Portuguese cuisine is typically hearty, relying on fresh ingredients. From the mountains in the north to the rolling hills and plains of the south, Portugal offers a wide range of culinary delights. We list the 10 best dishes to choose when dining out in Portugal, and where to find them.
Alheira de Mirandela
The alheira, a type of fowl sausage, is one of the cheapest and most common Portuguese dishes with a fascinating history. When the Jewish population was expelled from Portugal in 1498, many hid in the mountainous region of Trás-os-Montes in the northeast of Portugal, practising their religion in secret while pretending they had converted to Catholicism. One way to do this was to ostensibly make, display and eat sausages so that everyone would think they were no longer keeping kosher. Nowadays, the dish is available in any corner eatery.
Arroz de Tamboril
Tamboril is Portuguese for monkfish and while not as locally popular as the traditional cod, there is still an astounding variety of dishes served on the Portuguese coast that include it. It is often cooked in a laurel, garlic and tomato stew with rice, almost like a risotto, to become arroz de tamboril. Caçarola 1, in Figueira da Foz, a seaside village just 10 miles from Coimbra, prepares one of the best versions of arroz de tamboril in the region.
Codfish, or bacalhau in Portuguese, is more than simply a traditional dish, it is a national obsession. The dish even has its own nickname, “the faithful friend”, and is traditionally consumed on Christmas Eve in Portugal. There are hundreds of different recipes and versions of this classic, but bacalhau à brás is one of the best; a combination of onions, chips, olives, parsley, egg and, of course, cod. Laurentina in Lisbon specializes in codfish and has been proudly serving the dish since 1976.
Caldeirada de Enguias
Aveiro, located between Porto and Coimbra, is famous for its eels which are most often eaten simply fried or in a soup. Fishermen at Murtosa and Torreira beaches, just outside Aveiro, make an eel stew seasoned with saffron and accompanied by bell peppers, combining beautifully with the crisp white wines of the Bairrada region, just south of Aveiro. The best place to try the caldeirada is Bastos, a restaurant on the Torreira Beach, just five miles from Aveiro.
Cataplana de Marisco
Cataplana is a seafood stew cooked in a copper double-pan and served with rice or chips. While the region that traditionally prepares it is the Algarve, one of the best places to try it is the fishing hamlet Porto Brandão, just across the river from Lisbon. It can be reached by car but most locals will take the ferry that leaves you directly in front of the small huddle of restaurants. The best venue to enjoy this rich fish stew is the eponymous Porto Brandão. In addition to the beautiful food, enjoy the glorious view across Lisbon on the way there and on the way back again.
The signature dish of Porto, the francesinha is not a meal for the fainthearted. The dish comprises of two slices of bread interspersed by steak, ham, sausage and chorizo, covered in melted Edam and drizzled in a secret, spicy, tomato based sauce, all served with chips and optionally crowned with a fried egg. The best place to enjoy this sizeable and incredibly fulfilling Portuguese classic is Francesinha Café, voted as the best spot for francesinha in Portugal by the francesinhas community.
The porco preto, or black pig, is a native Iberian species of the common domestic pig, found mostly in the central and southern regions of Portugal and Spain and always kept free-range. Pata negra smoked ham gets its particularly smoky flavor in being made from porco preto and so are the secretos, a special cut usually served with salad and chips. Most porco preto farms are located in the Alentejo, in the south of Portugal, and it is there that one can find the best restaurants to enjoy this national dish. In Évora, Vinho e Noz serves a selection of porco preto dishes.
Polvo à Lagareiro
Portuguese cuisine is renowned for its seafood, often prepared in the simplest of manners; ask for fresh fish directly grilled over a slow fire before being seasoned with lemon and rosemary and you’ll enjoy one of the best meals in the country. Sometimes, however, a little technique is needed. Such is the case with polvo à lagareiro: a whole octopus is first boiled and then roasted in the oven with plenty of garlic and olive oil. Any city in the country will have a restaurant serving this popular dish, but a great choice is A Tasquinha in Nazaré, a beautiful seaside village 75 miles north of Lisbon.
Portugal’s response to a French chateaubriand steak or Italy’s Fiorentina steak is the posta mirandesa. This consists of a thick tenderloin beefsteak cooked over a strong fire. The secret to the incredible flavor is the fact that the meat is sourced from free-range Mirandesa cows, a breed originally from the Trás-os Montes region and found only in Portugal. O Mirandês, in Miranda do Douro, is the place with the right name and the right location to prepare you the finest beef cut Portugal has to offer.
Sopa de Cação
While tubarão is the common word for shark in Portuguese, once it reaches your table it becomes cação. The fish is marinated in coriander, lemon and garlic before being brought to the boil and the soup is commonly eaten with bread, particularly a corn-flour type known as broa. Cais da Estação in Sines, on the coast of Alentejo, has a delicious version of cação on its menu.