's doorstep, contributes a centuries-old tradition
of almond and fig sweets.
the Portuguese have a long history
of absorbing culinary traditions from other peoples.
The age of discovery was propelled by the desire for exotic spices
and ever since Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India at
the turn of the sixteenth century, they have proved enormously popular.
Peri-peri, a Brazilian spice transplanted to the former African
colonies is used to flavour chicken and shrimp.
Curry spices from Goa are common seasonings. These spices are typically
used very sparingly, adding subtle flavour and depth to dishes.
It is these influences that have helped make Portuguese food so
markedly different from that of other Mediterranean countries and
in Lisbon today there are scores of restaurants specialising in
the cuisines of the old empire as well as Brazilian-style juice
bars, offering drinks and ice-cream made from exotic fruits.
If there is one thing that typifies traditional Portuguese food,
however, it is fish. From the common anchovy to swordfish, sole,
sea bream, bass and salmon, markets and menus reveal the full extent
of Portugal's love affair with seafood. In Portugal, even a street-bought
fish burger is filled with flavour.
Bacalhau, salted cod, is the Portuguese
fish and said to be the basis for some 365 recipes, one for each
day of the year. Two dishes are particularly notable. Bacalhau
à Gomes de Sá, essentially a casserole of cod,
potatoes and onion, is an Oporto speciality and considered perhaps
Portugal's greatest bacalhau recipe.
comes bacalhau á bràs, scrambled eggs with
salted cod, potatoes and onions.
Shellfish, including clams (amêijoas) and mussels
(mexilhões) are also of a high quality. Crab and squid
are often stuffed, and lulas recheadas à lisbonense
(stuffed squid Lisbon-style) is a great example of Portuguese seafood.
Visitors to Lisbon can find traditional shops by the docks selling
There are plenty of options for the meat-lover too. Espetada, grilled
skewers of beef with garlic, is popular, as is suckling pig (leitão).
Cozido à portuguesa, a one-dish meal of beef, pork,
sausage and vegetables, reflects the resourcefulness of traditional
A rather more unusual combination is the pork and clams of porco
à alentejana (pork Alentejo-style). Pork is also cooked
with mussels na cataplana, with the wok-like cataplana sealing
in the flavours.
Meanwhile, the city of Oporto
boasts tripa à moda do Porto (Oporto-style tripe),
supposedly a legacy from the days of Prince Henry the Navigator,
when the city was left with nothing but tripe after providing the
Infante's ships with food. To this day Oporto
natives are known as tripeiros, or tripe-eaters.
Broiled chicken (frango grelhado), seasoned with peri-peri,
garlic, and/or olive oil, is one of the few things that has made
its mark outside Portugal, where it can be found in cities with
a large Portuguese population. The highly aromatic peri-peri
chicken is often served in specialist restaurants.
constitute an integral part of traditional cooking, with all manner
of vegetables, fish and meat used to create a variety of soups,
stews and chowders.
Caldo verde (literally green broth), made from a soup of
kale-like cabbage thickened with potato and containing a slice of
salpicão or chouriço sausage, originated
from the northern province of Minho but is now considered a national
Along with canja de galinha (chicken broth), caldo verde
is a filling, comforting and ubiquitous favourite. For the more
adventurous, caldeirada de lulas à madeirense (squid
stew Madeira-style) features a characteristically Portuguese combination
of seafood, curry and ginger.
Another typical dish is the açorda where vegetables
or shellfish are added to thick rustic bread to create a 'dry' soup.
Those with a sweet tooth may be interested to learn that one of
Portugal's best-kept culinary secrets is its vast and distinctive
range of desserts, cakes and pastries.
A staple of restaurant menus is chocolate mousse - richer, denser
and smoother than foreign versions, while other favourites include
arroz doce, a lemon and cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding.
The most famous sweets, however, are the rich egg-yolk and sugar-based
cakes, influenced by Moorish cooking and perfected by Guimerães
nuns in the sixteenth century.
For a uniquely Portuguese experience, the visitor should head for
a pasteleria (or confeitaria), where the many varieties
of cakes and other confections, as well as savoury delicacies like
bolinhas de bacalhau, cod balls, are served.
The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, where the legendary pastéis
de nata, delicious custard-filled tarts, are baked, is a Lisbon
Nearby Sintra has its
own traditional pastry, queijadas de Sintra (a type of cheese
tart), which street vendors sell in packs of six.
The Portuguese attitude to food is simple and imaginative, traditional
and inventive. Above all, enjoying good food and the social aspects
of eating out is an esteemed part of everyday life.
From informal cafes to world-class restaurants, all budgets and
occasions are catered for. Tiny cafes and tascas, often no
more than holes in the wall, abound.
The opportunity to sample this largely unknown cuisine in all
its variety is one of the real rewards of visiting Portugal.
Traditional Portuguese food
Portuguese food: delicious
Related Food Links
Tourist Information on Portugal
Guide To Portugal & Madeira - PortugalVisitor.com