There is more to Portuguese cuisine than the world famous exported condiment Piri-Piri.
Red hot contenders to match the pleasures of tasting the much-loved chicken glaze (thanks to a certain colourful fast food rooster chain) can be found straight from the kitchens of Portugal. So enjoy these traditional Portuguese bites fresh as some are too good to be shipped to the masses!
It seems like every country has its big city rivalry and in Portugal, it is no different. Porto and Lisbon are at odds with one another when it comes down to the country’s most revered sandwich, the bifana.
In essence, the bifana is a pork steak burger served up in a light yet crusty bread roll. Over in Lisbon, the pork is cooked on a hot plate then capped off with condiments such as mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise to your liking.
In Northern Portugal, particularly Porto, the pork steak is chopped into small pieces similar to a stir-fry. The pork is then cooked in a big pot of sauce with ingredients such as garlic, bay leaves, white wine, olive oil, piri-piri, and chicken stock. The bread roll acts as a sponge to soak up all the juicy flavours of the saucy reddish pork mix. Even though this is a messy eat, it worth the wet fingers.
Expect to feel guilty as this is one dish that is not food for the soul, rather its food for the everyday ‘Man vs Food’ challenge. Porto’s speciality dish, Francesinha will leave you in a food comatose state with the number of calories, meats and grease endured in just one sitting.
This towering Porto staple dish translates to ‘little French woman,’ an ode to its French origins. Inspired by the croque monsieur, Portuguese immigrants took their love for the classic French sandwich back to Portugal to adapt it into a full-blown, glutton-for-punishment worthy main course.
Between its melted cheese doused thick bread exterior is a selection of meats that almost resembles a butcher store window. There are variations to how the dish is created but generally comprises of ham, Portuguese sausage (linguiça) and steak (either pork or beef). These are all combined together to make one meaty interior. If that wasn’t enough to sound like the perfect hangover cure (or not), the dish then usually topped off with a fried egg and a sea of rich tomato-beer sauce surrounding meaty, cheesy tower. Best to order the taxi after this one!
Want to check out other street eats? See what is on offer in neighbouring Spain: Barcelona and Madrid
Are you a sweet or savoury type of person? I am the latter so I felt super lucky in Portugal when I discovered its sea of little golden pillows that appeared throughout pastelaria shop fronts throughout the country.
These little savoury stomach fillers come in all shapes and sizes, with some deep fried and croquette-like.
There are plenty of stuffings to choose from however my top three included; minced beef (Rissol de Carne) in a half-moon shape, codfish (Rissol de Bacalhau) in a rectangular shape, and shrimp with a béchamel mixture (Rissol de Camarão) with fish-like scales on the edges of its’ half circle shape.
These penny pinchers, inexpensive small bites are best teamed up with an equally as cheap freshly squeezed orange juice.
Bolinho de Bacalhau
Cod is immensely popular in Portugal. It is no wonder that so many dishes comprise of cod, including the small nugget like bite, Bolinho de Bacalhau. This codfish cake is made from a combination of potatoes, codfish, eggs, parsley, and onion and then lightly deep fried to perfection. Definitely a catch of the day!
The thought process behind creating the Portuguese sausage, Alheira sausage was to combine with a little bit of this and a little bit of that – but please, lay off the pork!
This pork-less sausage was created by Portuguese Jews during the 15th century who were at risk of being expelled unless they converted to religion to Christianity. As a way to distract Christians and to protect their beliefs, the Jews invented these flavoursome sausages using a combination of different meats (poultry, game and bread) to fool everyone into thinking they were eating pork. The sausage itself is similar Italy’s Ndjua sausage in texture as it is spreadable.
It is best to try with a slice of local bread, Alentejo or with mountain cheese (soft sheep cheese).
Pastel de nata
This list would not be complete if I did not mention Portugal’s other famous food export, the heavenly sweet Pastel de nata (or Pastéis de Belém if you are in the historic Belém area).
Otherwise known as the Portuguese egg tart, it was originally created by Catholic monks before the 18th century with leftover egg yolks and encased in a buttery crisp pastry. As it is cooked on a high heat, its’ blistery top gives it a caramel-like finish to make it that extra bit of a guilty pleasure.
Enjoy this too-good sugary treat any time of the day – just make sure you also pair it with a shot of espresso.
It is not only the French and the Italians toasting with their famous country drops (champagne and Grappa respectively); the Portuguese have their famous sweet wine too – Port. The origins of Port come from nearby Douro Valley, in the north of Portugal. Port is usually a commonly a sweet, dry red wine although you can also try a sip of its dry, semi-dry and white varieties. Port is recommended to have after the main meal as a dessert pleaser.