Portugal has long and rich culinary traditions. Its history as a seafaring country has created a legacy of amazing seafood dishes fished from the Atlantic, combined with shared influences from the Mediterranean region and Portuguese colonies around the world. The Portuguese empire gave locals access to spices and ingredients that were otherwise rare in Europe, and added distinctive flavors to local, Portuguese foods. The iodine-rich Atlantic waters impart a delicious taste and texture to local fish, and Portugal is rightfully famous for fish and seafood dishes unlike anywhere else.
When traveling in Portugal, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to try some of these exceptional local dishes:
Pastéis de bacalhau: The Portuguese have been cooking and trading cod since the 15th century, and it is enjoyed in a variety of preparations for nearly every meal. In Lisbon, don’t miss the pastéis de bacalhau. These tender codfish pastries are made from cod, eggs, parsley, potato, and onion, shaped into small fritters and fried until they are crispy on the outside and creamy within. Served alone, they make a delicious snack and are popular street food. With rice, olives, and vegetables, they make a tasty and satisfying meal.
Arroz de marisco: This rice and seafood dish is popular all along the coast of Portugal. The seafood and rice combination are reminiscent of a paella, but the rich sauce imparts more of the texture of a risotto. The variety of shellfish used varies from region to region, but the shellfish are cooked, and then the rice is prepared in the shellfish broth. Made properly, with ocean-fresh seafood and the time-consuming broth preparation, flavored with garlic, coriander, parsley, and paprika, this spectacular dish is a showpiece for Portuguese shrimp and shellfish.
Bacalhau á Brás: The simple and traditional Bacalhau á Brás is a dish of cod fillets with potatoes, vegetables, and eggs. The crispy potatoes, creamy eggs, and salted cod are a satisfying meal any time, and is served garnished with parsley and black olives.
Sardinhas assadas: Sardines are a popular food throughout Portugal, and this simple preparation of grilled whole sardines with vegetables is a staple during sardine season. Outdoor grilling is taken seriously, and many traditional restaurants give the “assador” (the grill master) a rank nearly equal to the chef. Grilled perfectly over charcoal, this dish celebrates the natural flavors of the ocean-fresh fish.
Polvo a lagareiro: Portugal is known for this flavorful grilled octopus dish, served with potatoes and garlic sauce. The fresh octopus is first boiled, then grilled or roasted, and the simple sauce of olive oil and garlic adds richness without overwhelming the natural flavors. The accompanying “batatas a murro” (“punched potatoes”) soak up every delicious bite.
Açorda: Hailing originally from the Alejento region of Portugal, this dish usually involves making a coarse paste of garlic, coriander, salt, olive oil, and vinegar, which is then then either poured over or stuffed into bread, and topped with a poached egg. Often featuring shrimp (“açorda de marisco”) or cod (“açorda de bacalhau”), this flavorful dish is traditional Portuguese comfort food.
Pasteis de nata: No trip to Portugal is complete without experiencing these ubiquitous pastries. Pasteis de nata originated in Lisbon, but can be found not only throughout Portugal, but also throughout the former colonies and territories, from Brazil to Macau: they are just that good. These little custard cream-filled puff pastries are flavored with cinnamon and gently caramelized, for a light sweet treat any time of day.
Portugal offers an unparalleled opportunity for guests to experience fish and seafood prepared at the peak of freshness, in ways that accentuate and celebrate the natural flavors and ingredients. It’s a flavor destination unlike any other, due to the unique specificity of local fish and seasons, the quality of water and temperature along the coast of Portugal, and the adoption of ingredients and cooking methods that were traditionally uncommon in the rest of Europe. Don’t miss a chance to explore the rich, diverse flavors of Portugal.
Be sure to check out our top culinary experiences in Portugal and other Mediterranean destinations right here!