I visited Portugal back in 2012 and unfortunately that was before my love affair with searching out the best spots to eat on trips started. I definitely had some great meals while there, but then I also had some ones I’d like to forget (like on our first night at our bed and breakfast in the Sintra mountains and we climbed down to the local village but then found no places serving dinner yet because damn you Iberian Peninsula, it was too early, so we ended up having mediocre omelettes at a little cafe). But regardless of how your trip goes, here are five foods you definitely want to search out while in Portugal especially during your time in Lisbon. When I return to Portugal (because I will one day return), I’ll definitely be traveling to the popular and charming Douro River Valley and seeing what culinary delights they have to offer too.
Chicken Piri Piri
Chicken piri piri is to Portugal what fried chicken is to the United States. Standard, simple, and delicious. It’s a spicy dish with roots in both Portugal and Africa. When Portuguese settlers came to Portugal’s African colonies of Angola and Mozambique, they brought with them chile peppers (this is known as piri piri in Swahili). Today, no matter where you go in the country, you will find chicken piri piri somewhere, usually in unpretentious eateries (i.e. nothing Michelin starred). We had chicken piri piri on our last night in Portugal at a small restaurant near our hotel in Lisbon where we could sit outdoors and just admire the ambiance. It was exceptionally good and while I made a piri piri sauce before, it didn’t taste remotely close to that meal in Lisbon.
Pastel de Nata
Pastel de nata was the one thing that every guidebook, travel blogger, and personal friend recommended. But where dessert is concerned, I need no special or extra convincing. While you can find pastel de nata (or pasteis de nata if you want to pluralize them) throughout Lisbon and really all of Portugal, Pastéis de Belém is THE place to go to for these rather addicting egg tart pastries. Belem is a neighborhood in Lisbon a bit further afield but thankfully in addition to these wonderfully amazing pastries, it’s also replete with scores of incredible sights (Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower for starters). The pastry crust is flaky, the egg middle just oozing with the taste of sugar. D and I had two apiece and could easily have eaten more. I still to this day regret not getting some to go…
Hmm, dried and salted cod. Okay, I know what you’re thinking…cod, really? But let me explain. In a country like Portugal, cod is king. As in it’s huge and on just about every menu and is the type of fish most consumed in Portugal. It’s even said that cod is so universal there are 365 ways of eating it (this has not been verified). So even though I’m only a casual fish eater and had never had cod before, I said to myself prior to going that I needed to try cod while there. And I did and while it wasn’t great, it also wasn’t as bad as I feared. I’ve long since forgotten the name of the dish I had but it also contained potatoes and cheese. I was happy about the latter since I’m sure it somewhat downplayed the cod taste. I do regret not trying harder to find cod fritters, since fried dough of anything (cod included) is usually worthwhile.
Caldo verde, or Portuguese green soup, is one of Portugal’s most popular dishes and is typically consumed during celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. The standard ingredients include potatoes, kale, olive oil and salt, and it is often accompanied by slices of sausage meats like paio, chorizo, or linguiça (these are cooked separately and added last minute to the soup). Some people have labeled it the Portuguese version of Italian wedding soup and after seeing pictures and reading descriptions of it, I can definitely see the similarities. Caldo verde originated in the north in the Minho Province which is the country’s greenest province so it makes sense that a rich and hearty soup would come from there.
Folar de Chaves
Meat bread. Yes, I know you want some too now that you know what folar de chaves means. This is one genuine food regret I have, not knowing what folar de chaves was when I was in Portugal. I mean can you imagine something as utterly delectable sounding as an egg bread that’s stuffed with various cured meats like ham, presunto, cured bacon, salpicao, and chorizo. Folar is a Portuguese bread that is often served at Easter; it’s eaten year round at celebrations and holidays as well. I guess the only thing left for me to do is to try my hand at making it myself, hopefully this Easter.
Have you ever been to Portugal? What did you think of its food? Did you get to try many local dishes?