If you’re a foodie and considering a trip to Portugal, we’ve got just the right guide for you: It’s an in-depth introduction to Portugal’s food and wine.
Read on to learn about the locals favorites and the best food destinations in Portugal.
The Best Destinations for Food in Portugal
Overview of the Top 4 Destinations for Portuguese Food
|Lisbon||Port City & Nation’s Capital||Sardines & Piri Piri|
|Algarve||Southernmost Region of Portugal||Prawns, clams & fresh fish|
|Porto||Coastal City in Northwest Portugal||Comfort food & port (dessert) wine|
|Alentejo||South-Central Region in Portugal||Soups, pork, & wine tours|
The Portuguese Diet & Gastronomy
To understand the Portuguese diet, you have to look at the country’s history. As a coastal country with a major port (Lisbon), Portugal has a long heritage of exploration and globalization.
Before any other European civilizations, it was Portugal that ventured out into Ethiopia, China, and Japan, and they also colonized much of South America (Brazil is one example). This definitely influenced their spices (coriander, pepper, saffron…), ingredients (pineapples, tomatoes, potatoes…), tea varieties, and overall gastronomy.
Something Portugal has a lot of Atlantic coasts. The Atlantic Ocean basically hugs the whole Western side, so it’s no surprise that the Portuguese eat their fresh fish and seafood.
However, we don’t want to represent Portuguese cuisine and alcohol as if it stole everything. In fact, Portugal has a long history of making its own wines and olive oil. Portuguese wine is, in some ways, more unique to the wine you’ll find in Italy and France, yet often overlooked and generalized.
They have over 300 varieties of grapes (the most in Europe), which only masters of the trade can name and distinguish most times. A lot of us associate Portuguese wine with a sweet taste, but that’s just its port wine.
Actually, Portugal has the full spectrum of wines, including dry and semi-sweet. In fact, as far as the food, wine, spirits, and beer, you’ll see things in Portugal that are both strangely familiar to you, and incredibly exotic.
As far as olive oils, Portugal has its very own native olive trees and methods for making olive oil. If you love olive oil and want to partake in some Portuguese food tourism that focuses on olive oils, then you should visit Alentejo.
Three-quarters of the whole nation’s olives and olive oils come from Alentejo, along with stellar wine and Portuguese cuisine.
Must-Try Traditional Portuguese Food
- Bacalhau: The national dish of Portugal, composed of salted, dried cod and allegedly made 365 different ways.
- Polvo à Lagareiro: Composed of roasted octopus and potatoes.
- Grilled Sardines: barbequed and abundant in all of Portugal (but especially Lisbon) during the summertime.
- Conserveiras: tinned fish delicacy.
- Bolinhos de bacalhau: cold & potato patties that are deep-fried and found in cafés.
Soups & Stews
- Cataplana: a stew made in a dish of the same name, made in fish and meat varieties.
- Caldo Verde: a soup made of chouriço, kale, potatoes, onions and aromatics.
- Arroz de Marisco: a heavy but delicious seafood stew served with rice.
Poultry & Duck
Arroz de Pato: a common duck and rice dish.
Piri-Piri Chicken comes with fries usually, rooted in African colonies.
Pork & Beef
Leitão: roasted piglet.
Porco Preto: Spanish & Portuguese big breed raised on acorn diet, usually roasted or grilled.
Alheira: A highly popular, non-pork sausage made from Jews during the Inquisition period.
The Pastel de Nata: A small pastry from Lisbon, similar to a custard tart. Because they’re so embedded within Portuguese cuisine, you can have a pastel de nata almost anywhere.
You might be lucky enough to find some variations and creative takes on it. However, make sure to have a traditional pastel de nata (one without extra, alternative flavors and freshly baked).
Bread & Cheese
Don’t think it’s all meat and seafood here. If you’re a bread or cheese lover, you’ll be happy here.
There’s a wide variety of wheat breads, like pao alentejano and pao de cabeca. However, they also have some really fun and unexpected breads made from corn and sweet potato.
Some favorites include broa de milho (cornbread from the North), pão de cabeça (wood-oven-baked wheat bread), bolo de caco (from Madeira Island), and pão de deus (sweet, coconut-topped rolls).
For cheese, Portugal has lucious pastures where they’ve cultivated cow, goat, and sheep cheeses.
You can’t leave without trying the famous raw, sheep mountain cheese called “Serra de Estrela.” It’s the most popular in Portugal, and definitely worth having.
Also try the most popular cow’s cheese, São jorge.
Other popular Portuguese cheeses include rabaçal (goat & sheep), transmontano (goat), évora (sheep), and Nisa (you guessed it— sheep).
Portugal is a warm and lush coastal country. Make sure to bring some local currency and head out to the farmer’s markets.
Food lovers can enjoy the traditional markets and find ingredients to make a fresh salad for a picnic. The markets offer products like nuts, lettuce, fruits & vegetables, as well as sea food and food stalls with simple Portuguese dishes and baked goods.
If you’re in a coastal town, you should check out its local fish market.
Earlier, we settled that stereotype that all Portuguese wine is sweet (that it’s not, in fact). That’s just the port dessert wines that are sweet.
For Burgundy Lovers: Dão
If you’re a dry wine lover and particularly like Burgundy wine, you’ll love Dão. Its grapes come from a temperate region in Portugal, and the end product is full bodied with notes of tea, cacao, and cherry.
For Cabernet Fans: Alentejo
Cabernet fan? Try the Alentejo; it comes from an area with lots of cork trees, its grapes get lots of sunshine and are very ripe when harvested— which means higher alcohol percentage!
Now, it’s time for the ports. The most famous region for port wine is probably Douro. They blend usually 4 grape varieties, let it partially ferment, and then add grapes with high alcohol content.
This makes ports sweet and more alcoholic than regular, unfortified wine.
Here are the 4 major port wines:
• The least expensive & aged about 3 years
LBV (Late Bottled Vintage Port):
• The most expensive & aged 4-6 years
• Midrange & made only during high grow years
• Aged in wood & comes in bold flavors.
If you want to taste all these, you can find them in the capital and most regions, or better— catch a wine tour and tasting experience.
Our Top 4 Places for Best Portuguese Cuisine
A major port city for over a thousand years, it shouldn’t surprise you to find seafood and most Portuguese dishes in Lisbon.
As the nation’s capital, the different regions and cultures tend to mash up in the small taverns, as well as Michelin starred restaurants. Also, Lisbon’s where the Moorish conquering of the 700’s is most apparent.
You’ll find architecture, museums, music venues, boating, cafes, bars, markets, Michelin-star restaurants, and more in Lisbon. If you’re looking for a place with the most variety and activities, Lisbon is your city.
You can generally find some of the whole nation’s cuisines in Lisbon, as well as cosmopolitan eats.
The most widespread bite you’ll find is sardines, though. This city is so crazy about sardines, that you’ll find them in almost every café and bar.
You can think of sardines like the croissant of Lisbon. Even if you squeam at the thought, you probably haven’t had sardines like in Lisbon.
For another casual bite, you’ll have to try the bifana sandwich. This is a pork sandwich, marinated and stuffed into a freshly baked roll.
In a true bifana, there’s not much else other than pork. It’s like a pub food or laid back lunch dish, typically consumed with french fries and cold beer.
For something lighter and more vegetarian-friendly, the caldo verde is deceitfully dairy and meat free. It has few ingredients, like potatoes, olive oil, kale, and aromatics.
If you’re vegetarian, you’ll have to request caldo verde without chouriço.
This is a poultry dish that resulted from the colonization in Africa. The name comes from the imported chilies, which, along with olives and lemon, marinates the chicken before they grill it.
Chouriço & Alheira
These are two popular sausage varieties, except one is pork and one’s deceitfully pork-free. Chouriço is the most standard sausage in Portugal and is made from pork. You’ll find it served as a snack and to spice up dishes inside or on the side.
Alheira is that pork-free sausage we talked about earlier, that Jews fearing the inquisition invented secretly out of non-pork meats. This is another beloved, juicy sausage that you’ll find everywhere.
People say that this region in South Portugal is the most beautiful. It’s famous for its gorgeous beaches and charming villages. Here, things move a lot slower than in the bustling capital. Many of you might prefer that, though.
You’ll still find lots of organized food and cultural tours.
Don’t miss out on the Conquilhas à Algarvia clams. These are caught straight from the Atlantic and cooked with sausage and aromatics. Sometimes simple is amazing, and the region’s prawns are no exception. The most popular way to eat them is boiled with garlic, lemon, and salt.
Since the prawns of Algarve are so amazing on their own, they don’t add all that much to them.
For a full shellfish mashup, you’ll have to have the cataplana de marisco (seafood-style cataplana stew). Inside this traditional stew, you’ll find clams, prawns, squid, lobster, and other seafood, depending on the chef and availability.
For a seafood break, this region has some famous pork and chicken dishes. The most popular pork is actually a wild boar dish or javali. This is basically a wild boar roasted with root vegetables, spices, and herbs.
If you can’t eat pork, this region has a famous chicken dish called frango da guia.
This is Portugal’s second-largest city, and it’s famous for its port wine, Douro River, bridges, and merchants along the narrow, cobblestone streets. While flights cost about the same, everything else here is significantly more affordable than in Lisbon.
This, being the second-largest city in the nation, has lots of activities and sights yet makes a more affordable alternative. Don’t mistake it for Lisbon, though. It’s definitely a more laid back city.
Bacalhau com natas
One of Portugal’s ultimate favorites— this is best described as a cod, potato, and cheese casserole or gratin. It usually also includes spices, onion, and cream. Honestly, it’s hard to approach Porto’s food scene without mentioning the national favorite, bacalhau con natas.
This is a portion of great comfort food that, we’ll warn, can be tough to find. Even at places whose menus feature it sometimes don’t have it.
Look for it in taverns and small
This is a brewed, bean stew that includes meat, often pork or beef. The price on this dish greatly varies depending on the time of year, as well as the type and quality / part(s) of the meat.
For instance, if you’re adventurous and on a budget, you can opt for the feijoada with pig or cow ears and tongue. However, they also have it with prime cuts of beef and ribs. This will run up a bit higher, but it’ll be a higher quality ultimately.
This dish is uber-traditional, having originated in the 14th century in Northern Portugal.
Chicken Comfort Food: Arroz de Cabidela
This dish sounds deceitfully simple, as it sounds like just chicken and rice by the name; however, there’s one ingredient you may not expect— it’s chicken blood.
Try not to be too squeamish; after all, they don’t sacrifice the chicken or serve the blood raw in there. It’s an intricate process, but in basic terms, the rice is soaked within the blood of the chicken. Also, by intricate, we don’t just reference the cooking process. After the chicken is slaughtered, it’s actually hung upside down for the blood to drain out.
It’s maybe not something to watch with the kids, but this soup is incredibly flavorful and worth trying while you’re in Porto.
If you come out to Alentejo, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they consider this the “Tuscany of Portugal.” While this country makes up almost a third of the country, it’s one of the least populated areas in Portugal.
As far as landscapes, you have vineyards, castles, mountains, and quiet, Atlantic beaches with white sand. When people come to visit, they usually venture out on wine tours visiting the various wineries— especially the Adega da Cartuxa in the capital, Évora.
You’ll also get a chance to explore the Roman ruins, medieval monasteries, and even preserved segments of medieval towns and villages. Also in Évora, you can visit an aqueduct and a 1st century Roman temple (Temple Diana), and Cathedral of Évora (the largest cathedral in all of Portugal).
Lisbon’s great and all, but we want to be honest and let you know already that it’s our favorite region in Portugal— not just for its amazing food, but in its effortless grace, lack of crowds, and inspiring culture.
Alentejo is home to some of the best food and wine in the country, and much of the traditional cuisine comes out of rural Portugal.
You’ll notice a lot of meat dishes, including lamb and pork, cheese from the region’s capital, and, of course, its 60 or so wineries! (It’s honestly hard to come here and NOT have wine. They take special pride in their wine here.)
Tomato Soup: Sopa de Tomate
Think of Spanish tomato soup and imagine something even better. This tomato soup uses locally grown tomatoes and is deceptively simple.
It’s a nice and light alternative to the heavier options we’ll show you next.
Bean Stew: Favada Real de Caça
This bean and meat stew might look simple, but it actually has a royal background. Traditionally served to the royals after strenuous hunting, this stew is nourishing and fortifying without being overly fatty and heavy.
After you take a day trip or tour around the region (you’ll likely walk 20,000 steps!), this soup is the perfect replenisher.
Porco Preto: Wild Portuguese Pork
This isn’t just any pig you’re eating. This dish is made from Iberian black pork, and these pigs live a relatively free life compared to most pigs we consume. Their diet consists of the acorns from the ground beneath the signature holm oak and cork trees scattered throughout the region.
This gives the pork a tender and unique flavor. Also, we’ll mention that Porco Preto is just an ingredient. There are actually several dishes in Alentejo made with Porco Preto; although, you’ll want to look for this phrase!
One of the most popular is the Secretos de Porco Preto, a dish made with the pig’s belly.
Portuguese Etiquette & Customs
If you’re coming to a country for the first time, we recommend diving into its customs and etiquette.
That way, you respect everyone and get a more “true” experience.
Below are some tips for being respectful to Portuguese culture:
- Always wipe your shoes when entering a restaurant (and especially someone’s home). It’s a sign of respect.
- Try not to refuse complimentary snacks and beverages that a host offers.
- Invited to someone’s home? Return the favor (at least to your accommodation or a dining experience). This shows appreciation.
- During a toast, always look someone in the eye and say ‘Saúde!’ (meaning “to your health”).
- Cover your mouth when you use a toothpick.
- Don’t show up empty-handed! Again, if someone invites you into their home or guest house, bring a bottle of wine.