Portuguese Food – What you should try
Portuguese cuisine is a mixture of Mediterranean traditions and Atlantic freshness. That is a lot of olive oil, fish and fresh ingredients, while in the regions away from the coast, pork and other meats are the favorites.
Although most of the fish served in Portugal’s restaurants was swimming in the ocean just a few hours ago, it is dried salted cod that makes up most of the dishes on a Portuguese menu.
And those menus are changing fast, thanks to a growing number of acclaimed chefs and new Michelin stars.
Lisbon is thriving in the kitchen, with the recent gastronomic energy giving rise to a new contemporary Portuguese cuisine that is also (finally) beginning to capture international attention (including in Portuguese-inspired restaurants abroad, like New York’s Michelin-starred Aldea and London’s acclaimed Viajante).
The food is joining the country’s wines whose elevated and renovated quality of recent times are new pleasant surprises around the world.
Here is what you should try in Lisbon:
Because no part of Portugal is very far from the ocean, and considering the history of the country at sea, it’s no surprise that seafood is one of the country’s and Lisbon’s specialties. Typical dishes include “santola” (stuffed crabs), simply grilled “camarões” and “gambas” (shrimp and prawns), or “arroz de marisco,” a rice stew mixing all kinds of seafood (more moist than the Spanish paella).
A concentration of seafood restaurants is found on Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, but everywhere else you’ll also likely find at least one of the supposedly 365 ways to prepare cod (one for each day of the year). One of the most popular is “bacalhau à brás” (shredded with potatoes and egg) and “bacalhau com natas” (with cream). At most traditional cafés you can also try the “pastel de bacalhau,” a cod croquette.
Walk around Alfama in summer and you’ll also smell corner barbecues grilling sardines.
Its mushy appearance may not look very appetizing at first, but this purée studded with seafood or cod is quite good. The best is served at Pap’Açorda, but you’ll find it in several restaurants around Lisbon. A slightly different version is called “Açorda Alentejana” (from Portugal’s Alentejo region), a little more soupy and presented with floating coriander.
Portugal’s cheeses are excellent and make a good companion to the country’s wines.
From the Lisbon region is the cheese of Azeitão (south of the city), which is rather soft and buttery. It’s made with sheep’s milk and should be served at room temperature as an appetizer or before dessert.
Also try Nisa cheese from the region of Alentejo (semi-hard and also made with sheep’s milk) which Wine Spectator magazine listed as one of the world’s best.
Portugal produces some of the world’s finest and most distinctive wines, and those are not just Port. The Douro Valley in the north of the country is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, and its “greens” together with the reds from the rest of the country have a growing reputation internationally.
Good places to sample them in Lisbon are the several wine bars in the center of the city, and for all kinds of Ports visit Solar do Vinho do Porto.
Wines from the Lisbon region to try are those from Colares (a village outside Sintra), produced from sandy terrain vineyards of the Ramisco grape variety. These grapes generally create a wine of low alcohol content (between 10.5 and 12%) and of high acidity but fresh on the palate.
The Setúbal Peninsula south of the city also produces a sweet, liqueurous wine named Moscatel. The “Moscatel Roxo” is especially worth looking for, aged 20 years before sale.
A “bica “
Don’t leave Lisbon (or Portugal) without having a “bica,” a powerful dark espresso coffee served in a tiny cup. Just be careful if you’re addicted to coffee because you’ll agree that this is the best coffee you’ve ever had. The tradition came from the former colony of Brazil, and it’s the way most Portuguese start their day and finish their meals.
To accompany a Bica in the morning many Lisboetas choose a Pastel de Nata (see below).
Known as “Pastel de Nata” around Portugal and as “Portuguese custard tart” elsewhere, this pastry is called “Pastel de Belém” in Lisbon’s most famous pastry shop which started it all (“Antiga Confeitaria de Belém”).
Sometimes sprinkled with cinnamon or even more sugar, they also often accompany a “bica” in the morning (see above).
Forget your diet and have a few in Lisbon.
“The world’s best chocolate cake”
Dripping with chocolate, filled with chocolate mousse and made with 53% cocoa, this is officially the world’s best chocolate cake. Officially because that’s what the café where it was born is called, and its recipe has been exported to Brazil and New York which now have their own shops. Discover it in its original home in Lisbon, or in selected restaurants and cafés around the city.
Also mouth-watering with chocolate are the croissants served in café Benard. They’re served with no filling or with a variety of fillings, but it is the chocolate that everyone asks for. And you will too, several times once you try them.