Foods of Portugal

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The food of Portugal is inspired by the Atlantic and thus many of the dishes contain fish, especially salted cod, and because Portugal is not a rich country a lot of its food is the simple fare of fishermen and farmers. Expect to find fish, meat, rice and potatoes (usually fried) and other calorific staples, combined with olive oil, wine and friendship (the older the better, as the proverb goes). Portuguese food is generally inexpensive and served in large quantities, with €8 buying you a hearty meal in a café and under €25 enough to get you a meal in most of the restaurants in Portugal.

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The day begins with breakfast, for which a café or pastelaria (pastry shop) will provide you with a croissant or other such pastry and a coffee to wash it down. Coffee tends to be served as espresso (uma bica in the south or just um café in the north). At breakfast, though, you might also order um galão, which is a milky coffee served in a glass.

Staple foods in Portugal are the various soups, such as the caldo verde (thick vegetable soup) or sopa à alentejana (garlic and bread soup with a poached egg in it), and countless varieties of fish and shellfish soups. As mentioned above, fish and shellfish are unsurpassed in Portuguese cooking and you can get pretty much anything from crab, clams, barnacles, prawns or crayfish to mullet, tuna and the ubiquitous bacalhau (dried, salted cod). Much like French cheese, Portuguese bacalhau can be cooked in 365 different ways and is much tastier than it might sound, particularly when cooked as bacalhau à Gomes de Sá with potatoes, onions, olives and hard boiled eggs. Sardines (sardinhas) are close behind in popularity and can be grilled or barbequed, or there is the arroz de marisco, which is a bit like a seafood risotto crossed with a soup.

Meat is less excitingly presented than fish in Portugal and often comes served with piri piri sauce, a sizzling chilli concoction, either optional (ie, on the table) or in the cooking. Chicken is very popular and no churrasco (barbequed chicken) has whole restaurants dedicated to it. Pork can be cooked with clams (porco à alentejana) or simply grilled. Be careful not to fall into the trap of eating blood and guts blends of tripe, "meat" stew or papas de sarrabulho, a ghastly blood and bread based dish.

Vegetables are rare so ask for a mixed salad (salada mista) of tomatoes, onions, olives et al if you long for some less rich food. Vegetarians are in for a tough time if they leave the more international areas of Lisbon and the Algarve, and may find themselves eating omelettes, chips and salad an awful lot in the provinces.