If you're passionate about discovering the top dishes from different countries and are particularly interested in Portugal, then you're in luck. Our team at Frugal Expert shares that passion and specializes in identifying the best food each country has to offer. Each team member has visited Portugal, with one of us spending as much as six months living there. During that time, we became involved with the unique Portuguese food culture.
Portugal offers diverse culinary experiences, from sumptuous meat dishes to the freshest seafood. Though we could easily extend this list to include 30 must-try foods, we've narrowed it down to a select 12 that you absolutely can't miss. This guide covers everything from typical Portuguese food to foods you may not have heard of, catering to travelers on any budget.
1. Pastel de Nata
When we sat down as a team, the first food that all came to us was the Pastel de Nata, and that's why it's the first food on our list.
If you're headed to Portugal, prepare your taste buds for a treat you will remember: the Pastel de Nata. This iconic Portuguese food is a must-try for anyone visiting the country, and for good reason. Think flaky, crispy pastry filled with a soft, gooey custard that often has a subtle touch of cinnamon. You'll understand why this delicacy is a nationwide favorite with just one bite. It's genuinely one of the best dishes in Portugal.
If you find yourself in Lisbon or Porto, you're always close to a bakery tempting you with an array of sweet delights, but let's be honest: Pastel de Nata takes the cake. For one of the best Pastel de Nata experiences, check out Manteigaria. Not only do they have their bakery, but they also have a spot in the famous Time Out Market. For those who want to explore more options, you can find a complete list of the best places to get your Pastel de Nata fix here.
2. Piri Piri Chicken
When it comes to mouthwatering Portuguese chicken dishes, Piri Piri Chicken stands out as a must-try. You might think, “Hey, isn't that like Nando's?” While Nando's has popularized a version of this dish worldwide, you actually won't find Nando's in Portugal. But what you will find is authentic Piri Piri Chicken that's bursting with flavor.
The chicken is usually spatchcocked out for even cooking. The magic happens in the marinade, with a combo of garlic, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and piri-piri chilies. Some places have secret ingredients that take the dish to the next level. If you want to make it yourself, we recommend this recipe.
So, is Nando's peri-peri chicken the same as Portuguese piri-piri chicken? No, while it's similar, the real deal in Portugal is something special. It's more than just one of the best dishes in Portugal. It's a testament to the fantastic Portuguese food culture that can turn simple ingredients into something extraordinary. Trust us, skip the imitations and go for the authentic Piri Piri Chicken in Portugal; its one you won't regret.
If you're hunting for an iconic and tasty traditional Portuguese food, look no further than the Bifana. This isn't just a slap of meat between two pieces of bread – it's all about the marinade.
The pork loin is soaked in a blend of wine, garlic, paprika, and a little kick of spice. This flavorful soak elevates the Bifana from a mere sandwich to a culinary experience. If you think it's too simple to make an impact, trust us, your taste buds will beg to differ.
You might be wondering where to get the best bifana in Lisbon. Well, after some serious foodie research, we've got two hot spots you should check out.
Firstly, Beira Gare (Praça Dom João da Câmara, 4). This place is where locals go when they crave a top-notch Bifana. It's a go-to spot, particularly praised by folks in Lisbon.
Secondly, Casa das Bifanas (Praça da Figueira 7A). Located in a central spot, it's an ideal pit stop for a bifana feast, no matter what time of day.
4. Bolinhos de Bacalhau
If you're exploring the best dishes in Portugal, you can't miss out on Bolinhos de Bacalhau. These fried codfish cakes are a beloved Portuguese food, serving as a perfect appetizer or finger food at parties, gatherings, or just as a quick snack. The star ingredient is Bacalhau, a codfish that's more than just food; it's a part of Portugal's national identity.
These fish cakes are crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside, and they've got that perfect blend of flavors that'll make you want to eat more than just one.
Wondering where to try the best Bolinhos de Bacalhau? We recommend making a stop at Café Restaurante Martinho da Arcada in Lisbon. Trust us, you won't be disappointed as whether it's a quick snack or a party appetizer, Bolinhos de Bacalhau is a must-try in Portugal.
5. Caldo Verde
When diving into the gastronomy of Portugal, one dish that stands out is Caldo Verde. This soup is the epitome of real Portuguese cuisine, cherished across the country with slight regional variations. The key ingredients are simple yet flavorful: finely shredded Portuguese cabbage, which is known as couve-galega, potatoes, olive oil, and spices like black pepper, onion, and garlic. The chorizo sausage adds that extra kick, making it a must-try dish.
This isn't just any soup; Caldo Verde is often considered one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal's Gastronomy. The blend of couve-galega and potatoes creates a comforting base, while the chorizo brings flavor.
For those looking to try the best Caldo Verde, head to A Merendeira in Lisbon. Located at Avenida 24 de Julho 54, it comes highly recommended by food critics like Flávio Furtado. The place is always bustling, mainly because of their fantastic chorizo-stuffed bread and their Caldo Verde. Trust us, it's worth the visit.
6. Grilled Sardines
You can't skip grilled sardines if you're exploring typical Portuguese food. This simple dish is elevated to new heights with how it's served and eaten. In Portugal, grilled sardines are traditionally accompanied by a roasted green pepper salad and rustic bread. The bread soaks up all the flavorful oils and salt from the sardines, creating a rich and satisfying bite. Here's how to eat grilled sardines in Portugal: lay them on a piece of rustic bread and let that bread soak up all the juicy goodness!
Where can you get the best-grilled sardines? We suggest heading to your local fish market, especially in the coastal towns of Olhão or Loulé in the Algarve. These markets offer the freshest catch.
We're talking sardines again, but this time, it's all about famous Portuguese canned sardines. These are not just any canned fish; they're a snack that pairs perfectly with a glass of wine. You can enjoy them on crunchy bread garnished with fresh veggies like red onion and bell peppers. Add a sprinkle of parsley and a splash of lemon, and you've got a quick and easy dish that brings all the flavors of the Mediterranean to your plate. It's the perfect way how to eat Portuguese canned sardines, and it's sure to wow anyone who tries it.
8. Francesinha Sandwich
If you're in Porto, you can't leave without trying the best francesinha sandwich in Porto. So, what is a francesinha sandwich? This is no ordinary sandwich; it's a meal in itself. Imagine layers of sausage, ham, and steak all wrapped in gooey cheese. The sandwich is then topped with fried eggs and slathered in a special secret sauce you won't find anywhere else. Don't forget the side of french fries to make the meal complete. The sauce is key; make sure you have enough to dunk each bite into.
A member of The Frugal Expat team tried a mouthwatering sandwich at Cafe Santiago, and it's easy to see why locals consider it the best place to get a francesinha in Porto. With all these flavors packed in, you'll understand why this sandwich is so special to the people of Porto.
9. Serra da Estrela – Portuguese Cheese
You can't talk about food and not mention cheese, right? Every country has its signature cheese; in Portugal, it's Serra da Estrela. This cheese is a big deal. It comes from the highest mountain in mainland Portugal and is made the old-fashioned way, from the milk of grazing sheep. The cool part? It's curdled with thistle flowers, making it a vegetarian cheese. This cheese has PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, so you know it's the real deal when you get it.
What's the best way to eat it? Don't just slice it; get creative. Cut a circle out of the top rind and grab a spoon. Spread that creamy goodness onto crackers or fresh bread. Trust us, it's so good you'll want to make it the star of your snack table.
10. Arroz de Pato – Portuguese Duck Rice
If you're hunting for the typical Portuguese dishes, you can't miss Arroz de Pato. This dish is about blending flavors from duck meat and rice in the most mouthwatering way. First, a whole duck gets cooked in seasoned stock, smoked meat, and sausages. Once it's tender, the meat is shredded and layered in a clay pot, then covered with rice cooked in the same flavorful broth. Before it hits the oven, slices of sausage or smoked meat are added on top for that extra kick. This is no ordinary meal; it's a special occasion main course and a popular lunch pick in many traditional restaurants. Looking to try the best one? Head to Restaurante Magano in Lisbon. You won't be disappointed.
11. Alheira – Most Surprising Portuguese Sausage
If you're looking to explore Portuguese foods, Alheira should be on your list. This sausage is a tasty treat and a part of Portuguese history. Initially created by the Jewish community to disguise their religious identity during the Inquisition, this sausage is a blend of pork, chicken, and sometimes game meat. What sets it apart is the traditional Portuguese spices that give it a unique and mouthwatering flavor. It's a popular Portuguese food and a must-try for anyone keen on diving into the authentic flavors of the country.
Originally, Alheiras were grilled or roasted and paired with boiled vegetables. Nowadays, they've gotten a modern twist. Most people prefer them fried, served up with french fries and a fried egg on top. This dish is a delicious testament to Portuguese cuisine's rich history and diversity.
12. Black Pork – Porco Preto
When talking about Portuguese foods, Porco Preto or black pork holds a special place. Sourced from the native Iberian pig, this meat is treasured for its rich, nutty flavor from feasting on acorns in the Alentejo region. Not only is it full of taste, but it also has a higher fat content compared to other pig varieties. If you're a pork lover, Porco Preto is the epitome of “how pork is supposed to taste.”
What is the best way to enjoy this delicacy? Keep it simple to let the flavors shine. Make a rub from your usual go-to pork seasonings and throw it on the BBQ. If you don't have access to a BBQ, grilling it works just as well. Pair your Porco Preto with roasted vegetables for a meal that's as authentic as it is satisfying.
Great Food For Many to Enjoy
We know that taste is subjective, and we'd love to hear what dishes you think should've made our list. Do you agree with our top 12 picks? Whether you're a fan of meat or seafood wonders, we're sure there's something in Portuguese cuisine that will capture your taste buds. Drop us a comment and let us know what you'd add or change.
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I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.