In this special guide you will discover the delicacies of Portuguese cuisine. We will see together which are the main traditions of this people in terms of food and nutrition, so as to give you a detailed view of what you can find to satisfy your stomach in this beautiful land. Enjoy the reading 😉
Are you ready? Let’s begin!
Maia, Porto. Time: 9:22 p.m., 3 July 2019.
I’ve just finished eating my “bifana em pão“, when suddenly a little idea comes to my mind.
Erik, you should write a mini-encyclopedia about Portuguese cuisine, for the travellers who go there to have something to rely on when needing some informations about Portugal’s food culture.
So here I am, with a lot of help from my Portuguese friends & family!
Yes because I’m Italian, and despite knowing a bit about cuisine and flavours, I couldn’t give an authentic, traditional point of view without the opinions of the locals.
Currently I’m living in Porto, so creating this guide for me is both an honor and a burden because it makes me feel compelled to do it well and very real.
In fact, I want this to be the most complete Portuguese food resource you can find on the internet!
The task is huge but I will complete it.
Read on and come with me to this culinary journey.
This is the first part of the guide. Soon I will write the others, but in the meantime, enjoy 🙂
A few notions about Portuguese Gastronomy
I know you’re a curious type, so I will leave you to Wikipedia for a detailed overview of Portuguese cuisine.
But let’s make the first contact with it.
Portuguese gastronomy has atlantic and mediterranean influences. In fact, it is one of the “Mediterranean Diet” countries. The basic elements of this diet are present throughout the national territory, with some variations due to regional traditions.
Yes, Portugal has 7 main regions (we will talk specifically about it later).
Each of these regions, besides owning proper geographical and historical traditions, also possess a diverse gastronomic culture.
However, we can extract some basic elements that are traditionally present in the whole country:
- Bread: a must have in a proper Portuguese meal, it was a surprise for me to acknowledge that they are very good at it. I suggest you try different types of bread in Portugal, I can guarantee you it’s worth it. Of course, regional differences are still present.
A particular variety of bread is what the locals call broa.
- Olive Oil: used as a seasoning in many Portuguese dishes, such as vegetable soups, codfish, potatoes and so on. It is also present in some desserts, especially those from Alentejo.
- Wine: another Portuguese finesse is wine, varying throughout the country and including specialties like Port Wine or Madeira Wine. Portugal (and its people) is very proud of his wine, and with reason!
The main regions in terms of wine production are Douro, Alentejo and Dão.
Common Portuguese dishes that locals love
Besides the basic elements, there are also some national patterns in the dishes they cook too. Let’s discover together which ones. Have in mind that each of these dishes has its own variety throughout the regions, but they are common meals almost everywhere.
Sausages and smoked meats
Portuguese people are really proud of their smoked meats.
And for a reason: the European Commission classified them as PDO (protected designation of origin. If you don’t know the meaning, here’s the definition).
Sausages are present in many varieties in each region, and perhaps they can be considered the symbol of the Portuguese gastronomy.
Cheese and dairy products
From the rural areas of the land, where farming is still a main activity, comes what someone said to be one of the best kept secrets in Europe: portuguese cheese.
Here, there’s a huge variety of cheese and dairy products; from dry to creamy, passing on to butters and margarines, all coming in various aromas an flavours.
Certainly a must try when visiting the country.
Portugal CLEARLY doesn’t lack of soup.
Quite the contrary, they have a huge variety of soups: from vegetable ones to cold ones, passing through meat soups. Soup is a big tradition in this country and they use it mostly as an “opening” dish, before the meal.
In case you want to try to make a Portuguese soup, here are some famous receipts for you.
Fish and seafood
Since their roots lie in exploration and discovery throughout the oceans, this people know how to cook various types of fish and shellfish.
In the entire country you can find good food coming from the ocean, but clearly it is a specialty in the coastal line.
Another thing they’re really good at are sweet pastries.
The majority of their pastries probably finds its origin in the ancient convents of the XVI century, where the use of eggs was very common for various reasons: friars and nuns used the albumen to maintain their ceremonial clothes and also for the clarification of wine.
As a consequence, not to waste the yolk, they began creating and perfectioning the sweet receipts that are now famous in Portugal.
The history and tradition of coffee in Portugal begins in the XVIII century, when the Portuguese introduced it in Brasil.
What? How could it become a Portuguese tradition if they took it to Brasil?
Brasil was a Portuguese colony, and king João V decided to take coffee there; as a consequence, Brasil at that time became the biggest arabic coffee manufacturer.
But coming back to Portugal: due to its connections and relationships with Angola, Timor, São Tomé e Principe (and Brasil of course), all of them green coffee producers, the country has always been able to stay forefront in this sector.
As a result, it became one of the countries that best know the roasting and blending development process of coffee.
The consequence of this story is that coffee in Portugal became a national passion and tradition and, if you want the opinion of an Italian (we take coffee very seriously as well), it is also really good!
This was how a typical complete Portuguese meal looked like.
Let’s take a journey in the first region of our guide, Porto e Norte, and discover its specialties in detail!
The One-Week Gastronomic Journey in Northern Portugal
As we said before, Portugal has 7 main regions:
- Region of Porto e Norte;
- Region of Coimbra e Centro;
- Region of Lisboa;
- Region of Alentejo;
- Region of Algarve;
- Independent region of Açores;
- Independent region of Madeira;
Each of them shows different landscapes, culture and traditions.
But we are here to talk about food, so we can say that they also have different gastronomic habits.
Are you ready for our journey? Read on!
Porto e Norte, where Good Vibes meet Good Wines
Northern Portugal is where the foundation of the country began. It is a place of welcoming people with a rich gastronomic history.
The first typical dish that we are going to discover in this area was elected as one of the seven wonders of Portuguese gastronomy, the soup called Caldo Verde.
day #1 – caldo verde
It was a soup created in the XV century in the province of Minho, thanks to the fertile fields of this region, and it was very popular among low-class individuals; however, nowadays it has become a national and traditional dish.
So much, that it is worthy of the nickname popular soup.
It consists in cooking potatoes, onion and garlic: this is going to form sort of mashed potatoes, left in water to liquefy.
After boiling the broth, it comes the time for the cauliflower (better if from Minho as well :P), that must be added in very small bits.
When the soup is ready, the last ingredients are olive oil and 1 or 2 slices of chouriço that also serve as a decoration.
You can try it with broa.
day #2 – fish in matosinhos
Matosinhos is very famous for his gastronomy in Porto, so famous that it was given the name of “Dining Hall of Porto’s Metropolitan Area” or, less frequently, “City of Fish“.
It owes this fame to its fish and seafood, a gastronomic pleasure that is a mixture of influences from Galicia and the Portuguese historic province of Entre-Douro-e-Minho that nowadays is splitted in different districts.
Walking through this area, you can feel in the air the smell of roasted sardines served with peppers, boiled potatoes and cornbread.
But there’s more than sardines.
Caldeirada de Peixe is a delicious stew whose basic components are several varieties of fish, potatoes, onion, tomatoes and peppers. They serve it sometimes with sliced toasted bread.
There’s also a well-known variation called “Caldeirada Poveira” that is a specialty from Póvoa de Varzim.
You must try the “Arroz de Tamboril“, or Monkfish Rice, typical of the Matosinhos district and very tasty.
These were two examples, but in general you can find really good fish in this zone, or seafood like the sublime octopus fillet.
day #3 – Rojões
A succulent meat dish. I’m going to describe to you the most traditional one, Rojões à Moda do Minho, region from which it comes.
It consists in pieces of boneless pork meat with some fat left on them.
They marinate overnight in a mixture of green wine, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves and paprika. The meat browns in lard, and is then mixed with the marinade and allowed to stew over low heat.
In the end, they add boiled and thinly sliced pork blood and leave it to clear.
Separately, they fry floured casings and pieces of pork liver and also brown some seasoned potatoes.
After adding together all these ingredients, they sprinkle it with cumin and serve it with lemon slices and chopped parsley.
Usually, this dish is accompanied by Sarrabulho rice or Sarrabulho porridge. As alternatives, they serve it also with crackers or white rice.
day #4 – sarrabulho
You thought I’d leave you without explaining what sarrabulho is? Of course not!
It is another typical dish of the northern region and more concretely a stew made of pork and lamb with blood.
Sometimes they add also bread scraps and cornflour and in this case they call it papas de sarrabulho (sarrabulho porridge).
day #5 – tripas à moda do porto
In Portugal (especially in the North) this traditional dish is legendary.
Not just because the people have powerful emotions about it (both positive and negative), or because it was a finalist candidate for a place in the 7 wonders of Portuguese gastronomy.
No, there literally is a legend about it! It is called “Lenda dos Tripeiros“.
Let me tell you the story..
We are back in 1415, on the banks of the Douro river.
The Portuguese workforce, lead by Master Vaz, was building lots of ships and boats for a reason they didn’t know. So people started to guess possible motivations such as marriages between nobles or a visit to a king.
One of these days the infantryman Dom Henrique came to see how the construction works were proceeding and confided to the master the secret of the project: they were building the ships to conquer the city of Ceuta.
He asked then, for the success of the operation, to offer him and his men more sacrifice and effort.
The master answered that the people of Porto were so trustful towards their country that they would give away all the meat in the city to the soldiers, and they would remain just with the guts (tripas) to eat.
At that point, Dom Henrique became so moved and grateful that gave the name of “Tripeiros” to the people of Porto and promised that this name would be forever honored and remembered with glory.
Now that you heard the legend, tripas à moda do Porto is a dish composed by various types of meat, guts, sausages and white beans.
It is maybe the most famous dish in the Northern capital of Porto.
day #6 – francesinha
Since I live in Porto, if I leave with you the Northern gastronomy without mentioning Francesinha, I would probably be committing a crime for Portuguese Law.
Francesinha is an institution in this city, more or less like pizza in Naples.
According to the story, it was a Portuguese named Daniel David Silva that created this “snack” that then became a main course.
He was an immigrant in France in the beginning of the XX Century. When he came back to his hometown, he brought with him an idea: creating a dish that was of French inspiration but adapted to the Portuguese tastes.
That’s how she was born. Later you’ll understand why I said “she”.
But what is it, exactly?
He took inspiration from two of the most famous French sandwiches (the croque-monsieur and the croque-madame), so it can be considered as a sort of “toast” of 2 big slices of loaf bread with cow steak (there are some variations), linguiça (typical Portuguese sausage), fresh sausage, ham, bologna and cheese.
Then they cover it with cheese slices (some variations also include a starry egg on top) and put it in the oven until these slices melt.
You can consider what I just described as the “structure” of this dish. The true core is its secret ingredient: the Francesinha Sauce.
I can’t tell you how they make it because… It is a secret! Every restaurant offering this dish usually has its own sauce receipt and hand it down to the future generations (in a similar fashion as to the Coca Cola Formula).
The only known things are that it is generally a spicy sauce, and that it is made out of numerous alcoholic drinks that give it a stronger or sweeter taste (depending on the beverages used).
Finally, let’s get down to the name: why Francesinha?
Remember when I called this dish a “her”? Legends say that when asked which was the name of the dish, Silva couldn’t find one; so one of his acquaintances, Júlio Couto, suggested the name that finally became the official one: he said that the spicy and pleasant taste made him remember a “French woman”.
From time to time, numerous variations have been made and are present throughout the country.
Moreover, it was elected one of the 10 best sandwiches in the world.
day #7 – alheira from mirandela
Alheira is a particular sausage from the little town of Mirandela and, for the record, one of my favourite Portuguese dishes.
It is basically a smoked sausage, whose main ingredients are pork meat and fat, poultry meat (chicken and/or turkey), wheat bread, olive oil and lard, seasoned with salt, garlic and sweet and/or spicy paprika. They often use also rabbit and beef meats, salpicão and aged ham.
But what’s really interesting about this dish is its hitsory..
In the XV century, as you certainly know, the Jews were persecuted by the Inquisition and had been expelled from Spain.
As their religion forbade (and forbids) them to eat pork, their persecutors were able to identify them easily because they did not make the usual smoked pork sausages.
So they began replacing pork with a huge variety of meats, which included veal, rabbit, turkey, duck and sometimes partridge, all wrapped in a dough to give them consistency.
Eventually the sausage became popular among Christians too, so they started to add pork to the receipt.
I will end the first part of this guide here. I hope you find it useful or maybe inspire you to make new delicacies! 😛
A huge hug from your webmate,
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