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Traditional Portuguese dishes

Updated: 20 hours ago

If there's one thing we Portuguese like, it's a good meal, and there's no shortage of variety, whether it's meat or fish, and if it's accompanied by a good wine, even better, to round it off there's always a sweet and a coffee. Depending on where you are, you'll always have a traditional local dish or sweet.

The influence of centuries of Moorish and Roman occupation, and the sprinkling of flavours from the Age of Discovery, has given Portuguese dishes a fusion of international and traditional cuisine. There's plenty to try, from the traditional Bifana to roast chicken, not forgetting the thousand and one ways of cooking cod. All this guarantees that your trip will be as diverse as the delicious meals in each city you visit.

So let's discover some of Portugal's most traditional dishes that you can try in any typical restaurant.


Traditional Portuguese dishes


Bifana

Bifana - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Walking through the vibrant streets of Lisbon, you'll notice the delicious smells as lunchtime approaches. One of the dishes to be found in any café or typical Portuguese restaurant is the Bifana, a pork sandwich with red pepper sauce, which has been marinated overnight to enhance the flavour of the pork loin. Once cooked, it is sliced and placed on hot bread. This dish is exclusive to Lisbon and because it's a quick dish, it's also very popular with the locals. It's served with chips and a cold beer.

In Lisbon, the best place to try them is at the restaurant "As Bifanas do Afonso" on Rua da Madalena.




Portuguese custard tarts

Pasteis de Nata - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Lisbon's food reflects its history and culture, so it's no surprise that it celebrates the city's Catholic roots. Not exactly considered a dish, but welcome at any time, warm and crispy on the outside, soft and savoury on the inside, this humble sweet has its origins in the washing practices of Lisbon's 18th century monks and nuns. They used egg whites to iron their clothes, leaving an excess of yolks that ended up being thrown away. However, with the influx of spices and especially sugar from Brazil at the time of the Discoveries. Instead of wasting them, the monks began to use them to turn them into the cream that is part of the filling in Pasteis de Nata or Pasteis de Belém. Both names are used to describe the same thing.

Until a few years ago they were only sold in the Lisbon area, but nowadays any good pastry shop or café sells them. If you want to visit the original pastry shop where they were first sold, it's just a few steps from the Jerónimos Monastery. You'll easily recognise the blue awning that says Pasteis de Belém, where it's said that the original recipe was handed down directly by the nuns and monks of the monastery.



Roast Chicken

Frango Assado - Traditional Portuguese dishes

When Vasco de Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral set out to explore the oceans and "give new worlds to the world", they also began the Age of Discovery, transforming Portugal's gastronomic scene forever. Their voyages brought spices from India, China and Africa, giving rise to dishes such as the traditional roast chicken or piri piri chicken. This charcoal-roasted chicken is seasoned with an eye for small Peri-peri, brought from Africa, making its flavour particularly strong.

A good roast chicken has a crispy crust and a slightly smoky flavour. For chicken fans, this dish is a real local treat.

In Travessa do Monte, parallel to Rua Escola Politécnica, the restaurant "Frangasqueira Nacional" has been hiding a poorly kept secret in the heart of Lisbon's Príncipe Real neighbourhood since 2013. Connoisseurs already know that this place offers good value for money.



Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Every city has its comfort food and, for Lisboners, it's Caldo Verde. Creamy, green and full of nutritious cabbage, it's a comforting soup enjoyed by all ages. Originally from the north of Portugal, this dish has travelled the world and is known to many as cabbage soup. The ingredients are simple - mashed potato to thicken the soup, chopped kale and, if you're lucky, a little chorizo or Portuguese sausage to finish it off.

Although Caldo Verde is famous, it's only available occasionally. Most Lisbon restaurants change their menus according to the season, so don't hesitate to order a steaming bowl of green soup when you see one.



Caldeirada de Peixe - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Caldeirada

There's a reason why Lisbon is affectionately nicknamed the Queen of the Sea. The city's love of seafood is present in most local meals, and Caldeirada is an ode to the Atlantic. Traditionally, caldeirada was a one-pan meal consisting of the fisherman's catch and some roughly chopped vegetables. Then the fish and seafood were boiled, bones and all, for hours, until the potatoes, onions, tomatoes and fish formed a thick stew.

Born during Portugal's explorations in the 15th century and enriched with imported spices, caldeirada has grown in popularity over the years. Today, various types of shellfish, prawns and even octopus are added. Whether in a Michelin-starred restaurant or a small tavern, a spoonful of caldeirada always goes down well.



Francesinha - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Francesinha

When it comes to indulgence and excess, the Francesinha has no equal. A testament to Lisbon's inventive and exciting gastronomic experiences, the dish (also known as a little Frenchie), is a sandwich inside a soup. The francesinha usually includes Portuguese flatbread, a protein of your choice and some vegetables. A slice of grilled cheese, a fried egg and some thick sauce are added.

You can savour this on its own or do as the locals do and eat your francesinha accompanied by crispy chips and a cold beer. Although the dish is an import from Porto, most restaurants in Lisbon added the meal to their menus as its legendary status grew.

Founded in 1959, Café Santiago is probably the most famous francesinha house in the city. It's on Rua Passos Manuel in Porto.



Sardinhas Assadas - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Grilled Sardines

Stuffed, crunchy and full of smoky delights, grilled sardines are the perfect introduction to Lisbon's love affair with seafood. Lisboners celebrate the salty fish by holding sardine festivals in the Alfama district and in the city's neighbourhoods. If you're lucky enough to visit Lisbon in June, ask your guide about the Santos Populares festival, where the city's patron saint is honoured by grilling, frying and roasting sardines.

Most locals enjoy their sardines roasted with some seasonal vegetables or as a quick sandwich, but if you want to take a bit of Lisbon home with you, head to the Loja das Conservas and choose from over 300 different varieties of fish.



Bacalhau á Bras - Traditional Portuguese dishes

Bacalhau

Rounding off our list is Portugal's most beloved ingredient, Bacalhau, or salted cod. With over 25,000 tonnes of cod imported every year, it's no secret that Portugal loves this fish. Although it's not always locally sourced, with a large amount coming from Norway, Lisboners consider it a necessary part of their culinary heritage. The demand for Bacalhau grew during the 16th century and it is rumoured that today there are more than a thousand ways to prepare it.

Bacalhau a Brás, Lisbon's most popular version, features shredded cod, eggs, onions, black olives, garlic and potatoes. For a fried treat, try pasteis de bacalhau, a fish cake similar to Madrid's croquettes that mixes cod, potatoes and herbs. There's plenty to try, so treat yourself to a dish or two after your tour of Lisbon.



Ready to visit the city? Visit our website and book a Tour of Lisbon with a local guide who will tell you all about Lisbon.



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