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A Guide to Portugal’s Most Underrated Food

  • From sardines to custard tarts, there will be something for everyone
  • An insider look at Portuguese cuisine
  • Secrets of Lisbon’s food culture

by the Insider Guide

It’s time for Portugal to step out of its neighbour’s culinary shadow. We all know Spain is a gastronomic VIP; from sensational tapas to incredible seafood, we’ve spent many a holiday eating our way through the country’s menus. Somehow the top-quality dishes on offer just next door have been overlooked, but we’re here to help you look behind the tapestry of rainbow-tiled facades and zigzag tramlines to the food being served up in Lisbon’s bars and restaurants.

If I ask you to think of a Portuguese dish, I bet it’s the delectable pasteis de nata custard tarts. The glossy golden filling lightly dusted with cinnamon, and the crisp buttery pastry are a combination made in dessert heaven. For the Insider Guide, no visit to Lisbon can be without (at least) one a day!

For over 3 centuries lucky Lisbonites have been tucking into these crispy pastry shells filled with an impossible-to-resist creamy egg-yolk filling. Their original home, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, used to be run by monks selling the tarts to make ends meet and is now invaded daily by hordes of visitors queueing to get their hands on a pastel or three. A visit to the blue-and-white-tiled cafeteria and shop is definitely worth your while if you’re in the Belém neighbourhood, but there is no shortage of places to get your pasteis de nata fix around Lisbon. Either buy from a bakery to savour along with the views at one of the city’s viewpoints, or settle down in a café with a coffee and a pastry and watch Lisbon life go by.

The Portuguese have more than one string to their baking bow though and you should definitely take some time to sample a bola de berlim, a sugar-coated doughnut filled with bright yellow egg-yolk cream, or a bola de bolacha, made of stacked biscuits and condensed milk. Or what about a couple of slices of salame de chocolate? As the name suggests this dessert is shaped like a salami, but thankfully made with altogether sweeter ingredients!

Hopefully, you’ve left some room for dinner after all these sweet snacks, because there is a lot on the menu! Let’s start with some polvo à lagareiro; octopus dishes are almost as beloved in Portugal as cod. This fantastic simple recipe calls for roasting the octopus and serving it alongside baked potatoes. Or, alternatively, enjoy it in summer as a cold starter with onions, olive oil and a little parsley. If you’ve only ever tried octopus fried, then take a step into Portuguese food culture with these delicious dishes.

Cod is served up in infinitesimal ways in this Atlantic-facing country, a popular saying goes that there are more recipes using the fish than days of the year! A couple of our personal favourites on visits to the capital were bacalhau à brás, made by sautéing cod along with fried potatoes and onions, or pastéis de bacalhau fish cakes served with a salad.

While Spain is feted for its paella, far fewer people know Portugal’s arroz de pato risotto. For anyone who loves rice dishes though, this is a true showstopper! The crispy surface with chorizo-style sausage conceals pieces of the most tender duck making for a dinner you won’t forget.

Thinking soups are just something to have at home is something we have been guilty of, but make sure not to miss out on caldo verde. Packed with flavour and stuffed with potatoes, kale, sausage and onion, it’s filling enough to be a meal in itself.

We can’t let you go without sharing one final local crowd pleaser: amêijoas à bulhão pato clams cooked in garlic, coriander and white wine. Just thinking about long summer afternoons spent on a shady terrace, dipping bread into the exquisite sauce, is enough to make us start planning our next trip to Portugal. Hope we see you there!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The Insider Guide

We are Riviera Travel’s very own foodie specialists. Travelling across Europe and the world over, we love to uncover those hidden treats tucked away in the tastiest corners of the earth, and offer our specialist insights into the cultures that create the world’s finest culinary offerings.