When you think about the Portuguese dishes and traditional Portuguese food, what comes to mind?
Besides the famous Portuguese egg tarts or pastel de nata, can you name other local Portuguese dishes?
Portugal food and its rich gastronomy have been overshadowed by the culinary traditions of its famous neighbor, Spain, as well as Italy and France.
The Portuguese love good food and this simple joy permeates all aspects of life. You’ll find many regional Portuguese dishes across the country, emphasizing fish, meat, olive oil, bread, tomato, herbs, and spices.
The food in Portugal is made with simple ingredients that are impeccably prepared. The flavors are fresh and wholesome. And, the local wines and beverages to wash everything down are extensive.
If you want to know what to eat in Portugal, don’t miss traditional Portuguese food.
Here are 10 local and popular Portuguese dishes you want to enjoy.
Table of contents
- 1 – Caldo Verde – Iconic Traditional Portuguese Food
- 2 – Bacalhau or Portuguese Cod Fish – A Treasured Portuguese Food
- 3 – Sardines – Celebrated Portuguese Seafood Dishes
- 4 – Bifanas – The National Portuguese Sandwich
- 5 – Francesinha Sandwich – The Famous Portuguese Food from Porto
- 6 – Chicken Piri-Piri – Outstanding Portuguese Chicken Dish
- 7 – Polvo à la Lagareiro – Traditional Portuguese Octopus Dish
- 8 – World Famous Porco Preto – Exceptional Portuguese Cured Ham
- 9- Pastel de Nata – Iconic Portuguese dessert
- 10 – Portuguese Desserts – Conventual Portuguese Treats
- In Summary
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1 – Caldo Verde – Iconic Traditional Portuguese Food
From the north of Portugal, comes Caldo Verde, the famous Portuguese soup. This is one of the most popular soups and Portuguese dishes.
While Caldo Verde soup is particularly popular in the winter, you can enjoy it all year round, whether it is warm or cold outside.
The soup is green in color and made with a particular dark green cabbage that is not widely available beyond Portugal’s borders. Substitutes include collard greens or kale.
We enjoyed Caldo Verde on several occasions. The soup is simple, full of flavor and with delicious textures.
If you want to make this soup at home, this simple Caldo Verde recipe will have you tasting Portugal in no time.
2 – Bacalhau or Portuguese Cod Fish – A Treasured Portuguese Food
No trip to Portugal would be complete without indulging in this Portuguese traditional food. Bacalhau or Portuguese codfish is a national obsession. In Portugal, there are over 365 ways of preparing bacalhau – one for each day of the year.
We loved the simplicity of this typical Portuguese seafood dish. The rich flavors and multiple ways of eating it. Bacalhau even landed on our personal list of “top 100 authentic food experiences to have before I die.”
You’ll find Portuguese codfish prepared in many different ways. From grilled, baked, canned, and fried you’ll easily find your eating pleasure.
Our favorite codfish preparation is the Bacalhau à brás. This is a codfish and egg scramble that is very popular. It is made with thin strips of codfish mixed together with potatoes, eggs, onions, garlic and olives and topped with chopped parsley.
Simple and uncomplicated, this is one of the most typical Portuguese dishes not to miss in Portugal.
If you are curious and want to try bacalhau, have it delivered to you by Amazon.
3 – Sardines – Celebrated Portuguese Seafood Dishes
Grilled Portuguese sardines or sardinhas asadas is the summertime food of choice in Portugal. In June, the smell of grilled sardines infuse the streets of Lisbon for the whole month.
That’s when Lisbon hosts the most popular festival dedicated to sardines. The Day of Saint Anthony or Santo António Festival celebrates grilled Portuguese sardines on June 12th and 13th.
From there, the Festas de Sardinha season all other Portugal kicks off, where sardines are celebrated at several Summer festivals.
Where does the sardine popularity come from? Historically, the Portuguese with the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean have relied heavily on seafood for food and commerce.
Portuguese sardines are primarily consumed fresh with 12 pounds of sardines eaten per person every year.
The best time to eat fresh Portuguese sardines is during the peak season between June and August.
When fresh, sardines are eaten directly from the charcoal grill, marinated with Portuguese olive oil and served with salads, rice or potatoes. Simply delicious, this Portuguese dish is a feast for the taste buds.
Canned Portuguese Sardines
Portugal is also historically known for fish preservation with canned sardines being one of its most popular culinary heritage.
In recent years, eating canned sardines has become a gourmet activity, especially in Lisbon and Porto.
You will find canned Portuguese sardines offered as petiscos or Portuguese tapas (small bites) at many bars and restaurants.
In our article, food in Portugal, visiting the loja de conservas or House of Canned Goods in Lisbon is a great way to sample canned sardines.
Canned Portuguese sardines are presented in beautiful cans with artsy designs. The sardines are preserved in various condiments and ingredients. From the simple olive oil, lemon, tomato sauce to the more creative red pepper fennel, curry or chickpeas.
There’s a can of Portuguese sardines for every taste.
Are you traveling to Lisbon? Want to know what to eat beyond sardines? Get your hands on Lisbon in 100 Bites.
Zara Quiroga, Portuguese native and food writer has put together a delicious e-book to make the most of your foodie time in Lisbon. Divided into Appetizers & Snacks, Main Dishes (Meats and Seafood) and Desserts, you’ll find many of our local favorites included.
For €9.99, download your copy of Lisbon in 100 Bites.
4 – Bifanas – The National Portuguese Sandwich
Bifanas are traditional Portuguese pork sandwiches, so popular that you’ll find them everywhere in the country.
These Portuguese sandwiches are made of succulent marinated pork served in crunchy white bread. The marinade is made with spices including paprika, garlic, and white wine. The bread has a crunchy crust on the outside while being soft on the inside.
Bifanas can be served with a bowl of soup and fries for a full meal at lunch or dinner time. Or served with beer, for a typical late night Portuguese snack.
There are several variations of the bifanas Portugal sandwiches. You can add more ingredients to your sandwich such as eggs, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes or stick with the traditional one.
Each eatery that makes bifanas will have their own secret recipe for the marinade.
The original Bifana Portugal recipe is said to come from Vendas Novas, a small town in the Alentejo region, mid-distance between Lisbon and Evora.
While little is known about the original recipe, every Bifana eatery claims to make their own version of the original.
Although considered a light Portuguese snack, be wary of the portion sizes. When accompanied by french fries, consider it a full meal.
As far as sandwiches go, the bifana ranks as one of our favorites. You’ll find the perfect combination of crunchy bread and flavorful pork.
So good, you won’t want to miss a bite.
5 – Francesinha Sandwich – The Famous Portuguese Food from Porto
The Francesinha sandwich is an impressive plated sandwich that will make your “heart sing”.
Very popular in Porto, you will see it on almost every menu. Made with bread, ham, sausages, and steak, the sandwich is typically covered with melted cheese and an egg on top.
What makes the francesinha unique is the secret sauce that each restaurant prepares in its own special way.
The sauce is typically is a hot thick tomato and beer sauce used to dip or “flood” your sandwich. And the best part is that you can ask for more as needed, for no additional cost.
Francesinha literally means “little French girl.” It is said to have been brought to Porto by an immigrant returning back from France. This sandwich is an adaptation of the French toasted sandwich, croque-monsieur.
Served with a side of french fries, this famous Porto food packs calories, with loads of meats, cheese and sauce combined.
Although it is quite heavy, it is surprisingly delightful. This is a flavorful Portuguese sandwich from Porto to enjoy in moderation.
Read: Heading to Porto? Check our article Top 10 Authentic Foods You Want to Delight in Porto
6 – Chicken Piri-Piri – Outstanding Portuguese Chicken Dish
During the Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers traveled through coastal Africa and discovered many new spices.
One of the spices was a small spicy chili pepper known as Piri-Piri, Peri-Peri, or “African devil.”
Today, Portuguese chicken covered in piri-piri is served with chips or french fries and small lettuce, tomato, and onion salad is a very popular Portuguese national dish.
In Portugal, places that sell Portuguese chicken piri-piri are called churrascarias. You’ll find them in every neighborhood throughout the country.
You want to eat the chicken, known as frango in Portuguese, using your hands. Locals do not use a fork and knife. The chicken is cut up in such a way that makes it easy for you to tuck in and get all the juicy bites around the bones.
For dinner or a snack during the day, we savored amazingly tasty chicken piri-piri from local churrascarias to go.
We found the chicken in Portugal to be very flavorful, yet different from the popular chicken dish in Peru called pollo a la brasa.
You may be familiar with the popular chain, Nando’s, originally from South Africa, with Portuguese and Mozambique inspiration. Nando’s, has spread chicken peri-peri globally.
Interestingly, you’ll not find Nando’s in Portugal, you’ll have to get your chicken at local churrascarias.
7 – Polvo à la Lagareiro – Traditional Portuguese Octopus Dish
Portuguese cuisine is famous for its delicious seafood. Beyond Bacalhau or Portuguese codfish and sardines, octopus or polvo is another popular Portuguese seafood dish loved by all.
Polvo à la lagareiro is a famous octopus dish that you will find across the country. Lagareiro is a popular way of cooking seafood which includes using generous amounts of Portuguese olive oil.
In this traditional Portuguese food, the octopus is typically served with boiled potatoes. The potatoes and the octopus are baked and roasted.
Polvo à la lagareiro is deceptively simple and exquisite. The octopus when well cooked is really tender and flavorful. The Portuguese olive oil adds a unique fruity and slightly bitter taste to this seafood dish.
With this popular Portuguese dish, you’ll find yourself enjoying octopus as you’ve never before.
8 – World Famous Porco Preto – Exceptional Portuguese Cured Ham
One of the most expensive cured hams in the world is Jamon Iberico de Bellota from Spain.
What is not commonly known, is the same pigs are found in Portugal, across the border from Spain in the Alentejo region.
In Spanish, the pigs are known as Iberico pigs, some are raised in Portugal in the Alentejo region. Across the border in Portugal, the pigs are known as raça Alentejana. The pigs roam freely in the countryside eating acorns of cork and holm oak trees.
The Alentejo black pigs, produce amazing Portuguese ham with exceptional flavors. In Evora, the capital of the Alentejo region, we wrote about the food in Evora including black pork or porco preto.
On your travels to Portugal, don’t miss the exceptional porco preto. You’ll find Portuguese pork dishes on restaurant menus and in dishes like plumas or secretos, which is pork shoulder. And it is also quite popular in Portuguese tapas, known as presunto.
The flavors are second to none. The black pork will simply melt in your mouth. Be sure not to miss this celebrated Portuguese cured ham or black pork unique to Southeastern Portugal.
9- Pastel de Nata – Iconic Portuguese dessert
Pastel de nata or Pastéis de natas (in plural) is the iconic and famous Portuguese dessert. Every Pastelerias or pastry shop has their own version of Pastel de nata.
This sweet and creamy Portuguese egg tart is so addictive and it might become your daily pastry of choice.
These Portuguese desserts or Pastéis de natas are made of flour, butter, eggs, cinnamon and of course sugar. Lots of butter is layered in the dough which gives the shells their crispy and crackling texture.
The dough is then cut into small pie shell and filled with the egg custard preparation. Cooked in a very hot oven, Pastel de nata is served warm with a small strong cup of Portuguese coffee, called bica in Lisbon.
One bite into this crispy, creamy sweet custard, dusted with cinnamon will make your eyes roll in delight.
Did you know that the original Portuguese egg tart is actually the Pastel de Belém?
Pastéis de natas, are said to have originated in a Belém pastry shop in 1837. They were made by Monks who were expelled during a revolution in 1820 and began baking pastries to make money.
The Pastel de nata pastries became very popular when a small store attached to a sugar refinery started selling them to visitors.
Today, the store Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém has preserved the traditional recipe. Nowadays, they bake over 10,000 tarts per day to serve the many visitors seeking to taste this unique traditional recipe.
This is the only store that can sell these Portuguese pastries under the name Pastel de Belém.
After eating many of these mouthwatering pastries, our preference goes to the original Pastel de Belém. Our second favorite is the Pastel de Nata from Manteigueira in Lisbon, featured in our Lisbon food tour article.
10 – Portuguese Desserts – Conventual Portuguese Treats
Beyond Pastel de nata, the most popular Portuguese desserts are what the Portuguese call conventual desserts.
Conventual desserts are pastries that were created in convents and monasteries typically made with lots of egg yolks and large amounts of sugar. Other common ingredients are almonds or cinnamon.
Traditionally, eggs whites were used in convents to starch the priest clothing and the nun’s robes. Left with the egg yolks and time to kill, the nuns had to get creative. Making the most delicious and famous desserts became a tradition in Portugal.
As a result, every city and every region has its own conventual desserts, competing for the best-in-class Portuguese desserts.
In Braga, you’ll experience the traditional Tíbias de Braga, a puff pastry filled with a soft sweet creamy paste with powdered sugar on top.
In Alentejo, you will find Sericaia a typical Alentejano dessert from the Convents of Elvas, a city east of Évora.
Add to these: Pao de Lo, Queijadas, Toucinho do céu, Travesseiro and other conventual Portuguese desserts and your taste buds will love you.
Portugal has no shortages of conventual desserts. Rest assured you find one, or possibly two, to satisfy your sweet cravings.
Portugal has a lot to offer in terms of food and wines. You’ll find amazing Portuguese seafood dishes, world-famous Portuguese pork dishes and a wide array of conventual desserts.
With everyday favorites like Portuguese chicken and sandwiches, there are plenty of local Portuguese dishes to savor.
This list of the 10 most popular Portuguese dishes is only an introduction. There are a lot more traditional Portuguese foods to discover.
Use this list to guide your food choices as you travel through Portugal. If your travels take you through Lisbon, stop by any of these 10 authentic restaurants to eat like a local and sample some of these dishes.
Portuguese dishes deserve more recognition worldwide. After you’ve enjoyed these local dishes, you’ll no doubt join us in singing the praises for Portuguese gastronomy.
Have you had Portuguese food? What was your favorite Portuguese dishes? Leave your comments below.
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Rosemary is a writer and culinary explorer. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a director of strategy in advertising for over 15 years. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.
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