Crossing over a country’s borders means receiving an invitation to participate in their cultural traditions, fall into the rhythm of their everyday lives, and experience life as the locals would. Portugal’s pulse of zeal and timeless designs boast a heritage of individuality and a call to dig deeper into its unique European scene. Aside from its enticing walkable districts and incomparable pieces of architecture, Portugal is the dwelling place of an exquisite food sphere making a statement to all who indulge in it.
As one begins walking down the streets, they’ll be stricken with sweet aromas floating out of pastry shops, their scent awakening locals from their slumber. As the day proceeds, the restaurants become even more lively as residents and tourists alike participate in the al fresco dining atmosphere.
Between the multitude of pastry shops and open-air restaurants, your eating itinerary will be flushed with options. However, based on the cuisine sampled in our Portugal trips, we recommend moving the following five local foods to the top of your checklist.
Pastel de Nata
Ranking in the number one spot for many is the famous Portuguese egg custard tart pastry gracing the front windows of every pastry shop you’ll come across in your wanderings. Sold for not much more than one euro, these delectable desserts or additions to your brunch are a common artifact to come by in Portugal. But don’t let their widespread availability distract you from their authenticity. This Portuguese-native pastry is said to have been birthed in 1837 in the country’s capital city. Since then, local bakers and pastry chefs have put practice into recreating the original recipe, with each batch keeping the recipe’s origins alive. Yet, some have added their own twist to the pastry by sprinkling cinnamon or powdered sugar on top.
The complementary contrast of the flaky crust with the smooth custard creates a mouthwatering product that has kept locals and travelers returning for more. A day of exploring a Portuguese city would not be complete without having held this sweet in your hands at some point.
Upon strolling through Lisbon or one of Portugal’s other noteworthy towns, you might happen upon a colorful sardine shop vending tin cans of this unorthodox cuisine. However, you’ll come to learn that the Portuguese have a special place in their hearts for sardines, as grilling these fish has become a comfort food of sorts for the locals. Throughout the summer, the locals often supply grilled sardines to serve as the main feature at festivals taking place. Charred to perfection and sprinkled with sea salt, the fish are then eaten while the bones and heads are still unimpaired, with individuals biting into their sides to feast on the flaky meat.
The Feast of St. Anthony lasts throughout the month of June in the country, but it has widely been nicknamed the “Sardine Festival” as this crowd favorite is served on buns to the event attendees. Whether visiting during the time of the festival or not, do as the locals do and dine on this seemingly offbeat snack.
Piri Piri Chicken
Roasted to perfection and packed with flavorful spices, piri piri chicken is a local favorite, with its origins stemming from African and Portuguese roots. The spicy chicken dish is carefully curated by homely chefs and served fresh to diners each evening. These chefs roast the chicken on the spit until it reaches a tender golden brown ideal for feasting on. Upon plating the succulent meat, a piri piri sauce is then sprayed over the dish to the diner’s preference.
To the locals, the spicy nature of the dish has become a common piece of their palate. However, for out-of-towners desiring a taste of this local specialty, a heavy dose of the piri piri sauce can send their taste buds into shock, as the true spice hits moments after. Just as the dish is best prepared with time and attention given to the process, also apply this same routine to the action of consuming the chicken, slowly diving into the peppery seasoning while allowing your taste buds the proper time to readjust to each bite. Many recommend trying this dish your first night, as you’ll likely crave it at least one day more during your travels.
In terms of dining, Portugal offers a pretty expansive list of offerings, especially in the seafood realm. Bacalhau is another of the nation’s beloved fish fares and is categorized as dried and salted cod. This national dish has become quite common among the locals’ diets and is a staple menu item of various fine dining establishments in the region. By drying and salting the cod, the flavor is intensified, and many chefs fancy enhancing their dishes with overlaying ingredients, vegetables, and spices. Thousands of bacalhau recipes have emerged from the country, giving tourists bountiful chances to dine on this delicacy. Compliment the chef on their special touch to the cuisine.
Although technically a drink rather than a food, port wine is one of Portugal’s specialties that must be savored on any visit to the country. Especially if making the journey to the country’s second-largest city of Porto, which contributes to the vast majority of port wine production, visitors must drop in on one of many wine cellars and venture to Douro Valley to sample this sweet red blend. After being produced from this valley’s grapes, port wine is often served at the end of meals to finish the dining experience on a sweet note. While dining out and about throughout your travels, commit to the full Portuguese experience by adding this nightcap to your tab.