Food in Portugal
My relationship with food in Portugal has been a love – hate one. It was difficult at the beginning to get used to all the rice and eggs and sugar they usually use, but well, I had to come down to making peace with all of those… Well, not really! I had to try a bit harder and find a balance between my own home – made food (my very own altered Portuguese recipes included) and finding the best places to eat wherever I’ve been going.
Some of the main highlights of the Portuguese cuisine include francesinha, bacalhau, chouriço, sardines, bifana and prego, pão de deus, turrada and ofcourse many pastries, from which my favorite pasteis de nata. Another major reason why Portugal is THE place to be, is ofcourse because of all the wine galore you can find here at a relatively very cheap price and great quality! Starting from the very particular Porto Wine, to Vinho Verde and all the other Red and White wine varieties. But let’s start explaining what each of the above is, and some of the places I prefer going. Prepare for a great load of calories!
FRANCESINHA is the “murderer queen”. It is basically a sandwich made with bread (2 bread loafs, or 3 if you’re really going hardcore), steak or roast meat, wet-cured ham, fresh sausage like chipolata, smoke cured pork sausage (locally called “linguiça”), topped by a sunny side up egg (I told you the egg is very present in the Portuguese cuisine), covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce (which is the very particular ingredient that defers an “ok francesinha” from a “very yummy francesinha”, served with french-fries. So that my friends, is why I call it the “murderer queen”! I’ve only had it twice in 6 months, and still not ready for another one.
Suggestions: only go for half a portion. You can’t possibly handle a whole francesinha!
Where: I tried different locations, in Porto, Braga and Guimarães. It is originally a dish from Porto, but I had THE best francesinha in Braga at Taverna Belga. They have the best sauce for their francesinhas, and I told you the sauce is the very key for the best taste. In Taverna Belga they also have a great variety of local and Belgian beers. Because you can only enjoy francesinha with a good bottle of beer, or nice and cold red sangria.
BACALHAU, which is dried and salted cod fish, has been part of Portuguese cuisine since the Vikings came to trade cod for salt. Since then, the Portuguese have fished (ok, maybe even over – fished) this national staple and today the country together with Portuguese colonies like Cape Verde, Angola, Brazil, Macau and Goa, make for the world’s largest consumers of cod. Portuguese cooking honors this tradition in hundreds of recipes like grilled, baked, stewed, as part of rice dishes, and deep fried as fritters or cakes. In some parts of Portugal bacalhau is even a traditional Christmas Eve dish. In open markets and super – markets bacalhau is eposed in big piles, which can be very smelly. You’ll have a hard time getting used to the smell, but soon enough you’ll learn to either avoid the “bacalhau section”, or you’ll just get used to the smell and be ok with it. Either way, you’ll love a dish cooked with bacalhau!
Suggestions: Either fried, grilled or baked, bacalhau tastes very good! Just go for it! I fancy “pasteis de bacalhau” the most!
Where: I’ve had the best bacalhau in Bacalhau, Portuguese Wine and Food in Porto. They have a variety of cod based dishes and different wine choices as well. My wine-to-go with bacalhau is what they call “Bacalhau Verde” and “Bacalhau Branco” (yes, we’re talking about wine). The restaurant is located near the Douro River, so that’s extra bonus for amazing panoramic views as well!
PORTUGUESE SANDWICHES – There are typically 3 types of traditional sandwiches in Portugal: bifana, prego and leitão, and they’re basically made of steaks served on bread, sautéed with garlic and / or spices. The meat is usually seasoned with mustard or hot sauce. The difference between the 3 is that bifana has a full pork steak; prego is served with a more tender and thinner beef steak; while leitão is made with suckling pig meat from Mealhada. On a previous article, I also mentioned these types of sandwiches being served in a very old style during Feira Afonsina.
Suggestions: Always ask for any of the three, served with “queijo Serra de Estreja”, which is a typical traditional cheese, made in the Region of Serra de Estreja. The cheese is made of sheep milk and has a soft texture. It has also been granted PDO status in the European Union in 1996. The meat and the melted cheese work perfectly together, leaving you a very nice taste after every bite! I always fancy a good dark beer with the sandwich!
Where: If you ever come to Guimarães DON’T you dare skipping on going to “Danúbio Bar”. They have a great variety of sandwiches served with 3 different kinds of sauces and seasoned potato wedges. If you’re searching for a particularly perfect sandwich section, you’ll find it here! Although, I have to be honest, anywhere you go you’ll never have a bad sandwich. It’s a culinary tradition here in Portugal, so you’ll find a perfect sandwich even in the smallest bar in the middle of nowhere! Been there, done that!
TURRADA – the simplest dish ever! The tastiest also! Turrada is butter toasted bread, served either alone, or with chocolate crème of different fruit jams. The difference between an “OK Turrana” and a “very yummy Turrada” is on the type of bread you use, and of course on the type of butter. Thick slices of bread made with nuts, toasted in locally produced butter, is my favorite combination! The strong taste of butter and the nuts work perfectly together! Yum!
Suggestions: Coffee with milk, either hot or cold goes perfectly with Turrada! If you’re making Turrada at home, brush melted butter on the toaster, and then add the bread loafs. You’ll get the best toasting that way!
Where: I’ve had the best Turradas in Gosto Supremo, a local pastry and coffee chain here in Guimarães. Anyhow, you can easily make your own Turrada at home! Just don’t forget to pick the best bread and butter for the perfect Turrada! Make sure your bread loafs are thicker than usual!
PASTEIS DE NATA – the queen of all pastries! Pasteis de Nata is a traditional Portuguese custard tart, dusted with cinnamon. The pastry was first created on the 18th century by Catholic monks. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns’ habits, so it was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country. For my Albanian fellows who never tried a Nata before, the ingredients for this pastry are the same as for the Albanian “qumështor”. The only difference is on the way these two desserts are prepared and served. The taste can be quite similar also. Maybe at your first try you won’t be impressed with Natas, but trust me, the more you eat, the more you get addicted to those! I’ve put Natas on the very top of my “Why I love Portugal” list!
Suggestions: East as many as you can! You only live once! But really, also work out! Calories, you know! Chocolate filled Natas are also amazing! A very important information, after 9 p.m every pastry shop sells Natas for half the price, so around 30-40 cents.
Where: We’ve tried Natas in so many places so far, but our favorites are from Cristo Rei, a very small local restaurant and pastry chain in Guimarães. They’re relatively big, soft and fresh, and most importantly not oily! You can’t miss Fábrica da Nata in Porto ofcourse, and Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon.
PORTO WINE has made it second to my “Why I love Portugal” list. Porto Wine is a rich and sweet wine, mostly served after the meals, with fruits or desserts. There are 4 types of Porto Wine: Red (Ruby), White, Rosé and Aged Vintage (Tawny). If you’ve never tasted Porto Wino, the flavor is a similar to a mix that includes red wine and fruits like raspberry and blackberry (more in a Ruby), and red wine with caramel, cinnamon and chocolate flavors (more in a Vintage Tawny). Porto Wine is a blend of Portuguese indigenous grapes, and the main difference with other types of wines is in the fermentation process, which is stopped in order to add a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and boosting the alcohol content (19-20% alcohol). The wine is then stored and aged in barrels. The 4 types of Porto Wine differ as explained below:
- Red Porto (Ruby): a deeply-colored red Porto which includes Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Porto;
- Red Vintage Porto (Tawny): a very sweet barrel-aged port with oxidative nut and caramel flavors;
- White Porto: made with indigenous white grapes including Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio and Malvasia;
- Rosé Porto: this is a new style of Porto Wine, made like rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, violets and caramel.
Porto Wine is served in a very special glass, which is smaller than a regular wine glass and the serving size is approximately 3 oz.
Suggestions: Porto Wine tastes the best if served cold! A mix with Pasteis de Natas and Ruby is rumored to be deadly (because of the sugar), but it’s my very favorite!
Where: Ideally, if you go on a wine tour in the vineyards! They will explain everything in details, and you’ll have the chance to see the amazing wine landscapes of Portugal, sailing along Douro also! They’re very impressive, I promise! But, in case you want to stay local and not travel much, any of the wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia offers different tours in their wine caves. Just book yours and off you go! I tried the premium tour of Sandeman, which includes wine tasting of 3 different Porto Wines at the end of the tour, and I really enjoyed it. Other than that, if you want to buy your own Porto Wine, you can do that in any supermarket at a relatively cheap price of around 6-12 euros, but the best quality (and the most expensive ones also) are sold near the wine cellars in their exclusive shops. I found out in Tirana, you can only find Porto Wine Tawny near Napoleon winery, at Wilson Square. I’ll need to go PW hunting once again though, in hopes of finding Ruby, which is my favorite!
BEERS – Portugal has two local brands, Super Bock in the North and Sagres in South. Established in 1927, Super Bock is a beer brand from the Unicer brewery, which produces a range of beers under the same name. My favorite is Super Bock Stout, and the Cerveja Coruja, a special 3 flavor edition by Super Bock. Sagres on the other hand is produced by Central de Cervejas brewery, founded in 1934 and controlled by Heineken since 2008. Sagres Bohemia, an auburn beer, with an intense character, fruity aroma, creamy foam and a reddish amber colour, is my favorite from Sagres.
Suggestions: Try to taste the special editions. They always try to experiment with new flavors.
So, after my very brief “master – class” on Portuguese cuisine and beverages, I’ll shortly show you few of the places with amazing food, where I usually love to hang out.
Cor de Tangerina: Guimarães
Cor de Tangerina is a vegetarian restaurant, located in a very nice old villa with a second-floor yard, near the Ducal Palace in Guimarães. The setting is very nice, their serving is beautiful, and you have the options to choose anything from their menu, or go for the daily set – menu, which has 2 courses included (first and second), e dessert, beverages (beer, wine, juice, or water), and coffee at the end, for only 8.6 euros. The food is amazing and the plating is on top as well!
Café Progresso: Porto
Café Progresso is a very neat brunch and coffee place in Porto, dating since 1899. It offers a great variety of coffees and healthy meals, which are also picture perfect! Their “salmon eggs benedict” and “red fruits pancakes” are my favorites, while the “watermelon and mint juice” is my favorite summer refreshment. The staff is lovely, and you can conformably choose a place to eat and work on the same time.
Fábrica da Nata: Porto
Wherever I can find Natas is my favorite place to be! But the magic of Fábrica da Nata is that the shop itself is like a factory of Natas, where you can see the process of making, the baking and the display. White and blue tile murals beautify further the interior, and the smell just tops the experience of being inside the shop!
Dan’s Finger Food and Drinks: Guimarães
I’ve had the best burgers here! You have a variety of finger food choices and burgers as well, and they serve different mojitos in 1 and 2 liter cans. Since it’s always crowded, usually you’ll have to wait for a free spot to sit, but it’s all worth it! They don’t accept booking, you just leave your name and they will after come out to call your name. It is more expensive than the other burger places around, but trust me it’s worthy!
Photography by Eranda Janku