What to Eat in Portugal: 5 Classic Foods You Must Try

Without a doubt, one of our favorite things to do while on vacation is to try new food stuffs. Sounds like a cliché, but it is very true that you can learn a lot about a culture by tasting their staple dishes and knowing how they prepare them.  Here are some of the foods and tasty treats we loved in our short trip to Portugal. Would love to go back and try more stuff!

Bacalhau (cod fish, bacalao)

Bacalhau is considered a staple in Portuguese cuisine, as it has become a part of the history and the traditions of the region.  Although cod fish is not native to the region, it was able to be transported as it could be preserved using salting techniques while maintaining its flavor.   Most of us in the Caribbean know cod fish as a dry, salted fish prepared as a salad or as a stew. However, the Portuguese can prepare it in a million ways and also serve them fresh (bacalhau fresco).  The most popular dishes are:

  • bacalhau a brás – shredded cod with potatoes and onions in an egg mix
  • bacalhau com natas – baked casserole with cream and béchamel
  • bolinhos de bacalhau – fried fritters (what we call bacalaítos, though the Portuguese version is round, and we serve them like flat pancakes)

You should be able to find these and similar dishes in most typical restaurants within Portugal.

Bacalao with cream of spinach and potatoes

Pastéis de Nata

Pastéis de Nata is a egg custard dessert on a pastry shell, conveniently served as a small portion. The consistency of the custard is harder than a flan or a crème brûlèe, plus they also have the thin pastry crust.  Although these tasty treats were created in the Jerónimos Monastery in the 18th century, they are now a symbol of Portuguese culture.  You can also find them in countries with Portuguese influence. For example, we first tried them in Hong Kong due to its close proximity to Macau. 

I just couldn’t wait to take a better picture…

The best place to try the pastéis is at Pastéis de Belém .  I must confess I am not a fan of custards, but a warm Pastéis de Belém was simply glorious. Worth the wait. For info on how to get there and other tips, go to our Belém travel guide.

A long line awaits….

Bolas de Bérlim

Bolas de Bérlim are sugar donuts with an egg cream filling. Very simple, very delicious. It seems like every pastry in Lisbon had this type of filling, and they were all generally referred to a “tarta de huevo”. However, some had a slight orange flavor, some more vanilla. So my advice is, try them all! And don’t forget to try the coffee!

Dois duplo espresso, por favor!


Ginhinja (ginja) is a Portuguese liquor made out of aguardiente infused with ginja cherries. It is typical of the region of Óbidos and Alcobaça.  The liquor is served as a shot or in a chocolate cup with  a cherry (careful with the pit!). Óbidos can be visited as a day trip from Lisbon.

Ginja in a chocolate cup

Tabla de porco preto Ibérico (black Iberian pig)

While a tabla or charcuterie board  are not unique to Portugal, the types of cured meats available are unique to the region. In Portugal, you need to try their local jamón Ibérico, also known as black Iberian pig. Order a tabla mixta if you also want to try some cheese. Note that the bread will be charged separately from the tablaTIP: Food makes a great souvenir. Go to the market and bring home some cheese and cured meats. You can usually store them in the freezer for a few months, but ask the  merchant for product-specific information.

Iberian ham, cheese and sangria….perfect meal!

Have you tried any of these essential Portugese foods? What new dish did you discover in Portugal? Share your favorites, so we can try them on our next visit!

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