Hailing from the Algarve, Cataplana de Marisco is a traditional dish made in a special copper pan (also called a cataplana) that was introduced by the Moors centuries ago, possibly as far back as the 700s. It normally contains various shellfish like clams, mussels, and shrimp mixed with peppers, garlic, onions and sometimes bits of Portuguese sausage like chouriço. The pan, shaped like a clam, locks on the side and allows the heat to distribute evenly throughout the dish during cooking time. This is an incredibly flavorful and aromatic dish that must be tried while visiting the Algarve but will taste just as good in many restaurants along the entire coast.
It won’t be difficult finding this popular and simple dish throughout Portugal and most restaurants in Lisbon are sure to include polvo à lagareiro on their menus. In a nutshell, it’s boiled-then-baked octopus served alongside baked potatoes, drizzled with Portuguese olive oil, and sometimes topped with cilantro. Tender and mildly flavored with garlic, bay leaf, and the olive oil, it is a simple comfort food that will pleasantly surprise anyone who has never tried octopus before.
Another delicious octopus dish to try is salada de polvo or octopus salad. Light and refreshing, it is a great starter during a summertime meal but can be enjoyed most of the year. The octopus is first cooked (usually boiling is the way to go) and then cut into bite-sized pieces, mixed with chopped onion and parsley, and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. Some restaurants enjoy spicing their salads up with additional ingredients, like chopped bell pepper, but this dish doesn’t need the add-ons to make it tasty.
While sardines are the star of the show in Lisbon, Porto, and many coastal villages during June’s festivities, it’s possible to smell their aroma drifting through the streets most of the time between spring and fall. Grilling them over charcoal is the common cooking method and they are normally enjoyed with roasted or boiled potatoes and grilled vegetables or a simple salad. This isn’t the only way to enjoy sardines in Portugal, however, and they can also be purchased tinned and smothered in a variety of sauces.
Like bacalhau and sardines, dourada, or sea bream in English, is another finfish treat commonly served at many restaurants. Unless otherwise specified, expect a whole fish grilled with little else but sea salt for flavoring and served with potatoes or rice and salad. For those who are unfamiliar with it, dourada is a white fish with a mild flavor and is an excellent choice for first-timers looking to take a bite of something new.
While sitting on the terrace of a seaside restaurant, it will be common to see locals dipping toasted bread or crackers into a stuffed crab shell and snacking on the mixture inside. The stuffing is made with crab meat, mayonnaise, chopped onions or shallots, mustard, boiled egg, and paprika, for a snack that’s full of flavor.
Clams, garlic, and white wine are the cornerstones that make this recipe what it is, while each chef usually adds his/her own twist to make their own dish stand out further. Named after a Spanish-Portuguese poet who spent most of his time near Lisbon, the recipe first became popular around the capital but spread quickly and can now be found in restaurants through most of Portugal’s regions.
Known in English as shrimp croquettes, these fried pockets of shrimp and cream filling are delicious appetizers that find their way on to holiday dinner tables as well as many restaurants around the entire year.
Bolinhas de Bacalhau or “little balls of codfish” are made with shredded cod, potatoes, onion, and parsley and fried to a golden perfection.
It is said that the Portuguese have at least 365 recipes for making cod, though some people believe that the number may actually reach 1000. Either way, it’s clear that this is a staple in Portuguese cuisine. In addition to bolinhas de bacalhau, favorite recipes include (but are nowhere near limited to) bacalhau à brás (shredded with fried potatoes and scrambled eggs), bacalhau com natas (baked with cream sauce), and bacalhau à lagareiro (grilled cod drenched in olive oil and served with boiled potatoes).
Açorda is a popular dish from the Alentejo region that’s pretty much bread soaked in broth and flavored with garlic, poached eggs, olive oil, vinegar, and chopped onion and coriander. While it can be eaten as is, the Portuguese love enhancing the recipe with different kinds of seafood like shrimp, cod, mussels and whatever else that is on hand.
While the Spanish have paella, the Portuguese have arroz de marisco or seafood rice. Smothered in a rich sauce and chock-full with plenty of shellfish, it is the epitome of comfort food. Just be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand because it can be a little messy to eat (especially when cracking open the crab legs).
Feijoada is a traditional bean stew (the word for bean is feijão) that stems from the northern regions of the country, and, eventually, variations like feijoada de marisco were born. Hearty and warm, this is a great wintertime meal to enjoy while watching the winter waves crash over the coast.
This is fish stew, or a medley of different fishes (although some recipes call for a single fish) mixed with potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. The dish has been compared to French Bouillabaisse and while some cooks throw shellfish into their recipes, others keep it strictly to finfish.
Why choose one or two types of shellfish when you can order many types at one time? Okay, so perhaps this is an eating style more than a dish but it’s nonetheless something that must be experienced in Portugal. For a truly unique experience, visit Baia do Peixe in Lisbon or Cascais for the rodízio de marisco, an all-you-can-eat adventure that comes complete with sapateira, clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab legs, snails, and a unique snack called percebes (known in English as gooseneck barnacles).
Baía do Peixe Lisbon: Campo Pequeno 63, 1000-306 Lisboa, Portugal +351 21 402 6583
Baía do Peixe Cascais: Av. Dom Carlos I 6, 2750-310 Cascais, Portugal +351 21 486 5157