10 Popular Traditional Portuguese Food Dishes Explained
Traditional Portuguese Food
Portugal is filled with homey mom-and-pop restaurants at nearly every corner. These restaurants serve traditional comida (food) at rather inexpensive prices (around 5–10 euros), and it's these restaurants that my friends ask about when they come to visit me in my adopted home of Portugal. What is Portuguese food like? What are the most traditional Portuguese dishes?
This article aims to answer these questions and act as a guide to the dishes you will come across on your travels to Portugal (or Portuguese restaurants elsewhere). You can start planning ahead of time what to eat in Portugal, and you'll impress your friends with your knowledge of Portuguese cuisine.
Portuguese Bacalhau Dishes
When you take a look at just one menu at a Portuguese restaurant, you'll quickly understand that the Portuguese love bacalhau (salted and dried cod fish). They actually say that there are 365 ways to cook bacalhau—one recipe for every day of the year!
The most popular bacalhau dishes are:
- Bacalhau com Natas, which translates to "cod with cream." Bacalhau com Natas is like a lasagna made of cod. It includes layers of cod fish, onions, diced fried potatoes, and lots of creamy deliciousness.
Bacalhau à Brás, which translates to "cod à la Brás." Bacalhau à Brás is made from shredded bacalhau, fried potatoes, onions, and scrambled eggs all mixed up together.
Grilled Sardines (Sardinhas Assadas)
Sardinhas Assadas ("grilled sardines" in English) are a feast. I'm saying this because there's such a festive atmosphere when these are prepared around the time of the St. Anthony's Feast when chefs actually grill sardines outside of restaurants!
St. Anthony's is celebrated on June 12th, and there are parades and the smell of sardines fill the air. Festas de Lisboa last during the entire month of June, so it's a great time to be in the city and try out these fishy goodies that go really well with a nice cold beer on a hot summer day.
Portuguese Seafood Dishes
I've already mentioned cod fish dishes and sardines, but Portugal is a seafaring country so there are a lot more seafood dishes. The most popular other types of seafood dishes include the following.
- Dishes with chocos, which are cuttlefish. One such dish is Choquinhos à Algarvia, which translates to "cuttlefish from the Algarve" (a region in southern Portugal).
- And while we're on the topic of seafood, you have to try this one dish that's really unique and can only be found in Portugal and Spain—it's percebes, which translates to "goose barnacles." These little ugly thumb sized things look like some pre-historic claws or something, but once you bite into them, you won't want to stop eating them. They're definitely worth a try, and you can find them at seafood restaurants, especially by the coast. I had them in Ericeira.
Portuguese Meat Dishes
Other popular meat dishes in Portugal include the following.
Leitão, which is suckling pig. Different regions have their own specialties, but a region known as Bairrada in central Portugal is best known for this Portuguese specialty. Leitão da Bairrada is a dish that has a crunchy golden rind that's drenched in garlic and pepper and soft meat. You'll never forget it!
Francesinha, which translates to "Little Frenchie," is a delicious huge sandwich that's made from a mix of ham, sausage, and other meats, smothered in melted cheese and a thick tomato and beer sauce. It's usually served with fries. The thought of it makes me hungry!
Cozido à Portuguesa is a stew made from every imaginable Portuguese meat, including beef, pork, and sausages (including blood sausage!), mixed with all sorts of boiled veggies and potatoes. It's usually served topped with lots of olive oil and at least one copo de vinho (glass of wine).
Carne de Porco à Alentejana is a really popular pork dish that originates in Portugal's Alentejo region and comes with clams (who knew the two can go so well?) and potatoes.
Bitoque is one of my personal favorites for lunch in Portugal. It's a dish that consists of steak with an egg sunny-side-up over it, fries, rice or potato chips as a side dish, and a salad. This dish can be found at any Portuguese restaurant or even at malls as fast food and costs just around 5 Euros!