First, there are a few phrases that you should know before placing an order:
Bom dia (boa tarde/noite), gostava de ter… = Meaning, “good morning (good afternoon/night), I would like to have… ”
Quanto é? = Means, “how much is it?”
A conta, por favor = Means, “the bill, please.”
Posso pedir café da manha? Ainda posso pedir o pequeno almoço? = These are two ways to ask if it’s still possible to order breakfast. When translated literally, café da manha means “morning coffee” and pequeno almoço means “small lunch” but they are actually the two ways to say breakfast. These two questions translate to: “Can I order breakfast? Can I still order breakfast?”
Obrigado/a = Means “thank you”. Say it with the “o” at the end if you’re male or with the “a” at the end if you’re female.
How to order coffee
Don’t expect a caramel frappuccino with almond milk (or any other java masterpiece). The coffee in Portugal is good but rather simple, made up of espresso and various levels of milk and water.
Café = Means “coffee” but it is specifically the name for a shot of espresso, which is what most Portuguese drink throughout the day (with the exception of breakfast).
Meia de leite = Means half espresso and half milk.
Galão = Means a shot of espresso with 2-3 parts milk.
Abatanado = Means a full cup of black coffee.
Um café cheio = Means that you want your espresso glass filled to the top.
How to place an order for breakfast
Like the coffee, breakfast is a simple affair and the pastelarias are as good a place as any to sit down and enjoy the first meal of the day.
Uma torrada = Means, “buttered toast.”
Sumo de laranja natural = Means, “freshly-squeezed orange juice”
Crossaint com manteiga = Means, “croissant with butter.”
Crossaint mista = Means, “croissant with ham and cheese.”
Pastel de nata = This is the name for Portugal’s famous egg-cream pastry. Sweet and creamy, it’s best when freshly made and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Insider tip: A specialty shop where visitors can buy fantastic pasteis de nata “to go” in downtown Lisbon is Manteigaria, which has a store between Chiado and Bairro Alto and a stall inside the Time Out Market at the Mercado da Ribeira.
How to order other popular sweets
Pastries are the star of the culinary show in pastelarias and there are many to choose from:
Bolo de arroz = This is the name for a rice-based muffin.
Pão de deus = This is the name for a puffy, coconut delight called God’s bread.
Bola de berlim = This is the name for the Portuguese version of the berliner.
Pastel de feijão = This is the name for a small, bean-based pastry.
Queijada = This is a sweet pastry made with cheese and eggs. It’s especially popular in Sintra.
How to order lunch
At lunch, many café/pastry shops also serve various sandwiches. Don’t be shy to ask someone for help reading the menu, which is usually hand-written on a piece of paper or on a chalkboard and left at the bar or by the entrance.
Tosta mista = Is the name for a toasted ham and cheese sandwich.
Prego = Is the name for a steak sandwich
Um prego no prato = Is the name for a small steak on a plate, served with french fries, rice, and sometimes a small salad). This isn’t always available.
Bifana = Is the name for a pork steak sandwich.
Prato do dia / Menu do dia = This is the name for the plate of the day / menu of the day. It usually consists of a soup and/or sandwich and a drink. Sometimes, coffee is included.
Don’t worry about visiting at night.
As long as the pastelaria is open, customers are welcome to order pastries, coffee, and a number of other beverages. Locals will sometimes congregate at their local pastelaria terraces after dinner to chat and enjoy one last coffee, beer, or wine before resting their heads for the night.
Um imperial/fino, sé faz favor? = Means, “A small draft beer, please?” Imperial is the word for a small draft beer that’s used in Lisbon, the Algarve, and many cities in central Portugal, while fino is the word for the same thing in Porto and the other northern cities, and in the Azores.
Queria um copo do vinho tinto/branco da casa. = Means, “I’d like a glass of the house red/white (wine).”
Don’t worry about pointing
Despite these tips, ordering can seem tricky but in reality, it’s as easy as pointing directly at what you’re after (the full counter displays come in handy).
There’s no doubting that Portugal is a destination for foodies and the cafés/pastry shops are just the tip of the iceberg, albeit an archetypal tip with a strong position in the culture.