Eating in Portugal

As we make our transition from Portugal to Spain we’ve been reflecting on the culinary delights and curiosities that we’ve met along the way. We thought we’d share some of the dishes we loved and some we didn’t love so much for those of you who may come here one day.

When to eat

It took us a while to acclimate to the meal times here. Breakfast is kind of whenever – the pastelarias and cafes are open for most of the day and will always serve you an espresso and a pastry. Lunch restaurants will open at 12:30, but the crowds don’t arrive until 1:00 pm and will last until 3:00 pm. Dinner starts at 7:30 pm with most reservations made between 8:30 and 10:00 pm.

What to eat

Bread: The bread is really, really, really good. It’s fluffy and chewy and just a little bit tart; a mellower cousin to San Francisco’s sourdough. There’s a bread museum in the middle of the country and a chain bakery called Aqui Há Pão (Here There Is Bread) that served me a bread roll with some kind thinly sliced spicy salami baked into it. I had no idea that it was exactly what I wanted until I ate it. They take their bread seriously in these parts and it shows.

portuguese-bread-1p-small
A delicious, delicious bread roll. Served warm with some butter is just so comforting. Photo via Kiwidutch.

Seafood: It’s an ocean front country so the seafood is all fresh and delicious. The grilled fish tends to be served whole on a thin layer of olive oil, but never with sauce and rarely with any accompaniments. We tried the grilled octopus on a recommendation from a few friends. This is not something we U.S. Americans are accustomed to eating unless it’s battered and deep fried (read: calamari). It was steak-y and tender and very good. My personal favorite was a dish that’s simply called “seafood rice.” It’s wonderfully warming and savory.

fishrice
Seafood rice at Velhos Tempos in Braga. The dish comes in many forms. This was just sea bass; others have a lot of shellfish in them and are similar to cioppino. Photo by T.

Pork. These are a people who know their way around a pig. Get anything that’s cured – sausage, salami, chorizo – but know that if you get a pork loin it’s likely to be very well done. The pork cheek was consistently tender and delicious, especially at Porta 4 in Porto.

Migas. It looks like some awful concoction that made it out of an old Sunset Magazine recipe collection, but in this case looks are deceiving. Remember how the bread and pork are delicious? Well, take that bread and soak it in broth, then cook it with a bunch of garlic and serve it with chunks of pork. It’s like a garlicky version of Thanksgiving stuffing.

Soup. There are two reasons you might not want to pass up the soup in Portugal. First and foremost you’re not going to get a lot of vegetables at the restaurants or cafes. Most people eat veggies at home; they go out to get meat. The standard soup selection is butternut squash, sometimes served with a bit of cabbage or spinach in it. It’s a consistently good choice anywhere you go in the country. The second reason is a soup that’s particular to the Alentejo region – bread and egg soup – which is marvelous.

breadsoup
Bread and egg soup. It’s a delicious, rich broth, served with big hunks of bread and a poached egg. Photo by T.

Pastries. Back in the good ol’ days of the Catholic church there were a lot of priests running around who needed their frocks pressed. The ladies who were in charge of this task used egg whites to starch the priests’ collars. This left them with a lot of egg yolks sitting around. God bless them, they found an excellent use for them. There are three pastries you should go out of your way to try:

natas
The national pastry: Pastel de Nata. It’s a custard baked in a flaky pastry shell. Served warm and dusted with cinnamon it’s a rich and tasty treat. In Porto you can get these with a bit of Port wine or chocolate baked into them. Photo by T.
queijadas
Queijadas, a delectable pastry made of cheese, egg, milk, and sugar, with a healthy dose of cinnamon on top. Go to Queijadas da Sapa in Sintra for the very best version. Photo by T.
travesseiro
Another treat that comes from Sintra, the travesseiros (pillows). A thin pastry filled with almond cream. Go to Casa Piriquita and eat them while they are warm. Photo by T.

What to skip

All other meat: We struggled to find any meat that wasn’t overcooked. Pork loin, beef, chicken, even the lamb was cooked to leathery death and then drowned in olive oil. Stick to the fresh fish.

Bacalhau: We’re probably committing a great sin by saying we didn’t like this dish. It’s salted cod, usually served breaded with potatoes. It wants to be fish and chips, and it’s likely that’s what this dish is meant to emulate given the close ties with the British, but it was just too salty for us.

A final bit of advice

Eat small. We don’t necessarily mean portion sizes here, but restaurant sizes. Some of the best restaurants we ate at in Portugal were only big enough to seat seven or eight people at once. Porta 4 in Porto and a place called Botequim da Mouraria in Évora served the most delicious food we’ve had inside or outside the country. They were each about the size of a postage stamp, but the owners really knew their stuff.

sausageman
The owner of Botequim da Mouraria in Évora slices up some Iberico for us. Bar seating only and only nine seats. Show up early as they don’t take reservations. Photo by R.

6 thoughts on “Eating in Portugal

    1. Jill,
      Cinnamon is one of the culinary gifts from the Gods… along with garlic lol, so heaven has to be a place where there at large quantities of both. The pastries in Portugal have to be tried to be believed… and are reason alone to visit Portgal ….sooo yummy, and no photograph can ever do them justice.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Bacalhau in a fish and chip version???

    We’ve been seven times to Portugal (all over the country and even honeymooned there) and never seen it like this, not the salted sort at least. Mind you the famous saying goes that there are a minimum of 365 Bacalhau recipes.. more than one for each day of the year so needless to say we haven’t yet covered them all.

    Bacalhau as we have seen it is usually well soaked and rinsed after the salt/drying and then included as an ingredient in a sturdier dish, generally with rice or potatoes. Both reduce the salt content vastly … it ends up in a dish like this maybe:

    Bacalhau à Gomes De Sá (Salt Cod and Potato Cape Verde)
    https://kiwidutch.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/new-477/

    Pastries in Portugal come in regional specialties, seriously delicious, but we agree: Pastel de Nata are always at the top of our list. 🙂

    Eating at the tiniest places off the main streets has always been one of our biggest tips too, look for where the locals go, ask them what *their* favourite eatery is… we have never been disappointed when we have done this. Excellent post… thanks for using my bread photo , and the link 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree on the baccalau, I was not a fan of the way its prepared in Portugal. I had to ask for lemon to finish it off. However it is not a take on fish n chips, salt cod in all forms is very traditional food going back to the middle ages.

    I also agree about the fresh fish, pork, and the pastries but I’ll add the cheese (a surprise to me) and the wine. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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