A trip to Portugal isn’t truly complete without sampling its cuisine. From fresh seafood and frango piri piri to the iconic pastel de nata, Portugal offers an array of culinary delights, focusing on high quality yet simple ingredients, to create both tasty and healthy dishes.
Taking a Culinary Tour
The different regions of Portugal vary in terms of their specialty cuisine. The northern region typically focuses on heavier dishes, with richer sauces and uses a variety of different cuts of meat. One of Portugal’s relatively young dishes that has exploded in popularity in the north is the francesinha, a sandwich made with thick bread, ham, linguiça (a Portuguese sausage), steak or roast beef and the whole everything covered with melted cheese and a special tomato and beer sauce. Heavier stews and soups such as Feijoada à Transmontana are also popular here, which work well in the cooler climate of the region.
Meat dishes like roasted suckling pig are popular in central Portugal, as well as meat stews like Cozido and Ensopado de borrego. The region also produces a variety of famous cheeses, including Azeitão, Serra da Estrela and Queijo de Nisa. The majority of the country’s olive oil comes from the Alentejo region, which together with its bread, fresh vegetables, and olives, make up the core ingredients of many of the region’s specialties.
The Algarve and the islands of Madeira and the Açores specialise in different seafood dishes, unsurprisingly given the historical importance of fishing in these regions. You’ll find plenty of grilled fish and vibrant seafood stews and soups being served up in these areas as well as a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Açores are also particularly renowned for their cheeses, with some of most famous being Queijo São Jorge, Queijo do São Miguel and Queijo Vaquinha.
History Seen Through Food
Portugal has been inhabited by cultures from across the globe ever since prehistoric times and as such, many different foods and culinary traditions have been taken in by Portugal throughout history. The Romans brought wheat, onions, garlic, olives, and grapes to Portugal and later, the Moors introduced figs and rice and planted almond, lemon and orange trees.
The presence of the Moors in Portugal between the 8th and the 14th centuries can be seen in its cuisine today, with many famous Portuguese dishes and cooking methods being introduced by early Moorish settlers. Many of Portugal’s famous soups and stews came about because of the influence from the Arabic presence in Portugal during this time.
Dishes such as Cataplana, a type of stew cooked in a metallic dish, also called a cataplana, and Escabeche, a sauce made with tomatoes and vinegar used as an accompaniment and a way of preserving fish, both came about as a result of the culinary practices of the Moors.
The country’s famous bacalhau (salt cod) came about because of the need to preserve food on the long journeys undertaken by sailors. It was a staple of the Portuguese Navy’s diet throughout the exploration era and is now said to be an ingredient in 365 dishes, one for each day of the year.
Portugal also played a major role in food globalisation and introduced a myriad of different foods and cooking practices to both Portugal and the European continent, including tea, coffee, pineapples, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, as well as different herbs and spices like coriander, pepper, ginger, saffron and paprika.
Something to Sip on
As you’re exploring Portugal’s culinary scene, make sure to sample a glass of Portuguese wine. Whether you fancy a glass of Porto wine, a rich red from the Alentejo or Douro region or a glass of light and refreshing vinho verde, Portugal has a vast range to choose from.
Portugal has some of the oldest wine regions in the world. Its vineyards were first thought to have been cultivated around 2000 BC. The Romans are thought to have contributed the most to the modernisation of vine culture and enhanced production of wine. Wine production really began to develop in the 12th century and during this time, it became the main exported product from Portugal. To this day, Portugal produces some of the world’s finest wines.
Trying Authentic Portuguese Cuisine
Across Portugal, you’ll find many wonderful places to try out all different types of Portuguese dishes. For an authentic and reasonable menu, you can head one of the local and often family owned, taverns called tascas. Upon entering these tascas you’ll be greeted by simple decor and the aroma of the Prato do Dia (dish of the day).
Pop into a local bakery in the morning and pick some of the famous pastéis de nata. You’ll likely be able to smell these cinnamon dusted pastries baking from afar. Local markets are another great spot for inspiration and to pick up some local produce, meat, freshly caught seafood and cheese, as well trying out some of the homemade desserts and sweet and savoury pastries.
There are endless opportunities to explore the culinary landscape in Portugal. Just by branching out, asking around and exploring your area a little more, you’ll surely discover some incredible places to have a taste of Portugal’s diverse and exciting cuisine.