Portuguese cuisine knows how to take advantage of its privileged location and territory. With access to the Atlantic and Mediterranean, Portuguese foods incorporate the sea as well as its interiors in the many traditional dishes. A country with a vast diversity of recipes accumulated over centuries of influences and inspiration from around the world.
In this article, we highlight a series of traditional Portuguese dishes for you to try and learn about.
Portuguese Food Guide – The main dishes of Portugal
- Cod Dishes
- Codfish Appetizers
- Polvo à Lagareiro
- Caldeirada de Peixe
- Açorda Alentejana
- Tripas à Moda do Porto
- Arroz de Pato
- Arroz de Polvo
- Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato
- Caldo Verde
- Sardinhas Assadas
- Sandes de Portugal
- Cataplana de Mariscos
- Frango Piripiri
- Leitão à Bairrada
- Queijo Serra da Estrela
- Conservas Portuguesas
- Pastel de Nata (Pastel de Belém)
It is impossible to talk about Portuguese cuisine without starting with codfish dishes. Cod in Portuguese is called Bacalhau, an ingredient full of stories which even coming from far, much of Norway, has become a symbol of Portuguese food.
There are many Portuguese dishes with codfish (portuguese: bacalhau), among which we highlight:
Bacalhau à Brás
A dish that takes shredded cod, crispy sticky potatoes, olive oil and eggs. All mixed with onion, parsley and garlic.
Bacalhau Gomes de Sá
Made with cod, milk, onion, garlic, olive oil and potatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper. For finishing, parsley, pieces of boiled eggs and black olives.
Bacalhau com Natas
A gratin dish of cod, potatoes, onion, cheese, bechamel sauce and heavy cream (portuguese: natas).
Cod is also used in the preparation of snacks, which are great with a good glass of wine.
The pastel and the bolinho de bacalhau (cod fried dumplings) are the best known. There is also the pataniscas and iscas de bacalhau, which are fried breaded with shredded and seasoned cod.
Polvo à Lagareiro
Polvo à Lagareiro is undoubtedly one of the most typical dishes in Portuguese cuisine. The recipe consists of boiled octopus (portuguese: polvo) and then baked in the oven, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by garlic, onion and potatoes.
The term lagareiro represents the olive oil mill workers from producing areas. Hence the name of the dish that uses olive oil in large quantities.
Few Portuguese foods carry a history as impressive as the Alheira. A Portuguese sausage made mostly of chicken meat and bread which was created to deceive those who, at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, persecuted and killed Jewish people. The Alheira looked like traditional pork sausages, an ingredient prohibited by the Jewish religion, and so the Jews in Portugal managed to pass themselves off as Christians and escape death.
The Alheira de Mirandela, which has an ETG protection seal (Traditional Specialty Guaranteed) is considered one of the 7 wonders of Portuguese gastronomy. Currently, it is made with different types of meat and usually served with boiled potatoes, rice and a fried egg.
Caldeirada de Peixe
The relationship between Portuguese gastronomy with the sea is evident and the Caldeirada de Peixe (Fish Stew) is a beautiful example of this connection with the sea. Several sea fishes are used varying with availability and region, for example, cod, monkfish, conger, ray, eels, sardines, some also include squid and shellfish. The fish stew is prepared in layers and put to cook together with potatoes, garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers and herbs.
A typical soup from Portugal, from the Alentejo region that can be used as a starter or main meal. This Alentejo soup is usually made with a combination of bread, eggs, salt, garlic, coriander, olive oil and water.
Tripas à Moda do Porto
A typical Porto dish with stories that go back to the 15th century. Translated to Porto-style guts, the Tripas à Moda do Porto became so famous that even Porto citizens came to be called ‘tripeiros’ (something like guts’ men). They say that the dish was originally served with tripe and bread, but over time the recipe gained new ingredients until it reached the current version that includes, in addition to the tripe, belly and sausage, it also takes white beans, onions, carrots, garlic and others seasonings, all well cooked and served with rice.
Feijoada is a stew made mainly with pork and beans. Very popular in Portugal, it has also influenced the cuisine of its former colonies, a typical example is the well-known Brazilian feijoada. In Portugal, it is common to use white beans and red beans, depending on the region. There are variations of the Portuguese feijoada that are worth mentioning:
Feijoada à Transmontana
The feijoada à transmontana is very popular in Valpaços, a region of Trás-os-Montes, northern Portugal. A typical dish at the lunch of Domingo Gordo (transl. Fat Sunday), the Sunday before Carnival. It is usually prepared with red beans and various parts of the pig such as foot, ear, snout, belly, sausages, and others. Accompanies white rice.
Feijoada de Mariscos
A typical dish from the Portuguese coast, made with white beans and seafood, usually includes some type of fish, shrimp, mussels and shellfish. To season it takes white wine, onion, tomato, coriander, and more. A delight!
Arroz de Pato
Arroz de Pato (transl. Duck Rice) is a typical dish of Portuguese cuisine that has influenced many others, also known as Arroz de Braga due to its supposed homeland. The secret of this dish is in the broth used to cook the rice, which is the same in which the duck, sausage, ham and spices were cooked. Duck meat is shredded, mixed with cooked rice and other ingredients, finally the dish is finished in the oven. Striking and delicious!
Arroz de Polvo
Arroz de Polvo (octopus rice) is a very popular rice dish in Portuguese cuisine. The dish is made with Carolino-type rice (long grain), widely used in the “malandrinhos” type of preparations, a Portuguese term for the more brothy dishes.
In this recipe, rice is cooked in the same broth used to cook the octopus, which guarantees more flavour. It also takes olive oil, tomatoes, white wine, as well as various spices such as onions, garlic, bay leaves, black pepper and coriander.
Also read: The most famous rice dishes in the world
Cabidela is a traditional dish from northern Portugal, usually associated with the Minho region. The key ingredient of Cabidela is the blood of the chicken which after being mixed with vinegar and red wine is incorporated in the last minutes of cooking rice already mixed with the chicken and thus adding colour, texture and a lot of flavour to the dish.
Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato
A probable tribute to the Portuguese writer and poet Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato, the Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, are clams sautéed in olive oil with garlic, coriander, white wine and finished with lemon juice. An excellent choice for snacking!
Considered one of the 7 wonders of Portuguese cuisine in the soup category, Caldo Verde is pure warmth. A slightly thick soup made with potatoes, cabbage, sausage, garlic and onion. It goes very well with bread and a glass of good Portuguese wine.
Canja, being the most famous variation called Canja de Galinha (Chicken Soup) is a Portuguese soup traditionally seen as therapeutic and medicinal.
This traditional Portuguese soup recipe uses chicken, onion, sausage, salt and ham. After the chicken and vegetables are cooked in the same pan, the broth is used to cook the rice or pasta that will be the base of the soup. Then just mix again with the shredded chicken meat, vegetables and enjoy!
The Minho region is highlighted with another very typical Portuguese food, the Rojões. The most enthusiastic prefer to call them Rojões à Minhota which means the Minho style. Rojões are pieces of pork without bone and with fat (usually a cut of the leg).
The meat receives a long marinade in green wine, bay leaf, pepper and salt and then seals in the lard and then cooks in the marinade until soft. Like Cabidela, some recipes also include the animal’s blood during cooking. Rojões are often served with potatoes.
Despite the term assadas (english: roasted), Sardines are in fact grilled and preferably only with coarse salt. A more than traditional delicacy at popular parties and family lunches, a portion of grilled sardines is synonymous with health and good nutrients. They are perfect with plenty of olive oil on a slice of bread or accompanied by potatoes, peppers and salad.
Sandes de Portugal
Sandwiches in Portugal are called Sandes. We highlight two Portuguese sandwiches that you cannot fail to try, they are:
Sandwiches made with thin slices of pork cooked in a lightly spicy sauce with spices and secret ingredients that vary according to the chef. One of the most popular sandwiches in Portuguese cuisine.
Also called Pernil sandwich, it is a delicious sandwich prepared with oven-roasted pork shank that melts in your mouth. Like the others, it is served inside bread with spices and sauces that you will love.
Another loved dish in Portugal, Francesinha originated in the city of Porto and became an icon of local cuisine. The most traditional recipe is made with slices of bread, ham, sausage, steak and covered with a lot of cheese, all of which is taken to the oven and bathed in a lightly spicy sauce. The sauce is what sets each recipe apart! Want to know more? Read here all about Francesinha, its history and ingredients.
Many think that this dish is of Asian origin, but in fact, the concept of tempura is of Portuguese origin! In the XVI century, Portuguese Jesuits settled in Japan as missionaries and introduced tempura, which consists of frying vegetables or seafood breaded by a thin layer of wheat flour with eggs. The tempura was widely consumed during Lent, after all, according to Christian belief, the Portuguese did not consume red meat during Lent.
A while later, the Portuguese community was expelled from Japan, but the consumption of Tempura remained. It was then adapted and popularized by Japanese communities around the world.
Cataplana de Mariscos
The cataplana de mariscos (seafood cataplana) is a dish that incorporates various types of seafood such as shrimp, cockles, mussels, can also go squid and fish such as monkfish, in addition to vegetables and herbs. Everything is cooked in the Cataplana, with heat and steam, leaving everything very colourful, full of flavours, aromas and textures.
But, what is the Cataplana? The cataplana (see at amazon) is a utensil of Portuguese cuisine with probable African origin, formed by two concave parts, usually with hinges and clasps to hold the two halves and prevent the heat from dissipating. Hence the name of the dish, Cataplana de Mariscos.
The Frango Piripiri (Piripiri Chicken) is like a grilled chicken which some call it a barbecue chicken dish or Portuguese chicken. The chicken is marinated in the piripiri sauce, which is a sauce of peppers, before being grilled or roasted. Served with rice, potatoes, salad, depending on the region you are in. By the way, if you want to order chilli sauce, ask for a Piripiri sauce, that’s what it’s called in Portugal.
Leitão à Bairrada
Typical in the Bairrada region in Central Portugal, Leitão à Bairrada is one of those Portuguese dishes in which the recipe, although super old, remains practically unchanged. It is also on the list of the 7 gastronomic wonders of Portugal. Very popular in the municipality of Mealhada and with minor regional differences, Leitão à Bairrada obeys strict rules of preparation, ranging from the choice of the pig, its slaughter to the method of preparation. It is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, etc. and roasted for hours until golden brown, ready to cheer up those waiting at the table. It goes with potatoes and salad.
A dish famous for using meat from old female goats, Chanfana is very popular in the Centro and Trás-Os-Montes regions. A roasted dish that takes old goat meat bathed with red wine, bay leaf, garlic and other spices such as salt and pepper. With the great objective of softening the meat and making it tasty, Chanfana is traditionally roasted for hours in a wooden oven in a tray of black clay called caçoila, the oven must be sealed during its preparation.
Queijo Serra da Estrela
Its origin is in the name, the Serra da Estrela cheese is produced with Bordaleira Serra da Estrela or Churra Mondegueira sheep’s milk, it has a thin shell on the outside that protects its creamy and buttery interior. Some don’t like the smell, but for those who don’t mind, they will have in hand cheese with striking characteristics that quickly melts in the mouth. Great for bread and toast.
Learn more: The Main Portuguese Cheeses (DOP)
The Portuguese canned food, which gained prominence by feeding armies, has become a great ally of convenience in Portuguese cuisine.
There are several fish that can be found in this way, among them are tuna, sardines, cod, mackerel, eels, sardine roe, fish and seafood pâté, and much more! Matosinhos, a city very close to Porto, is the great reference of this delicacy and you can take a tour in the canning factories to see how it is made. They say that good Portuguese canned sardines are like a good wine, it improves over time.
Pastel de Nata (Pastel de Belém)
This one cannot be left out. Pastel de nata, or Pastel de Belém when produced in Belém, is one of the most coveted items to accompany an afternoon coffee. Pastel de Belém’s original recipe is secret and has remained intact since its origins in the 19th century. In general, the pastel de nata is made with a crunchy and thin puff pastry accompanied by a filling that takes egg yolks, sugar and cream, and finally is sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Another delight of Portuguese cuisine that took the award as one of the seven best dishes in Portugal.