You’ll want to go back for double servings! Here’s a list of famous Portuguese food dishes and treats that make people travel all the way.

Last Updated on April 9, 2024 by Laila Oliveira

Portuguese cuisine is worth traveling across the world for! Many tourists do it every year, and the growing expat community has been indulging in fresh, healthy, and nutritious delicacies. So, if you’re planning a trip to southern Europe soon, here are the famous Portuguese food options that you need to be on your Checklist! 

From traditional dishes like Bacalhau and treats like Pastéis de Nata to regional specialties and restaurant recommendations. We’ll give you a complete guide to savoring Portuguese cuisine during your unforgettable stay here. Happy reading! 

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How Important is Food in Portuguese Culture?

Food is a cornerstone of culture, history, and identity in Portugal. The gastronomy relies on fresh, locally sourced ingredients from the fertile plains of Alentejo and the bountiful sea along the coast. 

Famous Portuguese food like Bacalhau (salted cod) is rooted in Portugal’s maritime history, as salted cod became a staple food for sailors during long voyages. Then, traces of Moorish, Mediterranean, and Atlantic traditions blend seamlessly, resulting in a unique culinary mosaic.

Dishes like Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice) or Cataplana (a seafood stew) showcase this fusion of flavors. Also, spices, dried fruits, and nuts in dishes like Arroz Doce (rice pudding) and Pastéis de Nata (custard tarts) reflect the historical trade routes and exchanges with North Africa and the Middle East.

Beyond the food, mealtimes in Portugal are a social affair itself. It brings families and friends together to share delicious dishes, stories, laughter, and cherished moments. The Portuguese take pride in their hospitality and often extend warm invitations to visitors to join them at the table and experience the genuine warmth of their culture.

Food is meant to be celebrated. If you’re in Portugal, you’ve got to have a heart breakfast in the morning, followed by a big lunch with your loved ones, a quick snack in the evening while you stroll the streets, and a delicious dinner to end your day! 

Traditional Portuguese Food Expats Must Try

From seafood specialties and meaty temptations to savory delights and sweet treats, Portugal’s cuisine has you covered. Let’s take you along the must-try dishes for expats in each category. 

First, starting with the most traditional famous Portuguese foods. 

Bacalhau: Salted Cod

Bacalhau is a salted cod and holds a revered place in Portuguese cuisine. You can trace its origins to the days of exploration and trade. This dish is made by preserving codfish in salt, a technique developed to withstand long sea voyages. 

Once rehydrated and cooked, bacalhau offers a delicate yet savory flavor with a firm texture. Its versatility is unmatched, featuring in many recipes, from Bacalhau à Brás, a cod and potato dish, to Bacalhau com Natas, a creamy cod casserole.

Pastéis de Nata: Famous Custard Tarts

Pastéis de Nata is a famous custard tart originating from Lisbon’s iconic pastry shop, Pastéis de Belém. These delectable treats have a crispy, flaky pastry shell filled with creamy custard, lightly caramelized on top. 

Each bite offers a perfect balance of sweetness and warmth, accented by hints of vanilla and cinnamon. Created by Catholic monks in the 18th century, Pastéis de Nata quickly gained popularity, becoming a staple of Portuguese cuisine. You simply can’t not have this while in Portugal! 

Francesinha: A Hearty Sandwich from Porto

Find layers of cured meats such as ham, linguiça, and steak sandwiched between slices of bread. It’s a true indulgence for meat lovers. This is topped with melted cheese and smothered in a rich, spicy tomato and beer sauce, Francesinha is typically served with a side of french fries. 

Each bite offers a symphony of flavors, combining savory meats with tangy sauce and gooey cheese. Originating in the 1960s in Porto’s bustling café scene, Francesinha has also become an iconic dish loved by locals and visitors alike.

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Caldo Verde: Portugal’s Comforting Green Soup

This comforting soup is a simple yet deeply satisfying cuisine enjoyed nationwide. Originating from the Minho region, this traditional soup has a base of finely shredded kale, potatoes, onions, and garlic simmered in a flavorful broth made from Portuguese chouriço sausage. 

The result is a hearty and nutritious soup with a comforting earthy flavor and a hint of smokiness from the sausage. And it is often served with a drizzle of olive oil and accompanied by crusty bread, Caldo Verde captures the essence of Portuguese home cooking, providing warmth and nourishment to generations of families.

Feijoada: A Flavorful Bean Stew with Meat

Feijoada, a flavorful bean stew with meat, is a culinary gem deeply rooted in Portuguese and Brazilian cuisines. The dish originated in Portugal and was brought to Brazil during the colonial era and evolved into a beloved national dish. 

The stew consists of black beans simmered with various meats such as pork, beef, and sausage, infused with spices and herbs. Feijoada offers a rich, complex flavor with tender meat and creamy beans, complemented by the warmth of spices like cumin and paprika. Served with rice, farofa, and orange slices, it’s a comforting and soul-satisfying meal.

Seafood Delicacies

With the top traditional dishes covered, let’s move on to the staple protein in Portuguese cuisine: seafood! 

With its extensive coastline, Portugal boasts a wide variety of fresh seafood dishes that showcase the flavors of the Atlantic. Portuguese cuisine celebrates the ocean’s treasures, from succulent grilled sardines to flavorful seafood stews like Cataplana. 

Grilled Sardines: A Summer Staple

Grilled sardines are a famous Portuguese food and are celebrated for their simplicity and strong flavor. This originates from coastal regions, particularly in cities like Lisbon and Porto. And this dish showcases the Portuguese love affair with fresh seafood. 

Sardines are seasoned with salt, pepper, and sometimes a hint of lemon, then grilled over an open flame until they achieve a crispy exterior and tender, juicy flesh. The result is a delightful combination of smoky, savory flavors with a touch of sweetness from the fish. Served with a squeeze of lemon and crusty bread, grilled sardines capture the essence of summertime dining by the sea.

Arroz de Marisco: Seafood Rice

Arroz de Marisco is a flavorful seafood rice. Originating from the maritime regions of Portugal, this dish features a luscious blend of tender seafood, including shrimp, clams, mussels, and sometimes crab. It is cooked with fragrant rice in a savory broth infused with garlic, onions, and tomatoes. 

The result is a rich and aromatic medley of flavors, with the seafood’s sweetness perfectly complementing the tomato-based broth’s subtle tanginess. Served hot and garnished with fresh parsley, Arroz de Marisco is a true celebration of Portugal’s coastal bounty.

Cataplana: A Portuguese Sensation

You can’t miss Cataplana in the list of famous Portuguese food! This delectable seafood stew delights one with its rich flavors and aromas. Originating from the Algarve region, this dish is named after the unique copper clam-shaped pot in which it is cooked. 

The cataplana pot seals in the flavors as the ingredients, including a variety of seafood such as clams, shrimp, and fish, are simmered together with onions, tomatoes, and aromatic herbs. Afterward, you’ve got an aromatic stew with tender seafood.

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Sweet Treats and Desserts

Of course, what cuisine would be complete without its unique sweets? Portugal’s sweet treats and desserts promise a journey through centuries of confectionery craftsmanship and cultural influences. 

We promise you, just looking at them is enough to make you salivate! 

Bolo de Bolacha: Biscuit Cake

Bolo de Bolacha is an irresistible biscuit cake renowned for its simplicity and indulgent flavor. Originating from Portuguese homes and bakeries, this no-bake treat consists of layers of buttery biscuits soaked in coffee or liqueur, sandwiched between creamy layers of sweetened condensed milk and butter frosting. 

The cake is a delight with a delicate balance of textures, combining the biscuits’ crunch with the frosting’s creamy richness. Served chilled and often adorned with chocolate shavings, Bolo de Bolacha is a delightful indulgence that captures the essence of Portuguese home baking.

Queijadas de Sintra: Sintra’s Cheese Tarts

Sintra’s signature cheese tart is a famous Portuguese food cherished for its unique flavor and heritage. Emerging from the historic town of Sintra, these delectable treats carry a sweet and creamy filling made from fresh cheese, eggs, sugar, and a hint of cinnamon, all encased in a crisp pastry shell. 

Each bite offers a delightful contrast of textures, with the velvety custard-like filling complementing the flaky pastry crust. 

Arroz Doce: Creamy Rice Pudding

Arroz Doce is a beloved dessert cherished for its comforting warmth and rich flavor. Stemming from Portugal’s culinary heritage, this sweet treat features tender rice cooked in milk, infused with aromatic notes of lemon zest and cinnamon, and sweetened with sugar. 

This creamy Portuguese rice pudding is a luxurious and velvety pudding with a delicate balance of sweetness and subtle spices. Served warm or cold, Arroz Doce offers a taste of Portugal’s enduring tradition of indulgent desserts.

Regional Specialties

We’ve kept a few special secrets for the end. Depending on where you’re staying, you might want to explore these regional specialties you won’t find elsewhere! 

From hearty stews to delicate pastries, each region boasts unique flavors and traditions, reflecting the rich tapestry of Portuguese cuisine. So, these regional specialties promise a flavorful journey if you’re indulging in Alheira in Tras-os-Montes or the Rustic bread in Alentejo.

Alheira: Traditional Sausage from Trás-os-Montes

This dish from Trás-os-Montes is unique. Unlike typical sausages, Alheira is made with a blend of meats, bread, and spices, often including poultry and smoked meats. Also, its origins trace back to the Jewish community during the Portuguese Inquisition. 

Today, Alheira is celebrated for its savory flavor and hearty texture. It is often enjoyed grilled or fried and served with potatoes or greens.

Cozido à Portuguesa: Portuguese Stew

Cozido à Portuguesa is a hearty and flavorsome dish renowned for its rich taste and comforting warmth. This traditional fare is a culinary masterpiece featuring an array of meats, such as beef, pork, and poultry, along with vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. 

Cooked slowly to perfection, each ingredient melds together, infusing the broth with layers of savory goodness. Often enjoyed as a communal meal with family and friends, Cozido à Portuguesa embodies the essence of Portuguese home cooking, offering a satisfying and soul-nourishing dining experience.

Alentejo Bread: Rustic Bread from the Alentejo Region

Alentejo Bread, a staple of Portuguese cuisine, is a rustic and hearty bread originating from the Alentejo region. This famous Portuguese food is renowned for its crusty exterior and soft, chewy interior, achieved through traditional baking methods and the use of locally sourced wheat flour. 

With its simple yet delicious flavor, Alentejo Bread is a versatile meal accompaniment, perfect for sopping up sauces or enjoying cheeses and cured meats. Its popularity extends beyond the region, making it a cherished part of Portugal’s culinary heritage and a must-try for expats and locals alike.

Where to Experience Portuguese Cuisine

To be fair, nothing beats home-cooked meals. That’s where you’ll get to experience extremely authentic Portuguese cuisine, but we’ve got a few recommendations that are easily accessible and just as delicious. 

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Recommended Restaurants and Cafés

Finally, let’s talk about some of the top restaurants in Lisbon serving famous Portuguese food as follows: 

Cities near Lisbon: 

  • Tulhas – Sintra 
  • Sabores de Sintra – Sintra
  • A Nova Estrela – Cascais
  • Manjar da Vila – Cascais

Also, for Porto, you’ll want to check out the following: 

Food Markets and Street Food Stalls

It’s impossible to miss the food markets and stalls, especially if you live close to the city center! As an expat in Portugal, you’ll often want to grab a quick snack when you’re out, most likely a grilled sardine or a delicious Pastéis de Nata. 

The aromatic air is enough to pull you to the side and indulge in the gastronomy. And don’t worry, you’ll never be disappointed. 

Surely, there’s always a significant increase in the number of stalls when it’s time for a celebration, like Carnival, or the Saints Festivals, Christmas, and during the tourist season. 

Do you need help moving to Portugal?

People from all over the world visit to eat some of the most famous Portuguese foods here! All things considered, apart from tourists, expats are gobsmacked by the quality of fresh ingredients used in everyday cooking. Whether you buy from farmer’s markets or supermarkets nearby, you’ll always want fresh groceries every week to eat healthier than you used to elsewhere. 

To learn more about life in Portugal, join our Facebook Group – All About Portugal For Expats. Get in touch with other expats who’ve made the same decision as you and get inspired! 

To get help from experts and figure out how to live your dream life in Portugal, book a consultation with Viv Europe and start your journey now! 

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