10 unmissable typical dishes to eat like a local in Portugal
After traveling through Portugal, here's my selection of the most authentic (and best!) food and drink experiences.
Portugal has a rich and vibrant gastronomic culture, with each region having its own specialties.
I have traveled all around the country over the past few years and have found out about (and enjoyed tasting) some of them.
This list is my favorite selection of the many food and drink experiences I've had. Like they say in Portugal: Bom apetite!
The 10 unmissable local gastronomic experiences in Portugal
1. Francesinha in Porto
Meaty, greasy and a little bit spicy, the Francesinha is pure indulgence.
On paper, this dish invented in Porto seems a bit weird. It’s a kind of sandwich filled with a variety of meats, topped with melted cheese and covered in a picante gravy – but it works!
Best served with batata frita (fries) and a cerveja (beer).
2. Choco frito in Setúbal
Setúbal is famous for its cuttlefish dishes (the city even has a cuttlefish statue somewhere) and choco frito is possibly the most beloved dish of locals and tourists alike.
Bite size pieces of this squid-like creature are covered in batter and then fried. It can be eaten alone as a snack or made into a full meal by adding batata frita, what else?
3. Pastel de nata paired with an espresso
The pastel de nata (the one in the cover of this article) has become very well known in recent years due to increasing numbers of people visiting Portugal and the growing availability of these Portuguese custard tarts in other countries.
Another reason they have become so popular is quite simply because they are delicious!
They can be found in pastelarias (bakeries) all over the place and you’ll never have trouble locating them.
Make the experience of eating a pastel de nata even better by combining it with a strong Portuguese espresso and sprinkle the pastel with cinnamon.
4. Sardines in Lisbon during the Santo António Festival
Sardines are one of Portugal’s favorite things to eat (they’ve become a national symbol even) and can be enjoyed throughout the year.
The best time to have them though is on the streets of Lisbon in June during the Santo António festival, when the whole city seems to be filled with the smell of grilled sardines.
Sadly, sardines have fallen victim to overfishing in recent years so if you want to eat more sustainably go for carapaus, which are similar and just as delicious.
5. Vinho verde in the Minho region
Vinho verde, originating from the far north of Portugal, literally translates to ‘green wine’ but actually means ‘young wine’, as the grapes used to make it are less mature than usual.
It looks a lot like white wine but it is lower in alcohol (usually around the 10% mark) and is very slightly sparkling.
On a hot summer’s day, there’s nothing better than drinking this refreshing wine while picnicking with friends and family.
6. Octopus in Santa Luzia
Santa Luzia, a small fishing village close to Tavira in the eastern part of the Algarve, is the self-proclaimed capital of octopus.
All the restaurants here claim to serve the best polvo so you’ll be spoilt for choice!
There are many different ways in which the octopus is prepared but in my opinion, it’s best to keep it simple and go for octopus roasted with potatoes and drizzled in Portuguese olive oil.
7. Castanhas assadas (roasted chestnuts)
As soon as autumn arrives you’ll smell the delicious aroma of roast chestnuts in the air in towns and cities all over the country.
There’s something so satisfying in buying freshly roasted chestnuts from the traditional street vendors on a chilly day.
What makes eating these even better is knowing that this is a local, seasonal and healthy product.
8. Cozido in Furnas
Eating a stew that has been cooked using only the earth’s own heat is an unforgettable experience you can have on São Miguel island in the Azores.
In the morning, local restaurants bring huge pots filled with ingredients to a special spot in Furnas, where they are buried, left to stew in the volcanically active ground and dug up just before lunchtime.
Being a meat-lover is a must though because there are at least 5 different types/cuts of meat in this dish (pig’s ear being my least favorite, I have to say).
9. A growing craft beer scene
Portugal is still very much a wine country but in recent years the beer scene, which pretty much used to comprise only of Sagres and Superbock, has flourished.
New breweries and craft beer bars are opening all the time and there are craft beer festivals you can visit at various points in the year.
Lisbon even has a neighborhood, Marvila, that calls itself the craft beer district due to the concentration of breweries and bars there. It's perfect to visit it along with other fellow travelers, especially if you're backpacking in the Portuguese capital.
10. Europe’s only rum distillery in Madeira
Sometimes you’d be mistaken for thinking you’re in a tropical country when you’re in Madeira, as there are exotic plants and fruits all over the place!
One of the many crops being grown in this lush and green country is sugar cane. And that’s what rum is made of — even here in Madeira!
At the distillery in Porta da Cruz, you'll see trucks loaded high with sugar cane being driven through narrow streets to the warehouses.
You'll also see the wooden barrels where the rum is being aged and you’ll be able to sample a variety of products at the tasting room.
All the while enjoying beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and of the surrounding countryside... Feels like a paradise!
Here's my list of the best typical dishes (food and drink) if you want to have a completely local experience when tasting some of the best food in Portugal!