Traditional Food in Portugal

Traditional Food in Portugal

The hungry traveller feels instantly at home in Portugal; the land of hearty, homecooked fare, extra-special sandwiches and some very famous custard tarts. Neighbouring Spain might have historically hogged the culinary spotlight, but Portugal is now firmly on the foodie map thanks to its delicious and distinctive dishes (which pair oh so well with its world-class wines). So, if you’re wondering which classic dishes the Portuguese turn to when they’re peckish, here are our picks of the tastiest traditional food in Portugal.


  1. Pastéis de Nata
  2. Caldo Verde
  3. Caracóis
  4. Bifanas 
  5. Francesinha
  6. Bacalhau
  7. Sardinhas Assadas
  8. Carne de Porco à Alentejana


Pastéis de Nata

Even if you haven’t visited Portugal yet, you’ve probably spotted pastéis de nata in your local bakery, coffee shop or supermarket. These wildly popular Portuguese tarts have a crisp, layered crust of pastry and an oozy custard filling flavoured with cinnamon and lemon zest. And although they are one of Portugal’s best-known culinary exports, they always taste better in their home country. Originally invented at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the Belém district of Lisbon (the tarts are also called pastéis de Belém), the secret recipe passed to a local shop owner when the monastery closed briefly in the early 19th century. Today, the same Pastéis de Belém shop continues to draw the hungry hordes, with long queues of pilgrims waiting patiently to purchase their pastéis. The shop sells around 20,000 tarts a day, but you can find these treats all over Lisbon (and Portugal) if you want to avoid the crowds. 


Caldo Verde

Many people consider caldo verde (green soup) to be the unofficial national dish, so if you want to try traditional food in Portugal, locals may well recommend this simple soup-meets-stew. Like many great dishes, the ingredients are uncomplicated; potatoes and kale are added to a hearty broth of onion, garlic and stock, then topped with coins of chouriço (smoked pork sausage). Served across the country, from high-end restaurants to home kitchens, caldo verde is the ultimate Portuguese comfort food. 



France may be known for its escargot (snails), but in Portugal they call them caracóis – and they go surprisingly well with a chilled beer. Cooked in garlic and oregano, they are a popular summer snack in Lisbon and the south, often found on bar menus as an unusual alternative to a bowl of nuts. Bite-sized caracóis are typically smaller than escargot (making them easier to snack on), but if you are feeling brave, order caracoletas, which are a chunkier snail closer in size to the French speciality. 



Sometimes only a sandwich will do and there are few better than bifanas; thin slices of pork marinated and cooked in white wine, garlic and paprika, served on soft rolls. Toppings of mustard or piri piri sauce are optional (purists opt for neither). Whether at lunchtime or as a late-night snack (perhaps to soak up the Portuguese beer), a bifana is a cheap and cheerful taste of traditional food in Portugal. 



Speaking of sandwiches, Portugal is known for another special sarnie, the francesinha. The story goes that Portuguese migrants living in France grew fond of the croque monsieur and decided to put their own take on the French classic – hence the name, which means ‘little Frenchie’. But there’s nothing little about the francesinha. Layers of pork, smoked sausage, bacon and steak are piled between thick slices of bread then topped with an egg. A generous coating of cheese sauce follows, before the sandwich is heated and doused in yet more sauce (this time a secret blend of spices, tomatoes, beer and port). It’s a gut-busting, belly-ache-inducing beast of a sandwich that’s often served with chips, in case the francesinha alone isn’t filling enough for you. Order one during a trip to Porto where the dish was born – if you dare.



Although the Portuguese word bacalhau means cod, in a culinary context it specifically refers to dried and salted cod, which has been part of the national cuisine for centuries. Some say there are 365 ways to cook bacalhau (one for each day of the year), others claim there are more than 1,000. Whatever the true total, bacalhau is an ever-present ingredient in Portuguese cooking. Our number one way to eat it is in croquette and fritter form or  bolinhos de bacalhau. Trust us, salted cod will have never tasted so good.


Sardinhas Assadas

A staple of summer festivals and traditional tavernas, sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines) is another dish that demonstrates how the best traditional food in Portugal is often the simplest. Sardines are grilled whole, seasoned with salt and olive oil, then garnished with coriander and a drizzle of olive oil. That’s it. There might be a side of bread or salad, but the beauty of this dish is how uncomplicated it is. If you want it with a view, we recommend Páteo 13 in the historic and colourful Alfama district of Lisbon. Serving sardinhas assadas on an unpretentious, open-air terrace, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the more most popular spots to sample this summery classic.


Carne de Porco à Alentejana

Portugal’s take on surf and turf, carne de porco à Alentejana pairs marinated pork with clams and potatoes in a wine-and-spice-infused sauce. The name hints that it was invented in the southern region of Alentejo, however the dish is believed to originate in the Algarve (below Alentejo on the south coast). But if you want to get really nitpicky about it, the name actually comes from the prized Alentejan black pigs bred for their premium pork and used in the original dish. If the sauce tastes familiar, that’s because the blend of white wine, garlic, paprika and bay leaf is also the marinade for the pork in a bifana sandwich. Because, if a sauce is this good, you’ll always want more of it. 


Header image © Lucy Laucht