Discover traditional Portuguese cuisine

What to try in Portugal – national dishes

Imagine having a holiday on the Atlantic coast, enjoying pleasant weather and picturesque scenery. For a holiday to be absolutely perfect, there is no shortage of distinctive dishes and a glass of delicious light wine. That’s what will surprise and delight you with Portuguese cuisine – distinctive, colorful and, of course, incredibly delicious.

Portuguese Dishes

Features of Portuguese cuisine

Many people mistakenly think that Portuguese cuisine is an extension of the culinary preferences of Spain. Nevertheless Portuguese cuisine is influenced by many nations and nationalities. For example, the famous piri bitter pepper is better known in the national dishes of African countries, and pasta and garlic are products typical of Italian cuisine.


The Portuguese love and know how to use a variety of spices common in India, giving two dishes with the same ingredients completely different flavor nuances. Portugal has borrowed its love of bread and olives from the Mediterranean cuisine. Given the geographic location of the state – on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, fish and seafood dishes dominate the Portuguese menu.

Interesting fact! Portugal is the first country in the world in terms of fish and seafood consumption. It is believed that any Portuguese can easily prepare 365 dishes from cod – the number of days in the year.

Photo of cod under cream sauce

Cod in cream sauce

If we try to describe the Portuguese cuisine in one word it would be unique. They combine – in a unique and inimitable way – dietary and caloric ingredients, a kaleidoscope of flavors, and simple and sophisticated cooking techniques. For example, traditional Portuguese cream soups will be ready in just a quarter of an hour, while cod under a creamy sauce takes at least a day.

Cuisine specific to mainland Portugal

The national cuisine of this part of the country is well known throughout Europe. Above all, they are the dishes of cod, which in Portugal is called bacalhau. It is cooked in a variety of ways – with beans, sausages, added as a filling to cakes, you can even meet cod cakes, which are called Pasteira de nata.

Interesting to know! A gastronomic tour to Portugal is a great way to learn about the history of the country, its national culinary traditions and culture.

Porto honors the tradition of cooking sardines on All Saints’ Day. If you find yourself in Porto, be sure to try the Tripas giblet stew. This is the dish that has given its name to all Tripeyrouche citizens, meaning giblet lovers.

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Tripash stew

There is a historical fact associated with the appearance of this dish. The locals were forced to cook with tripe by famine. In the middle of 15 centuries monarch Don Enrique went to enlarge the national possessions, for this purpose it was necessary to slaughter the cattle available to the townspeople. The inhabitants of Porto had to survive, so dishes were invented from all the food that remained after the soldiers. This is how a dish of tripe with vegetables was invented. Despite the fact that Tripas appeared five centuries ago, the dish is still incredibly popular today.

Portugal’s cuisine has been shaped for centuries by certain factors:

  • For a long time the country was isolated from other countries;
  • Most people in the country lived poorly and had to cook with available food – self-caught fish became the mainstay of the diet;
  • In Portugal there was a small selection of products, so prevailed simple in composition and technology of cooking dishes.

Pay attention! In all regions there are unique dishes that are found exclusively in this part of the country, the so-called culinary prides.

Cafe Pasteis de Belem

Pasteis de Belem

Every Portuguese lunch must end with a dessert. Portugal excels in the number and variety of sweets in many European countries. Exquisite, original desserts can be found on any corner. For example, in the metropolitan area of Belem there is a bakery that makes some of the tastiest cakes in the country. Tourists from different countries – Italy, France, Germany and Spain – come to enjoy the dessert.

Cozido das Fournas

Cozido das Furnas

Azores is one of the archipelagos of Portugal. In general, the island cuisine is largely similar to the continental cuisine, but there are unique dishes. For example, Cozido das Fournas. It is cooked in the mouth of the volcano, dropping there a dish with vegetables and chicken meat. On the islands you can try very tasty bread and many varieties of honey – such food is part of the daily diet of the locals.

Read about the capital city of Azor in this article.

The cuisine of this island is based on rural traditions. The diet of the inhabitants of Madeira is also dominated by fish dishes. Meat dishes are also found – mainly pork or beef. As a side dish, corn, beans and French fries are popular. Read more about the island on this page.

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What to Try in Portugal

The national cuisine of Portugal is incredibly diverse, filled with a whole range of bright flavors and light tastes. In every category of dishes there are several culinary masterpieces that must be tasted.

First courses

Caldo verde soup

This is the famous cabbage puree soup, which in its popularity can be compared to soups in Russia. In addition to cabbage, olive oil, paprika and a special smoked sausage made in Portugal – shirisa are added to it.

Please note! The soup has a very delicate taste, you can try it in all restaurants and cafes. Sometimes the sausage is served separately and is added to the plate to taste.

Vidala was a simple fisherman who made his living by catching fish and selling them. One day the crew of a ship was left without food while on the ocean, and the captain decided to make soup out of the catch. The sailors threw live fish into the broth, they thought the fish was crying. The ship returned without a catch, but with a delicious, new recipe for cod soup, fresh vegetables, salt and pepper.

The recipe for the dish had not changed in centuries. Once cooked, all the ingredients are whipped with a mixer and the beautiful puree soup can be savored.

Meat dishes

The Portuguese are masters at preparing different types of meat and offer tourists delicious, original dishes. They are definitely worth a try while in Portugal. In a butcher’s shop a piece of meat may be cut in front of the buyer and minced. In addition to traditional types of meat in Portugal you can eat quail, goats and hares.

Fun fact! Vegetarians in Portugal are advised not to shop in meat shops as you will often see dismembered rabbit and chicken carcasses in the windows, and bags of blood used to make first courses.

Meat dish feijoada

A hearty, calorie-dense national dish made from a mixture of beans and different kinds of smoked meat and sausages. The traditional recipe includes vegetables and rice. Feijoada is prepared differently in different regions of the country, varying the ingredients.

Aljeira de Mirandela

It is a Portuguese sausage that is made from any kind of meat except pork. It is believed that during the Middle Ages, the dish was invented by Jews in order to hide their nationality and escape the persecution of the Inquisition. According to religious canons Jews were not allowed to eat pork, but thanks to sausages they managed to avoid starvation and punishment by the Inquisitors.

In modern Portugal sausages are also made of pork and served with scrambled eggs, potatoes and fresh vegetables.

Portuguese chicken piri piri

The name “piri piri” in Swahili means “hot pepper”. It is made with chicken wings and an absolutely incredible sauce. The wings are baked for 20 minutes. The dish turns out spicy, with a slight sourness. The chicken is eaten with fresh vegetables, salads and chips. Piri piri should definitely be on the list of Portuguese national dishes to try.

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Fish and seafood dishes

The Portuguese are famous for their ability to cook fish and seafood dishes. Any store offers a huge selection of fish and a variety of shellfish. Most often the products are fried in a pan or grilled. In the assortment of large supermarkets you can see swordfish, moray eel.

Huge selection of fish and a variety of shellfish

Portugal is known for a wide variety of recipes for cooking cod. The most popular recipe is the pickling of fish. This method of preparation was used by Portuguese fishermen to bring the fresh catch to shore. Before salting, the cod was soaked in water for a day. Pickled carcasses are available in all grocery stores.

Grilled fish

Grilled fish .

This way any type of fish is cooked, on weekends, many locals set up grills on the balconies, it spreads special flavor. Restaurants usually serve huge portions with fresh vegetables or rice seasoned with olive oil.

While traveling in Portugal, be sure to try an exotic dish of monkfish. For its preparation the fish is cut in portions and mixed with rice, tomatoes, various spices and herbs. Among the locals this is a popular dish that is prepared for dinner. Restaurants that specialize in seafood prepare a similar dish of octopus or clams.

Alentejo Pork

A dish that will amuse the taste buds of meat and seafood lovers. Cooked from pork and seafood. Meat is marinated in sauce, fried and shellfish are added. It is served and eaten with potatoes.


What is eaten in Portugal for dessert? First of all, these are pastries, cakes, puddings. It is noteworthy that most of the recipes are taken from the culinary records of the local nuns. The symbol of Portugal is undoubtedly the Pastel de Nata.

Bolo Rei royal pie

Bolo Rei.

The Portuguese also love the king cake (Bolo Rei), the national pastry. It looks like a waffle or a big doughnut – round with a hole in the middle. For a full flavor, the cake is generously sprinkled with chopped nuts, candied fruits, and other dried fruits. Bolo Rei is a must at Christmas time. According to one legend, the owner of the oldest patisserie in Lisbon brought the recipe to Portugal.

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Tortas de azeitão is a sponge cake with soft egg cream. The dessert is served with wine or port.

They are made of puff pastry filled with creamy egg cream. You can try them in any café or restaurant in Lisbon, but the best cakes are said to be served in the Belém area. Some cafes sprinkle the pastries with cinnamon.

The traditional breakfast for a Portuguese is a cup of espresso and some pastel de nata.

Egg dessert from Aveiro

Ovos moles de Aveiro

An unusual, original dessert – a delicate egg filling wrapped in a wafer tube shell. The famous 19th century Portuguese writer Esa de Queiroz wrote about this sweet.

A famous Portuguese dessert that you can try in any bakery. It is usually eaten with an ice cream scoop.

Portuguese drinks

We have figured out what to try in Portugal from the food, but a full lunch or dinner is impossible to imagine without a glass of port or wine.

Where better to taste the best port than in the homeland of this dessert wine. The technology of the drink production is fixed by law.

Port wine

An incredibly popular wine in Portugal is Verde, a young wine, which comes in white, red and rosé. The drink is produced exclusively in Portugal. Tourists note that the taste of the wine is quite specific, it is served with seafood, fish and meat.

If you prefer to drink stronger wines, check out Madera. The wine is made on the island of Madeira and comes in dry and dessert varieties. The type of drink depends on the type of grapes used and its ageing.

Useful to know! If you plan to order Madera in a café or restaurant, you should pronounce it only as vinho de Madeira. Otherwise, the waiter will not understand you.

Another national drink is coffee. Here they love strong, tasty aromatic coffee, but not as bitter as Italian coffee. The most popular coffee brands in Portugal are Nicola e Delta.

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Choice of cheese

What to try in Portuguese cuisine? Of course, we should pay close attention to the cheeses, which, in terms of taste, are as good as the most famous European varieties. The country has kept its cheese-making traditions for many centuries. Famous national cheese producers are located in central Portugal, in the province of Alentejo and the Azores. Different milk is used for cheese production – not only the traditional cow’s milk, but also goat’s and sheep’s milk.

The locals do not add cheese as an additional ingredient, but eat it as a separate dish.

The most popular varieties to try are:

  • Queijo de Serra;
  • Queijo de Castelo Branco;
  • Queijo San Jorge.

A side note. Cheeses are sold even in small souvenir shops, but if you want to buy a really tasty product, visit a specialty store.

It is made from cow or sheep milk and is eaten unripe. The taste of the cheese is soft, cottage cheese. It is an excellent choice for breakfast. Also, cheeses are often bought as an edible souvenir from a trip. For more things to bring back from Portugal, see here.

Queijo de Serra

Queijo da Serra.

Made since the 12th century from sheep’s milk during a certain period of the year, from November to March. The cheese has a pleasant milky flavor, a hard crust, and a soft texture inside. It is spread on bread. The locals assure that this particular cheese is the best among the Portuguese. The perfect accompaniment to the national product is port or wine.

Queijo São Jorge.

queijo São Jorge.

This cheese is very loved by Europeans. It has been made from unpasteurized milk for several centuries.

Portuguese cuisine is incredibly diverse and unlike any other European cuisine. Here everyone will find a favorite dish for themselves. The cuisine of the mainland has been influenced by Spanish culinary traditions, the cuisine of island parts has been formed under the influence of Indian traditions. If you prefer Mediterranean cuisine, head to the southern part of Portugal.

Video: What are the 5 dishes to try in Portugal and the culinary traditions of the country.

Author: Julia Matyukhina

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