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National Food of Portugal: Top 20 Dishes

Welcome to a culinary trip through the heart and soul of Portugal’s gastronomic delights. As we start this exploration, you might find yourself pondering: What are the iconic dishes that define Portuguese cuisine? How has Portuguese food influenced culinary traditions around the world? These questions, among others, serve as the compass guiding our expedition into the rich textile of flavors and cultural details that await us.

In the pages that follow, we will uncover the secrets behind Portugal’s top 20 national foods, from the respected Bacalhau to the beloved Pastel de Nata. Explore the complexities of Portuguese spices, which form the backbone of the country’s culinary mastery, and learn about the farm-to-table movement shaping modern dining experiences.

Prepare your palate for an unforgettable voyage into the appealing world of Portuguese pleasure, where every bite tells a story of ingenuity, tradition, and culinary mastery.

Top 9 National Foods of Portugal

1. Bacalhau

photo by su-lin

Bacalhau, or dried salted cod, is a cornerstone of Portuguese cuisine, respected as the national dish. Despite this singular title, there are countless ways to prepare it; over 365 recipes, one for each day of the year, and some claim even more than 1,000 variations. This versatility allows bacalhau to feature prominently in Portuguese culinary traditions, showing the nation’s creativity and love for this humble fish.

2. Pastel de Nata

photo by Lou Stejskal

The Pastel de Nata, known globally as the Portuguese pastry cream tart, stands out as Portugal’s most famous food. This delectable pastry, with its creamy custard filling and flaky crust, is a beloved treat and is recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy. Its universal appeal makes it a must-try for visitors and a source of national pride.

3. Piri-Piri Chicken

photo by Valeva1010

Frango piri-piri, or piri-piri chicken, has its roots in the Portuguese colonies of Africa and is especially celebrated in Guia, Algarve. This spicy, grilled chicken dish is a staple across Portugal, available in many churrasqueiras (grill houses). While it can be found throughout the country, the Algarve region is renowned for serving the best versions of this flavorful dish.

4. Caldo Verde

photo by Michael

Caldo Verde is a traditional Portuguese soup featuring shredded kale, onions, potatoes, garlic, and chouriço (sausage). Originating from the north, this hearty and simple soup is a beloved dish served nationwide. It can be adapted to be vegetarian by omitting the chouriço, making it a versatile favorite.

5. Arroz de Marisco

Arroz de Marisco is a luxurious seafood rice stew, regarded as a Portuguese favorite. While it shares similarities with Spanish paella, it distinguishes itself with a rich, saucy base. Variations of this dish include arroz de tamboril (monkfish rice), arroz de bacalhau (cod rice), and arroz de polvo (octopus rice), each highlighting different seafood flavors.

6. Cataplana

Cataplana is a traditional stew named after the unique clam-shaped vessel in which it is cooked. Originating from the Algarve, this dish is a rare find outside the region. It comes in numerous varieties, both meat and seafood-based, with popular versions including cataplana de bacalhau (cod), cataplana de peixe (fish), and cataplana à alentejana (Alentejo style).

7. Francesinha

The Francesinha is a decadent sandwich originating from Porto, made with ham, steak, sausage, thick bread slices, melted cheese, and a beer and tomato sauce, served with fries. It’s a dish of substantial heft and rich flavor, sparking fierce local debates over the best place to enjoy it. While traditionally from Porto, its popularity is spreading across Portugal.

8. Açorda

photo by Ramessos

Açorda transforms stale bread into a gourmet dish through rehydration with water, garlic, olive oil, and cilantro, or various broths, and is often enhanced with seafood. This dish, rooted in Arabic culinary traditions, exemplifies Portuguese innovation in creating a flavorful meal from simple ingredients. Notably, the lobster version at Lisbon’s Solar dos Presuntos elevates this dish to a fine dining experience.

9. Lapas

photo by UT70619

Lapas, or limpets, are small, chewy aquatic snails found in the Azores and Madeira. These delicacies, similar to clams, are typically grilled with garlic and butter and served with lemon. A popular way to enjoy them is at Bar Caloura on São Miguel Island, where they pair perfectly with wine and the oceanic environment, giving them a unique taste of Portugal’s island cuisine.

5 Traditional Dishes to Eat

10. Peixe Grelhado

Peixe Grelhado, or grilled fish, is a perfect Portuguese dish that shows the country’s coastal culinary traditions. This dish’s simplicity highlights the fresh flavors of the fish, which is typically drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with chunks of salt, and grilled over charcoal until the skin becomes crispy. Commonly made with red snapper, sardines, bass, bream, and mackerel, Peixe Grelhado is often served with a side of vegetables or a salad, making it a delicious and healthy meal that is a staple on every Portuguese menu.

11. Cozido à Portuguesa

photo by Adriao

Cozido à Portuguesa is a hearty and comforting Portuguese stew that displays the heart of traditional home cooking. This dish involves boiling various types of sausage and meat, such as morcela, chouriço, pork, and beef, and then cooking vegetables like kale, carrots, and potatoes in the meat broth. Sometimes beans and rice are added to enhance the dish. Cozido à Portuguesa is celebrated for its simplicity and rich flavors, often enjoyed as a communal meal during times of abundance.

12. Bifana

photo by Kirk K

The bifana is a beloved Portuguese street food that consists of thinly sliced pork marinated in garlic and white wine, then fried in a flavorful lardy sauce. This tasty pork is then placed inside a Portuguese roll, often garnished with mustard and served with French fries and pickles on the side. This decadent sandwich is a staple at local markets and street stalls, offering a taste of Portugal’s lively culinary scene.

13. Salame de Chocolate

photo by Avelludo

Salame de Chocolate is a popular Portuguese dessert that looks like a traditional salami but is made with a delectable mixture of dark chocolate, nuts, and broken cookies. This sweet treat is shaped into a log, rolled in powdered sugar, and chilled until firm. When sliced, the dessert looks like a salami with bits of crushed biscuits and nuts mimicking the appearance of meat and fat.

14. Licor Beirão

photo by Caio Brêda

Licor Beirão is a cherished Portuguese potion with a rich history dating back to the 19th century when it was initially marketed for its medicinal properties. This aromatic drink is made from a blend of spices and herbs, including cinnamon and lavender, creating a unique and flavorful beverage. Today, it is one of Portugal’s favorite drinks, enjoyed neat to savor its complex flavors. Whether sampled on a Lisbon food tour or a beach break in Faro, Licor Beirão remains a beloved part of Portuguese culture.

Spices: The Heart of Portuguese Cooking

Portuguese cuisine is deeply interlinked with a rich history of spice trade that dates back to the Age of Exploration. The Portuguese discoveries were crucial in establishing spice routes that brought a variety of exotic flavors to European tables. Today, spices such as piri piri (fiery chili peppers), white and black pepper, saffron, paprika, clove, allspice, cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg are staples in Portuguese kitchens.

Pepper is a fundamental seasoning in Portuguese cooking, with black and white pepper being the most commonly used varieties. Black pepper, known for its rich and complex taste, and white pepper, slightly spicier, are essential in many recipes. Piri-piri, a small and intensely hot chili pepper originally from Mozambique, is another staple, often used in marinades or as a condiment.

Paprika, or colorau, is frequently added to meat marinades and chorizos, providing a distinct flavor and dynamic color. Cinnamon, or canela, is beloved in desserts, particularly sprinkled on pastéis de nata. Anise seed, known as erva-doce, imparts a sweet, licorice-like flavor to pastries and boiled chestnuts. Finally, cumin, or cominhos, is vital in seasoning traditional sausages like morcelas, highlighting the depth and diversity of Portuguese culinary traditions.

Portuguese Family Dining

photo by Mariana Aurelio

Portuguese family dining is an immersive experience that represents the country’s rich culinary heritage and cultural warmth. Meals typically begin with a hearty soup, followed by a main course featuring staples like potatoes, rice, or pasta, and conclude with dessert and a “coffee with a scent.” These meals are more than just food; they are moments of connection and sharing, made with local ingredients and homecooked care.

From the coastal regions to the inland areas, the emphasis is on fresh fish, delicious meats, olive oil, tomatoes, and a variety of spices, with homemade bread and cheese often making an appearance. Historical influences, such as the introduction of fava beans by the Arabs, add depth to the cuisine, which is enjoyed in a family-oriented setting.

Experiencing a traditional meal with a Portuguese family offers travelers a unique insight into the country’s lifestyle and traditions. Hosts, who may range from passionate art collectors to enthusiastic surfers, welcome guests into their homes, creating an atmosphere of warmth and laughter.

The menu is flexible and seasonal, often starting with local cheeses and sausages, followed by a main course like codfish or picanha, and ending with a surprise dessert. Portuguese wine and Port wine accompany the meal, enhancing the flavors and the overall experience. These gatherings not only provide an opportunity to taste authentic Portuguese dishes but also to learn about the culture and the stories behind the food, making it a memorable part of any visit to Portugal.

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Street Food

15. Prego

photo by duncan cumming

Prego is a must-try Portuguese sandwich, celebrated as a popular street food delight. It features thin slices of beef cooked with onions and wine, and seasoned with garlic, which gives the sandwich its distinctive name; ‘Prego’ meaning ‘nail’ in Portuguese. This name originates from the way garlic cloves are added like nails to the meat during seasoning. The result is a flavorful and hearty sandwich that exemplifies Portuguese street food at its best.

16. Farturas

Farturas are a Portuguese version of the iconic churros, and they are a delight for those with a sweet tooth. These doughnuts are fried until golden brown and then generously coated in sugar. The contrast between the crunchy exterior and the soft, fluffy interior makes Farturas a tempting street food dessert, perfect for quick pleasure.

17. Bolas de Berlim

photo by Kimble Young

Bolas de Berlim is a beloved sweet street food in Portugal, offering a unique twist on the classic Berliner doughnut. These treats are soft balls of fried yeast dough filled with a rich, egg-based cream, which is a hallmark of Portuguese desserts. Before serving, they are dusted with sugar, enhancing their sweetness and making them a delightful, fluffy delicacy.

18. Espetada

photo by GerritR

Espetada is a traditional Portuguese dish, particularly famous on the island of Madeira. It consists of large chunks of beef marinated in salt and garlic, then skewered on a bay leaf stick and cooked over hot coals. Often served at picnics or parties, the skewer is hung vertically so the flavorful juices can drip onto thick slices of crusty bread below. Variations may include pork, sausages, or squid, but the classic beef espetada remains a Madeira specialty.

19. Feijoada

photo by Bradleyzm

Feijoada is a hearty, comforting dish whose name derives from “feijão,” meaning beans. Originally considered a staple for the poor, it has become a beloved meal throughout Portugal. This thick legume soup typically includes grains or legumes, vegetables, and pork meat, providing a nourishing and satisfying weeknight dinner that displays the simplicity and warmth of Portuguese cuisine.

20. Salgados

photo by Flavio Ensiki

Salgados are a category of savory, deep-fried snacks commonly found in bars, snack bars, and sweet shops across Portugal. These salty treats include a variety of options such as pastéis de bacalhau (codfish cakes), croquettes, bolinhos (potato balls with meat or fish), and rissóis de camarão (shrimp turnovers). Salgados are perfect for snacking on the go, offering a taste of Portugal’s diverse culinary landscape.

Farm-to-Table Movement

photo by Vitor Oliveira

The farm-to-table movement in Portugal emphasizes the direct connection between farmers and consumers, focusing on raising livestock and growing produce with minimal intermediaries. This process involves significant challenges, as food can be vulnerable to contamination from harsh weather, pests, and plant diseases.

By prioritizing locally sourced ingredients and sustainable farming practices, the movement aims to ensure fresh, high-quality food reaches the table while supporting local farmers and reducing the carbon footprint associated with long food supply chains.

Portugal’s rich agricultural landscape plays a crucial role in this movement, boasting diverse resources and produce. The country’s forests provide valuable materials like cork, holm oaks, pine, and eucalyptus. Key agricultural products include a variety of fruits such as apples, cherries, citrus, figs, grapes, and pêra Rocha pears, as well as staples like maize, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Livestock farming yields milk, pork, and poultry, while olive groves and sunflower fields contribute to the production of oils. By integrating these abundant local resources, the farm-to-table movement in Portugal not only enhances the culinary experience but also promotes environmental sustainability and economic flexibility.

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Dining Etiquette

photo by Vitor Oliveira

Dos

1. Napkin Use: They place their napkin on their lap as soon as they sit down. When the meal is finished, they fold it and place it on the table.

2. Cutlery Handling: They hold the knife in their right hand and the fork in their left without switching hands. When they are done eating, they place their knife and fork parallel across the right side of their plate.

3. Toasting: They wait for the host to initiate a toast before raising their glass. The common toast is “salud,” meaning “to your health.”

4. Starting the Meal: They do not begin eating until the host says, “Bom apetite!”

5. Visible Hands: They keep their hands visible when not holding utensils, resting their wrists on the edge of the table.

6. Passing Food: They pass dishes to their left at the table.

7. Eating Salad: They fold the lettuce with their knife and fork into a bundle that can be picked up with their fork. They do not cut the lettuce.

8. Thanking the Host: They show appreciation by saying “obrigado” if they are male or “obrigada” if they are female.

Don’ts

1. Starting Without the Host: They never start eating before the host has given the signal.

2. Switching Cutlery Hands: They avoid switching the knife and fork between hands during the meal.

3. Cutting Bread: Bread is typically served without butter and without a bread dish, so they do not ask for one.

4. Using Phones: They avoid using phones or tablets during the meal as it is considered rude and detracts from the shared experience.

5. Eating Everything: While they should show appreciation for the food, they do not feel obligated to accept more if they are full. Simply they say they are done.

6. Ignoring Cultural Norms: They avoid placing their knife and fork incorrectly on the plate, as it can signal to the waitstaff that they are finished prematurely.

7. Assuming the Bill: If they are invited, they do not insist on paying the bill. Usually, the one who invites pays, unless other arrangements are made.

8. Tipping Incorrectly: They are aware that a 15% tip is usually sufficient in restaurants, and sometimes it is already included in the bill.

Global Influence and Popularity

photo by shankar s.

Portuguese cuisine, though sometimes overshadowed by its European neighbors, boasts a profound global influence and popularity. Thanks to Portugal’s extensive history of exploration and colonization, Portuguese flavors have filled various culinary traditions worldwide. Portuguese spices have become integral to many cuisines across continents, from Europe to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, illustrating the far-reaching impact of their culinary practices.

The richness of Portuguese cuisine is also deeply interlinked with the country’s geographical features, particularly its Atlantic coastline. The abundance of seafood, including cod, lobster, crab, shrimps, prawns, octopus, scallops, clams, and barnacles, is a staple in Portuguese dishes.

This maritime influence, combined with the use of lively spices brought from colonial expeditions, has created a unique and flavorful culinary identity. The widespread appreciation and adaptation of these elements in various global cuisines highlight the enduring legacy and popularity of Portuguese food.

Key Takings About National Food of Portugal

1. National Food of Portugal: From the iconic Bacalhau to the delectable Pastel de Nata, Portugal’s national dishes show the country’s diverse culinary landscape and rich gastronomic heritage.

2. Traditional Dishes to Eat: Explore the heart of Portuguese cuisine with Peixe Grelhado, Cozido à Portuguesa, Bifana, Salame de Chocolate, and Licor Beirão, each offering a unique taste of tradition and innovation.

3. Spices: The Heart of Portuguese Cooking: Discover the essential spices that infuse Portuguese dishes with flavor and depth, reflecting the country’s historic role in the global spice trade.

4. Portuguese Family Dining: Experience the warmth and hospitality of Portuguese family dining, where meals are more than food, they’re moments of connection, culture, and shared history.

5. Street Food: Explore the lively street food scene of Portugal, from the tasty delights of Prego and Espetada to the sweet pleasure of Farturas and Bolas de Berlim.

6. Farm to Table Movement: Join the movement towards sustainable, locally sourced cuisine in Portugal, where farm-fresh ingredients and traditional farming practices take center stage.

7. Dining Etiquette: Learn the dos and don’ts of Portuguese dining etiquette, from toasting traditions to proper cutlery handling, ensuring a respectful and enjoyable culinary experience.

8. Global Influence and Popularity: Appreciate the global impact of Portuguese cuisine, shaped by centuries of exploration and colonization, as it continues to influence and inspire culinary traditions worldwide.