The diversity of Portuguese cuisine, as well as its origins, comes mainly from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, as is clear from the strong presence of fish and shellfish. Portugal is famous for its food and wine. From the exquisite cuisine of the upmarket restaurants to the local “tascas”, you are guaranteed a delicious gastronomic experience. The more modern, recent restaurants offer vegetarian dishes and Portuguese fusion cuisine.
Food in Portugal is a very important subject.
The Portuguese enjoy talking about food, about as much as they enjoy eating it and celebrations to different food stuffs are a common occurrence throughout the year in many town squares in Central Portugal. Big festas (festivals) are made for dried fruits, soup festivals and large three day gastronomy fairs where the topic of conversation is. . . food.
Portuguese food is generally inexpensive and served in large quantities, with €8 buying you a hearty meal in a café and under €25 enough to get you a meal in most of the restaurants in Portugal.
What you must try:
- Fish & Seafood
Portugal is a seafaring nation with a well-developed fishing industry and this is reflected in the amount of fish and seafood eaten. The country has Europe’s highest fish consumption per capita and is among the top four in the world. You can get pretty much anything from crab, clams, barnacles, prawns or crayfish to mullet, tuna and the ubiquitous bacalhau (dried, salted cod). Portuguese bacalhau can be cooked in 365 different ways. Sardines (sardinhas) are close behind in popularity and can be grilled or barbequed, or there is the arroz de marisco, which is a bit like a seafood risotto crossed with a soup.
Meat is eaten all over the country. However, there are two areas famous for their meat dishes. The Alentejo is famous for its pork and Trás-os-Montes for its cured meats.
At the top of the pork pyramid is the prized porco preto (black pig) of the Alentejo, which grazes on fallen acorns from cork trees, which some say makes for its sweet taste. Following right behind porco preto is presunto (ham that, in the south, has been salted and dry-cured, and, if you’re in the north, also coated with a paste of paprika, garlic, and wine, then deeply smoked) and a dizzying collection of dry-cured, smoked sausages that include chouriço, made from pork, red-pepper paste, wine, garlic, and herbs; linguica (a thinner version of chouriço); the squat, lean salpiçao (a smoked sausage made from pork tenderloin that’s been marinated in white wine, garlic, and spices); morcela (blood sausage); farinheira (made from pork, wine, garlic, orange juice, and flour); and the lighter alheira, a variety that was originally made from only game and poultry but now occasionally contains some pork.
- Bread and Cheese
Each region will also have its specific bread and cheese. Whether it be the simple queijo fresco, a soft, white creamy cheese, or one of the world-class varieties such as Beira Alta’s Queijo de Serra, the Alentejo’s luscious Serpa, buttery Beja or piquant Évora, or the Azores’ Cheddar-like São Jorge. Every restaurant will place a basket of bread on the table as a starter. If it is not home-made, it will be fresh from the bakery next door.
- Sweets and Pastries
Many Portuguese sweets are a legacy of Moorish occupation, especially in the Algarve. The Portuguese enjoy rich egg-based desserts, often seasoned with spices such as cinnamon and vanilla. Perhaps the most populars are leite-creme (a set egg custard), arroz doce (a typical and popular rice pudding, a must for Christmas time parties) and aletria (a similar dish this time based upon a kind of vermicelli), often decorated with elaborate stencilled patterns of cinnamon powder. Cakes and pastries are also very popular and most towns have a local speciality, usually egg or cream based pastry. Try the “rebuçados da régua” in the city of Peso da Régua in the Douro region. If you travel to Lisbon, try the bola de Berlim and the pão-de-ló and stop by Belém to try the famous “Pastéis de nata” of Belém.
Portugal is famous for its fortified wines: Port and Madeira. Port comes from the Douro region and Madeira from the island. These are great wines for an aperitif or as a digestif after a meal. However, Portuguese wine culture and expertise does not end with its fortified wines. The Douro region has become one of the most famous regions in the world for its DOC wines. As is true of the chateaux in France, you will find wines denominated by Quintas in the Douro. The Alentejo and Dão regions make great red, white and rosé wines too. Enjoy a truly fascinating and intriguing wine tasting experience throughout Portugal!
Beer in Portugal has a long history, going as far back as the time of the ancient Roman province of Lusitania, where beer was commonly made and drunk. The word for beer in Portuguese is cerveja, during meals, the Portuguese will also drink beer. However, a good, fresh beer is most appreciated in the late afternoon, at sunset.
Sagres and Super Bock are Portugal’s biggest beer brands.
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