About the food of Portugal

Castelo de Marvão, photo by Elemaki.

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but for some reason I had Portugal all wrong. I forgot about the impossible mountaintop castles, surrounded by water (and here’s another). I forgot about turquoise waters that swaddle neon villages. As for the food? I didn’t even have fish on my radar which is surprising, considering 1. most of Portugal’s border is coastal, 2. We’ve cooked Portuguese inspired food before, including Grilled Prawns with Piri Piri from Angola.

Hello. Overcoming my extreme ignorance is exactly why I am on this Adventure. And I love it.

Thankfully, one of our longtime readers offered to help me out. Three cheers for Paulo.

The sea near Cabo da Roca. Photo by Rodrigo Nuno Bragança.

First of all, he suggested a chickpea salad [Recipe] from his very own Portuguese wedding. I say if it’s good enough for a man’s nuptials, it’s good enough for just about anything. Paulo tells me the salad either includes tuna or cod and vinegar or lemon juice.

Speaking of Cod, dried cod is everywhere, with enough recipes to fill every day of the year. Not only can you find it in the chickpea salad, but also in Bacalhau a braz (dried cod combined with onion, potatoes and eggs – a favorite with kids), Bacalhau a Gomes Sá (cod baked with onions and potatoes), Bacalhau a lagareiro (salt cod soaked, cooked, and served with olive oil and potatoes), Bacalhau com Natas (cod baked with cream), and in Bolas de Bacalhau (dried cod burgers).

That’s a lot of cod.

Algarve, Portugal. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.

Now … no worries. If cod isn’t your thing (or clams, or lobsters, or even barnacles), you might enjoy saddling up to dried sausages, like chorizo (you’ll find it in everything from the famous caldo verde soup [Recipeand even stuffed inside bread [Recipe]).

The Portuguese get a lot of credit for spreading many of their dishes (like the Piri Piri mentioned above and feijoada, which we cooked for our Brazilian Global Table) around the world as well as helping to spread food from other countries around the world. According to the World Cookbook for Students:

The centuries-long Portuguese empire is responsible for spreading throughout the world many food plants and items from their original homes in Asia, the Americas, and Africa: Indian and Indonesian spices and cooking methods, exotic fruits and nuts, salted codfish.

Then there’s the desserts, including cinnamon-laced Raivas cookies, which I tried out for Guinea-Bissau. I also read that there are great honey-based desserts, including many flans (flan de mel), cakes (bolo de mel), and puddings (pudim de mel). Paulo asked his wife as well, who was kind enough to share her favorite Portuguese dessert…

… the pasteis de belėm  or pastel de Nata (a custard tart type desert). The original recipe is secret but there are lots of imitations around and some very good ones.  There are loads of egg yolk based deserts because monasteries used to use the whites to use as starch for clothes and they had all the yolks left over. There is ‘ovos moles’ that is very popular from the center of Portugal.

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook. Photo of Oporto by Janek Pfeifer.

Interesting how something like starching your clothes can forever influence the desserts of your country.



  1. Jessica Bennett says

    That is an interesting tidbit about the egg yolks! I don’t remember much about the desserts from when I visited- now I wish I paid more attention. I do remember some amazing seafood dishes- had some great grilled squid in Cascais! What were you originally picturing for Portugal?

    • Sasha Martin says

      I’m not even sure… it was a blank… but maybe less rocky, more fields…? Who knows haha.

    • Sasha Martin says

      More people should say “aquiver”… especially in the morning. 🙂

  2. ‘Hello. Overcoming my extreme ignorance is exactly why I am on this Adventure. And I love it.’

    That is one of the best sentences ever! If more people would say things like that, there’d be less drama and hate in the world.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thank you Penélope – I think people are afraid to not know… but once we admit our ignorance, that’s when we can start learning and appreciating each other.

    • Those are made mainly made with yolks and sugar, although in my home town they’re also covered with a thick layer of sugar. Personally, I don’t think those are as good as the Sta. Teresa kind.

  3. Holly says

    I’m looking forward to the menu and your review! My husband is Portuguese, we go there 1-2 times a year (Christmas will be our next trip). Which reminds me, a great Christmas dessert is Rabanadas (basically French toast). Another great snack are Rissóis filled with cod, meat, or tuna. yum yum!

  4. Brian S. says

    I’ve been looking forward too and thanks to you and Paulo the menu will be great. I usually think of Portugal together with Spain and that Iberian region has produced one of the great cuisines of the world. More neglected than France and Italy, but in that league. And yes Portugal’s intrepid explorers had a huge impact on world cuisine. I once ordered “Seafood Portuguese Style” in a New York Chinese restaurant. I was hoping for something like the seafood casseroles you find in Portugal but I got Indian-style curried shrimp! Why? Because it was Portuguese sailors who brought Indian curry recipes to China (and also Japan) almost 500 years ago, and the Chinese have long memories.

    Another thing Portugal is famous for is fado. Here’s an old fado song by one of the most famous Fado singers, the grande dame of fado, Amalia Rodrigues.


  5. Mette says

    Oh, please please do the pasteis de nata! I’m not a dessert person but those are to die for, seriously.

    I spent some time in Portugal many years ago and even spoke fluent Portuguese at some point, so this is a country I’ll love to reconnect with. Looking forward to the recipes!

  6. We had pasteis de nata in the famous bakery of Belem not that long ago on our only (hopefully just the first) visit to Portugal. AMAZING. We had some pretty delicious “imitations” every morning for breakfast at our charming hotel overlooking the old town. Not to mention the grilled sardines to die for… Lisbon was truly a revelation.

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