Portuguese food is Mediterranean cuisine at its best
And like the people, it’s warm, vibrant, spicy, and a little mysterious. It’s also balanced, as the people’s diet is filled with fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood, meat, and plenty of sweets.
The traditional, regional dishes are still made as they have for centuries. Portuguese cooks were doing fusion hundreds of years before it became fashionable. They became experts at creatively combining local products and cooking traditions with an amazing array of exotic spices, ingredients, and cooking techniques, and this culinary evolution helped create a cuisine that is distinctly Portuguese.
Portuguese food is not Spanish. While the two cuisines share many of the same ingredients, they are quite different. Portuguese food is tied to the land and sea in equal measure. The cuisine’s dishes have heat, spice, and depths of flavour never found in Spanish food.
Bacalhau is the single most important dish in Portugal. Made from dried, salted cod fished in the cold waters off the coast of Norway, it’s said there are enough recipes for bacalhau that you could cook one every day of the year and never make the same dish twice.
North Africa Moors introduced the cataplana to Portugal in hopes of recreating the tagines they left behind. The food is placed in the bottom half of the pot, and once the lid is closed it seals in the steam, aromas, and cooking juices during simmering so that intense flavours develop and permeate all the ingredients. This dish is a classic example of Portuguese inventiveness and combines ham, chorizo sausage, baby clams, tomatoes, onions, and garlic in a liquid that is heady from the moment you raise the lid.
Pork can be found in everything from soups, to grilled kebabs, and even dessert; every part of the pig is used in some dish. What isn’t used immediately is cured and preserved and turned into presuntos, or hams. Sausages come in a dizzying range of styles and show up in soups and stews, grilled over an open flame, cooked in cataplana, or flamed tableside as a snack. They add rich meaty flavours to any dish. There are even kosher sausages, called alheira, often made with rabbit, veal, chicken, duck, and bread fillers, and were then fried in olive oil.
Regions such as Algarve and Estremadura are renowned for the diversity and quality of their seafood. Hundreds of varieties are cooked in clean, light, tasty ways that include grilling it over charcoal, baking it, pan-frying it, roasting it in an oven, cooking it in a cataplana, or broiling it.
In Portugal, what doesn’t go into soups is a shorter list than what does. Bean stews are made with beef or pork, where the beans included depend on the region. From one region to the next, traditional local beans are used; red kidney beans with tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage, or white beans with rice, and sausages.
The Mediterranean climate means vegetables grow easily and come in every shape and colour. Salads are almost as popular as soups, often tossed with vinaigrette containing exceptional Portuguese olive oil and vinegar. Vegetable side dishes are creative and fresh.
For dessert, bakers in Portugal make over two hundred different types of pastries, and have developed hundreds of sweet treats. A speciality is our egg custards, our cinnamon laced treats, and desserts made with nuts and citrus.