10 essentials of Portuguese cuisine

10 essentials of Portuguese cuisine

Traveling to Portugal means savoring a multitude of delights influenced by the country’s multicultural past. Here are 10 essential specialties to taste in Portugal.

Portuguese cuisine is characterized by a variety of spices that reflect the country’s colonial history. If you travel to Portugal, it’s easy to succumb to the many gastronomic temptations that await you on seemingly every street corner. Perhaps you cross paths with a passer-by biting into one of those crispy, melt-in-your-mouth bacalhau croquettes. Smile at the laughter and conversation of a group of locals in a square sipping ginjinha. Or let the aroma of cinnamon beckon you to enter a small shop. Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that in Portugal, your taste buds are in for a treat.

Here are ten specialties that you must taste at least once if you’re in Portugal.

1. Pastéis de nata

Pastéis de nata are a gourmet emblem of Lisbon. We guarantee that you won’t be able to eat just one of these little pastries, and rightfully so!  These little egg flans nestled inside a crisp shell can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Traditionally, they should be consumed warm and topped with sugar icing and cinnamon. It’s believed that a monk from the Belém monastery invented them and passed his recipe on to the pastry masters of the Belém pastry shop, a must-visit if you want to taste the most famous pastéis in the world: the pastéis de Belém.

2. Ovos moles

Ovos moles, Portuguese for soft eggs, are a specialty from Alveiro, aka, the Venice of Portugal. This city, best discovered by bike, is known for its enchanting beauty and incredible charm. Pedal past the famous Art Nouveau architecture, canal-lined historic center and beautiful beaches. To fuel up–or refuel, treat yourself to some ovos moles. These confections made from egg yolks and sugar are wrapped inside a fish- or shellfish-shaped wafer. In fact, ovos moles are so special that they have Protected Geographical Indication. Look for them as part of landscape or city scenes depicted in small wooden barrels.

3. Chouriço

Portuguese chouriço is a smoked pork sausage seasoned with paprika, garlic, cumin and white wine. It’s usually consumed flambé style, set aflame with brandy in a specially designed pig-shaped, hand-painted container.

4. Ginja

Ginja or ginjinha is a sour-cherry liqueur typical of Portugal that’s  normally sipped com elas or sem elas– with or without sour cherries–while standing at the bar. In Obidos, Ginja is often sipped from a chocolate glass.  In 1840, A Ginginha in Lisbon became the first bar to market ginginha espinheira back in 1840. (A Ginginha, Largo São Domingos 8)

5. Pastéis de bacalhau

With 365 different recipes, bacalhau (salt cod) is undoubtedly the most emblematic staples of Portuguese cuisine.  One of them, which will undoubtedly elevate you to new highs, is pastéis de bacalhau. These little cod fritters come in many variations and are a gift from the gods! In Lisbon, couple these wonders with a glass of wine at Casa Portuguesa do Pastéis de Bacalhau, where they are served on a painter’s palette. With respect to tradition, they’re always prepared with a spoon. (Casa Portuguesa Pastéis de bacalhau R. Augusta 106)

6. Canned goods

Returning from your holiday in Portugal without canned sardines–or at least one type of canned fish for that matter–is simply out of the question. Not only is canned fish a specialty of Lisbon, but canneries are revered institutions found throughout Portugal. The Conserveira de Lisboa which has been in the Baixa area since 1930 is well worth a visit. Or you can visit their booth at Time Out Market, a covered food hall offering the best of the city under one roof.  (Conserveira de Lisboa: Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34;  Time Out Market, Av. 24 de Julho 49,)

7. Queijo da serra

Queijo da serra is a cheese produced in the Serra da Estrela mountains.  A circle cut into the top creates a natural lid of sorts that opens to reveal the semi-soft and creamy cheese.  Queijo da serra is often served with a spoon, and is also used to garnish pastéis de bacalhau.

8. Choco frito

Just thirty minutes from Lisbon is Setúbal, the holy land of choco frito: Large strips of fried cuttlefish. Enjoy a day trip to visit the Arrábida Natural Park, known for its beautiful beaches and vineyard-studded landscapes. Continue to Setúbal where you can dig in and enjoy some choco frito by the sea.


9. The Francesinha

Francesinha is Portuguese restyling of a French classic: The croque-monsieur. Because, apparently,  this French cuisine staple was not rich enough for the Portuguese. In short, the francesinha–which means small French– in Portuguese-is a croque-monsieur to the tenth power. Comprised of two generous slices of sandwich bread, the francesinha is filled with four different kinds of meat (steak, two kinds of sausages, and ham), topped with melted cheese and beer-infused tomato sauce. In Porto, the francesinha is covered with a fried egg….kind of like a croque madame to the tenth power. Should be eaten with fries and a good beer.

10. Port wine

Port, one of the world’s most famous fortified wines, is produced in the breathtaking Douro Valley.  Port wine is so varied that you will certainly find one tailored to your particular taste.

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