11 top Portuguese dishes you should try once before visiting

 The Portuguese Cuisine and Culture 

As one of the oldest countries in Europe, Portugal has developed a wonderfully authentic and highly regarded cuisine. From chicken piri-piri to regional stews, modified Portuguese recipes and traditional Portuguese food has made its way all over the world, inspiring not only our kitchens, but also our wanderlust. 

To celebrate this union between travelling and Portugal's culinary wonders, we've handpicked 11 delicious Portuguese dishes that you should to try before exploring this ancient nation for yourself. Whether it's the sun-drenched Douro Valley, a bustling café in Lisbon, or the coastal settlements along the Atlantic, these dishes offer a glimpse into a gastronomy inspired by land, sea and the people of Portugal.

Starting with couple of Portugal's most beloved sandwiches, some of the country's most notable entrées, and finishing off with some truly delectable treats, we have selected 11 of our favourite Portuguese recipes that you can make from home before you visit along with some fascinating cultural facts behind them.  

The 11 Portuguese Dishes you need to try before visiting

1) Bifanas
2) Prego Roll
3) Bolinhos de Bacalhau
4) Grilled Sardines
5) Chicken Piri-Piri
6) Arroz de pato
7) Cataplana
8) Alcatra
9) Polvo Guisado
10) Chocolate Salami
11) Travesseiro de Sintra

1. Bifanas

It would be difficult to mention Portuguese cuisine and not bring up bifanas. While it's widely regarded that this delicious sandwich originated in the small town of Vendas Novas (not too far from Lisbon), many locals are to this day embroiled in a debate as to who can claim to be the bifana's originator. Traditionally served on a soft bun, this classic Portuguese dish is made with thinly sliced pork that has been marinated for hours in a blend of white wine, garlic, paprika and other spices. Add plenty of mustard to finish, and taste why the bifana has come to be hailed as one of Portugal's national sandwiches regardless of who invented it. 


2. Prego roll

At its very simplest, this tasty sandwich is grilled marinated steak, a healthy amount garlic butter and a fresh roll. The name 'prego' comes from the Portuguese word for 'nail', a nod to the slivers of garlic which are mashed up to make this dish's sauce, or pounded (nailed) into the meat itself. Enjoy this at home before finding them all over Lisbon. Vegetarian? Substitute the meat for grilled or baked cauliflower!


3. Bolinhos de bacalhau

Often referred to in English as 'cod fritters', this popular snack actually has its roots in the Vikings of the 9th century. Experts in preserving cod as a means to travel long distances, Viking explorers made their way to what is now the South of France in the 800s BC. There, they met the Basque peoples who adapted the Viking method for preserving cod to the hotter and sunnier climate of what would become Northern Portugal. Today, salted codfish is popular in a variety of Portuguese dishes found all over the country, as well as in her former colonies such as Brazil—a true testament to the benefit of fish preservation for long excursions at sea. 


4. Grilled sardines

Defining traditional Portuguese food is of course its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. As mentioned above, fish has long been a staple in this coastal country and this is certainly the case for the sardine. In fact, these tiny fish actually have a rather fascinating connection to Portugal's most prominent religion, Catholicism. According to legend, Lisbon's patron saint, St. Anthony, gave sermons to Portugal's fish populations when human converts were scarce. Today, Lisbon hosts a massive celebration in his honour where sardines have unsurprisingly become the dish of choice. Drizzled with oil and selected spices after spending just enough time on the grill, this revered dish is sure to bring the seaside spirit to wherever you're enjoying it.


5. Chicken piri-piri

A fusion of Africa and Europe, this savory chicken dish is a result of Portugal's colonial expansion into Angola and Mozambique which introduced the chili pepper into traditional African dishes. While the Portuguese inspired restaurant chain, Nando's, has made 'Portuguese Chicken' a worldwide phenomenon, there is nothing quite like authentic chicken piri-piri from one of the many local churrascaria's throughout Portugal. This dish is great to prepare and cook at home as well - either right on the grill, or even in the oven if need be.


6. Arroz de pato

Found in nearly every part of the country, this truly classic Portuguese rice dish combines duck, pork, and a well-seasoned stock—much to the delight of tourists and locals alike. A common takeaway meal, Arroz de Pato's greasiness, deliciousness and ubiquity has made it one of Portugal's most beloved dishes (especially for a quick lunch or late at night!). 


7. Cataplana

Thought to be the result of the Moorish occupation of Portugal's Algarve region, cataplana is the name for both the stew and the unique dish it is traditionally prepared in. Rarely served outside of Southern Portugal, this Algarvian dish is a testament to both the unique African heritage of the region and the independent nature that has existed in the Algarve for centuries. While you may not have the traditional pot that cataplana is prepared in, it is still an excellent dish to make before you visit Portugal for yourself.  


8. Alcatra

Located in the Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the mainland, the Azores Islands are home to some of Portugal's most interesting culinary traditions. Of them is Alcatra, which, at first glance seems like a fairly ordinary pot roast. However, the Azorean Islanders have made this dish using a variety of spices, meat cuts and wine to create a truly unique Azorean dish. It is also somewhat of a sacred meal, traditionally served on the Feast of the Holy Ghost—a practice widely celebrated throughout the world by those of Portuguese Islander and Azorean descent.


9. Polvo guisado

Helping define Portuguese gastronomy is of course the octopus! Caught all along Portugal's coast and surrounding islands, octopus (or 'polvo') has become a key ingredient in a number of delectable Portuguese dishes. Of them, polvo guisado is a carefully marinated stew combining fresh octopus, vegetables with a mix of spices and red wine. While polvo guisado also originates in the Azores, you can find variations of this delicacy all over the country.


10. Chocolate salami

While Portugal's famous custard tarts are easily the country's most renowned dessert, chocolate salami still ranks high on our list of must-try Portuguese sweets. Usually prepared using butter, sugar, cocoa and tea cookies, it's also not uncommon to see coffee, a selection of dried fruit and nuts, or even Port wine added to this no-bake treat. And despite its name, this easily prepared dessert contains no meat! 


11. Travesseiro de Sintra

Originating in the town Sintra along Portugal's coast, Travesseiro's, also known as 'Sintra's pillows', is a rich, delectable pastry made of almonds and egg cream. Invented in the famed Casa Piriquita bakery in the mid-19th century, legend has it that the bakery's family still holds onto a secret ingredient only used in the original bakery.


Want to learn more about Portugal's authentic cuisine? Read our previous article highlighting even more of this incredible nation's culinary exploits and uncover some of the Portugal's culinary secrets - from the local favourite of Porto to the national dish of Portugal.

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