Portugal’s food is as diverse as the country’s history. The country’s location on the Atlantic has a huge influence on the cuisine, but Portugal’s former colonies have also had their contribution with the addition of spices like black pepper, piri piri (small, fiery chilli peppers), saffron, cinnamon, and vanilla. Olive oil, which is used for both cooking and flavoring, is a base of many Portuguese dishes.
The Atlantic influence is found in Portugal’s many fish-based dishes, the most famous of which is bacalhau, or salted cod. Given that each region has its own bacalhau specialty, it’s not surprising that it is commonly said that there are 365 different ways to prepare bacalhau. For example, Porto’s bacalhau à Gomes de Sã is salted cod, olives, and potatoes topped with eggs and onions.
Another meat commonly used in Portugal’s famous foods is pork. A specialty found in central Portugal is leitão, or roast suckling pig. You may also want to try a wine-marinated pork dish garnished with clams called carne de porco à Alentajana. If you’re not really into fish or pork, you can try frango grelhado, a grilled chicken dish seasoned with olive oil, garlic, and piri piri.
Alheira, a sausage served with fried eggs and potatoes, has an interesting history. During the late fifteenth century, Portugal was officially a Christian nation and all Jews were ordered to convert to Christianity or leave the country. King Manuel, however, did not actually want to lose the economic or professional expertise of the Jews. So, when the deadline for leaving the country or converting arrived, he announced that there were no ships available for those refusing to convert. He had men, women, and children baptised by force en masse. In order to not give away their taboo religious affiliation by openly avoiding pork, Portuguese Jews made sausages of chicken and spiced game that only resembled pork. In modern times, the tradition has been broken and alheira often includes pork as an ingredient.
Many Portuguese meals also include some type of soup. In southern Portugal, you can find the popular Gazpacho soup. Made of cucumber, onions, tomatoes, garlic, chillies, and vinegar, this soup is served cold.
Queijo, or cheese, is not an ingredient in most Portuguese recipes. It is often eaten by itself either before or after the main course. Mostly, Portuguese cheeses are made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. The most famous of these, the Queijo de Serra is made in the winter from ewe’s milk coagulated with thistle.
You can’t talk about Portuguese food without touching on their famous desserts. The most popular of these is definitely the Pastel de Nata, or custard tarts. The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém bakery in Belem is the most famous place to get this tasty dessert that is basically an egg custard tart.
Salame de Chocolate translates simply to chocolate salami. Don’t worry, it doesn’t contain any meat. This salami is made from cookies, nuts, butter, dark chocolate, eggs, and port wine.
No matter what kind of food you’re looking for, Portugal can probably supply something to fit the bill.