I still remember my first visit to Portugal back in 2015. I visited Lisbon in early September and was surprised by how few tourists I’d encountered – especially American tourists. I remember telling my friend that Lisbon was a lesser-known hotspot that was definitely going to get popular in a few years, and I was right.
Portugal has seen an explosion of tourism since 2015. I visited again in 2019 (this time going to Porto) and a tour guide confirmed this. So, even though I don’t have much Portugal content on my site, I was thrilled when Marco from Travel-Boo offered to write me this guest post on all the delicious things to eat in Portugal! I’ve tried a few of these dishes myself but can’t wait to return to sample more.
So without further ado, I’m passing on the reins to Marco to tell us about a few of the must-try foods in Portugal (sans pork, of course).
Portugal has been raking in plenty of World Travel Awards, making it the new hotspot country to visit in Southern Europe. It’s not hard to see the allure: Portugal is a country with a diverse landscape, stunning cities, charming towns and villages, and friendly and hospitable people- and not to forget the fantastic weather.
But a trip to gorgeous Portugal would be incomplete without sampling some of the country’s most delicious local Portuguese dishes and desserts.
Although the Portuguese have an absolute penchant for cured hams and pork dishes, the country’s cuisine is thankfully quite varied and offers many tasty, traditional alternatives too!
In this guide, I’m going to outline my all-time favorite must-try foods in Portugal, focusing on traditional Portuguese foods and pastries (without pork) you have to eat on your next trip to Portugal.
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Traditional Portuguese Dishes You Must Try
Portuguese gastronomy has been gaining more attention as more visitors start discovering Portugal’s delicious fare, and I’m sure once you visit, you’ll fall in love with the tastes of Portugal too!
Additionally, if you plan to explore the length and breadth of this gorgeous country, each region has its own traditional cuisine and variations of Portuguese dishes to try. Here are 5 of my all-time favorite meals you have to taste when visiting Portugal.
Bacalhau à Brás
First on my list of must-try Portuguese dishes is Bacalhau (codfish). This is essentially the national dish and is so popular that the Portuguese cook it in hundreds of different ways!
Undoubtedly my favorite, and one that takes me straight back to fond childhood memories of my grandmothers delicious cooking, is the much-loved variation called Bacalhau à Brás.
This version of Bacalhau is a combination of shredded codfish, garlic, onions and potatoes, all cooked with scrambled eggs. Black olives and some parsley are added for extra flavor and garnish. Delicious!
Other popular varieties of cod fish dishes include Bacalhau com Broa and Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá.
Grilled sardines (Sardinhas)
When visiting Portugal, you’ll find that it’s not uncommon to find sardines being grilled on an open barbecue. They’re popular all over the country, but particularly in Lisbon. In fact, they’re celebrated during the month of June when the annual St. Antonio festivals take place (Lisbon’s patron saint). During these ‘Santos’ festivals, the oldest neighborhood of Lisbon, Alfama, comes alive with festivals and parties hosted almost every night.
During this time, food stalls line the cobbled streets, many of which serve these freshly grilled sardines (coated with olive oil and salt) to partygoers. If you’re ordering Sardinhas in a restaurant, they’ll likely be accompanied by a salad or baked potatoes.
Arroz de Marisco
Arroz de Marisco, or seafood rice, is Portugal’s answer to the Paella, although calling this a Paella dish would do it a disservice.
It’s more a seafood stew with rice that’s far saucier than the traditional Paella The rice is almost sticky, most comparable to a risotto.
This divine stew usually includes prawns, mussels, clams, white fish, green peppers, chili and parsley (or coriander), and is any seafood lover’s dream.
This hearty seafood and rice stew is irresistible and is guaranteed to leave you full and satisfied. It’s definitely worth a try when visiting Portugal next!
Caldo Verde Soup
It’s no secret that the Portuguese love their soups. Come rain or shine, soup is enjoyed all year round in Portugal. Whilst there are several types to chose from, the one that really stands out is Caldo Verde Soup.
This dish is a deceptively simple, yet very delicious, soup made from kale, onion, garlic, potato puree, and a dash of olive oil.
Note: This soup is usually served with a few slices of cured Chouriço sausage (pork). Ask your waiter to leave these off when ordering yours.
With hundreds of miles of coastline stretching along Portugal’s western and southern shores, it’s no wonder that seafood is a staple in Portuguese cuisine.
It doesn’t get more quintessentially Portuguese than the octopus dish known as Polvo. Polvo is most commonly prepared as Polvo à Lagareiro, which involves boiling then baking the octopus and serving it with a side of smashed, baked potatoes.
Of course, as is customary in Portuguese cooking, there’s lots of olive oil, onion and garlic to enhance the flavors, too.
Eating octopus this way is simply delicious, and there’s no doubt that you’ll order and re-order delightful dish as you travel through beautiful Portugal!
Desserts and Pastries to Try in Portugal
Now that we’ve established that the Portuguese known how to cook delicious food, I’m going to let you in on yet another secret: Portugal is obsessed with pastries and desserts.
Bakeries (known as padarias) and coffee shops line nearly every street corner in the country and there’s doubt you’ll be visiting them often to sample these sweet and delectable pastries.
Here are some of my absolute favorite Portuguese pastries you need to try when next in Portugal.
Pastel de Nata
The king of all Portuguese pastries is the humble Pastel de Nata. These sweet and crunchy egg-yolk tartlets were originally created by the monks of the Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem district in Lisbon. When the monastery closed down, the monks sold the recipe to the nearby Pasteis de Belem bakery, who have been producing these tasty tartlets ever since.
Today, though, many other bakeries and pastry shops have created their own variations of the Pastel de Nata. In Lisbon, I absolutely love the ones made by Manteigaria, a bakery and coffee shop with locations all over the city.
If you want to experience a more hands-on experience, then consider joining in on a Pastel de Nata baking workshop at the Pastelaria de Batalha in Chiado, where the bakery owner, João, will teach you how to make these for yourself at home. What better way to remember your Portuguese holiday once back at home?
If you are planning to visit the north of Portugal, then one of the best things to do in Porto is to consider taking a foodie-focused day trip out of the city. One of the most popular day trips from Porto is just an hour outside of the city to a town called Aveiro. Thanks to its canal and colorful gondolas, Aveiro is known as the “Venice of Portugal.” But the real reason to visit is to sample Ovos Moles.
Native to Aveiro, Ovos Moles is a small wafer-shell, egg-yolk filled sweet. It make a look a little strange, but it’s delicious. If you can’t make it up to Aveiro, never fear: you can find these sweet bites all over Portugal.
Oh and fun fact: this sweet is included in a list of Portuguese desserts and pastries that are granted a protective status by the European Union.
Bolo de Berlim
Last but not least, we head to the beach to try my favorite Portuguese pastry, Bola de Berlim. It’s a sugary ‘Berliner’ type doughnut, filled with, yes you guessed it, egg-yolk custard!
Technically you don’t have to head to the beach to sample this nugget of goodness, but this sugary doughnut is a favorite beach-time snack. You’ll often find vendors walking up and down the beach, cooler box in hand, selling Bolo de Berlim to Portuguese beachgoers.
Of course, you can get these at pastry shops across the country as well, where you may stumble across a variety of flavors, such as the chocolate-filled Bolo de Berlim.
All in all, a trip to Portugal just wouldn’t be the same without including some foodie experiences into your itinerary. With so many delicious dishes, pastries and sweets to sample from, you’ll definitely never leave a restaurant hungry! Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to plan your next food-focused trip to Portugal.
Meet the author: Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 2 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for traveling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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