A Guide to Portuguese Food
Trying local cuisine while traveling is one of the best ways to experience a culture. Don’t be afraid to do it in Portugal – we have amazing gastronomy and a combination of powerful flavors and ingredients.
However, always bear in mind that Portuguese cuisine is made for the stomach – not for the eyes! With this said, grilled fish will be served in one piece (head and eyes), shrimp as well, and a stew is a stew, only the flavor is appealing! There are plenty of good chefs and restaurants to chose from, but note that Paella is not Portuguese and you can also eat Pizza at home.
When you go in any Portuguese restaurant, first thing they’ll do is to bring those amazing appetizers/entrances to your table. You are so hungry and the bread and cheese here are amazing, that you eat the whole thing. Your surprise comes when you get your bill and you have to pay for those appetizers that you ate but didn’t ask for! Yes! In Portugal we do this, but the locals already know that this is going to be charged – that amazing soft sheep cheese costs money to be at your table. You can say you don’t want any starters, or you can eat just the cheese or the olives, but know that they will be added to your bill.
Drinks are served before the meal comes (to accompany the starters) and it is not customary to ask for a jar of water; it is expected that you buy a bottle of water but if you want just a glass of water you can ask and it is free. Anything more than that and the waiter will think you want to drink for free!
Dishes like veal, beef, and pork are very common; if it’s fried it will most likely be served with french fries and/or white rice. Grilled fish is always served with boiled potatoes (with or without skin) and a salad. Although sardines are very common in Portugal, you don’t want to be eating sardines in December. They are typically a summer meal and best served fresh in the summer months. Vegetables accompany most fish dishes, such as broccoli, peppers, and beans. Codfish can be served in hundreds of ways, but the roasted codfish, shredded codfish with thin fries and egg and creamy codfish with potatoes are the most common ways to serve it. Portuguese cuisine varies from region to region and the dishes depend on the climate.
When ordering always check the prices on the menus and make sure you know what you are ordering so that you don’t have any surprises.
Dessert can be a good option after a meal, but it is not mandatory (we get this question a lot, no one will be offended if you don’t eat dessert). Most of the desserts and pastries are made with eggs, almonds, cream, milk, cookies. If you want to try some delicacies, try the Conventual Pastries/Sweets with recipes that originated in convents and monasteries.
When asking for your bill don’t be surprised if it takes a long time for them to bring it; a meal is the most important part of the day and you can’t be in a hurry for that. So, have your lunch, enjoy your wine, relax and socialize. If you had a good service and meal you can tip your waiter/waitress – they probably earn the minimum wage (which is less than €600).
Dishes we recommend:
- Cozido à Portuguesa (Portuguese style stew: a mix of meat, sausages, cabage, potatoes, beans and rice)
- Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice – not Paella!)
- Bacalhau com broa (roasted codfish with cornbread on top)
- Bitoque (fried steak with fries, white rice, salad and a fried egg)
- Dourada grelhada (grilled bream)
- Polvo à Lagareiro (boiled & roasted octopus served with potatoes and vegetables)
- Arroz de Pato (duck rice)
Desserts we recommend:
- Toucinho do céu
- Baba de Camelo
- Tarte de Amêndoa
- Arroz doce
- Bolo de bolacha