Portuguese food is a hearty affair, nothing fancy, just the best ingredients the country produces, served in healthy portions. Expect pork, chicken, fish, seafood, plenty of vegetables, and, as a nod to a sweet tooth, delicious desserts. If you prefer savory, there is a variety of mountain cheeses. Here are the 10 must-try dishes in Portugal and the best restaurants where to sample them.
Summer or winter, the Portuguese love their green soup. The broth is made from potatoes and garlic, shredded kale is added as well as slices of chouriço (smoked pork sausages) and eaten with chunks of crusty bread. The soup originates from Minho in the north of Portugal but is a favorite throughout the country. It’s also a tradition to have a bowl of Caldo Verde at New Year’s Eve and in the early morning after a night on the tiles.
You won’t know what a sandwich can do to your taste buds until you have tried one (or more) bifanas. A pork cutlet is sliced wafer-thin, then marinated in a mixture of white wine and garlic and fried in lard or olive oil. A Portuguese bun is opened, soaked in the marinade plus oil and filled with the meat slices. The mixture of flavors is mouth-watering. Being one of Portugal’s favorite snacks, you can find bifanas practically at every corner.
Like everybody else, the Portuguese are busy people and don’t always have time for a sit-down meal. A sandwich will have to do, but the Portuguese variety is one of a kind.
Francesinha consists of two thick slices of bread, filled with layers of ham and other cold cuts, covered with cheese and grilled until melted. Then the sandwich is served in a pool of hot, special beer sauce and topped with a fried egg. Every restaurant has its own secret recipe for the sauce. Try this filling snack at Capa Negra.
Carne de Porco Alenteja
Portuguese love stews and have a great variety of them. This one is made from pork and clams. Cubes of pork are marinated overnight in a mixture of wine, vinegar, garlic, herbs, and red pepper paste, then fried in a deep frying pan and simmered in the rest of the marinade with the clams heaped on top. As soon as they open, the juice mixes with the marinade and meat juices to form a sauce like no other. Served with French fries or baked potatoes, it’s a must-try. Originating from the Alentejo region of Portugal, the best place to eat it in Lisbon is Restaurante João do Grão.
Bacalhau is dried, salted codfish, which might not sound all that appealing. But, it’s practically the national dish of Portugal—and together with sardines and there are hundreds of recipes to turn the dry, salty chunks into delicious meals.
Once thoroughly desalted, cod fillets are either grilled or roasted and served with potatoes and grilled red peppers. Bacalhau Gomes de Sa is a casserole made from shredded cod with potatoes, onions, boiled eggs, and olives. Popular snacks to go with drinks in bars are cod croquettes or pies. A great place to eat the best bacalhau dishes in Lisbon is the aptly names A Casa do Bacalhau.
Acorda de Marisco
This is a stew, again originating from the Alentejo region, which is based on bread: Soaked bread is simmered in olive oil and garlic, mixed with a variety of seafood and topped with fried eggs. The ever-present cilantro is sprinkled over the lot to give it its distinctive flavor. Like the cocido, it’s a very filling dish.
Polvo a la Lagareira
Let’s stay with fish with this dish or rather an octopus. It’s worlds from the usual slightly chewy breaded rings we are used to. For this dish, the entire octopus is boiled, then covered with garlic and olive oil, roasted in the oven. Once done, it’s cut up into chunks, served with roast or baked potatoes, and sprinkled with coriander. One of the best places to eat octopus is Frade dos Mares in Lisbon.
Cataplana de Marisco
The word cataplana refers both to the pot the dish is cooked in and to the meal as such. Originating from the Algarve, the cataplana is either an earthenware or copper pot in the shape of a seashell with clasps into which vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, red pepper, and the inevitable cilantro are thrown together with whatever seafood is the best of the day. Steamed to perfection, the resulting dish is full of flavors, and for once, no olive oil is used.
Cocido a Portuguesa
This meat and vegetable dish has its origins in the rural pig slaughter and is an example of the Portuguese nose to tail food culture. Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, chickpeas, meats, pig’s feet, and ears, as well as smoked sausages, are thrown into a huge pot and boiled together. It takes a while until every ingredient is done. Then, the resulting broth with some of the vegetables is served first, followed by a big platter with the meats and potatoes. Admittedly, it doesn’t look very pretty, but the fusion of flavors is delicious. To eat the best codico in Lisbon, head for Os Courenses.
Pastel de Nata
No list of best Portuguese dishes is complete without Pastel de Nata. It’s a simple small, egg custard tart, but has become a symbol of Portugal the world over. The oldest patisserie where you can taste the best in Lisbon is Antigua Confeitaria de Belem, where the little, sweet delights are called Pasteis de Belem.