So, you’ve decided to study abroad. Or maybe you’ve decided to backpack across Europe. Either way, you’re probably already busy making an entire list of places to see and cities to hit. It’s likely that your list will include many of the favorites like Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London and Amsterdam, among others. Maybe I’m biased, but I think that most people planning trips to Europe tend to forget one really awesome place: Portugal.
Maybe it’s a size thing (it is a pretty small country), or maybe it’s just the fact that it is simply less popular or romanticized than some other countries in Europe. Well, take it from someone who comes from a big Portuguese family and has has spent the majority of her summers there: it is an awesome place with so many beautiful things to see and do, AND (as you may have already guessed) it’s way less touristy than many other European countries.
One of the best things about about traveling is trying new food. Portugal definitely delivers in that department. Here are a couple dishes and treats to convince you that Portugal should be a stop on any food lover’s next trip to Europe.
Pasteis de Nata
Pasteis de Nata are small custard tarts that are very traditional and a definite favorite. Sweet, smooth custard is paired with flaky pastry dough, making this dessert an easy favorite among the Portuguese. Although you will be able to find them all over the country, be sure to buy some while visiting Lisbon at the well-known Pastéis de Belém. Pair a few with a nice espresso and I guarantee you’ll fall in love.
Whether you absolutely love seafood, or it’s really not your thing at all, you will find a love for bacalhau in Portugal. Bacalhau is codfish, and it is extremely popular in Portugal. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the Portuguese have mastered over a hundred different ways to prepare the fish. My favorite way to enjoy bacalhau is bacalhau a bras (picture above), which is codfish mixed with shredded potatoes, eggs and onions.
I know it might sound like a weird combo, but trust me, it’s the best. My second favorite are bolos de bacalhau, which are little cod cakes and a definite must-try. It’s likely that you will see balcalhau on various menus, so feel free to ask questions about how it is being prepared, and that you can enjoy it in a variety of ways during your trip.
Similar to the Spanish chorizo, Portuguese chouriço is a pork sausage. It is reddish in appearance, and has a great smoky flavor. It’s often served in Portugal on a flame, which not only makes it warm and delicious, but also awesome to look at (and Instagram). Be sure to try it as a starter while eating out, or enjoy warm pão com chouriço, or chouriço bread (one of my all-time favorite foods!).
Speaking of pão com chouriço, I figured Portuguese bread should have its own little spot in this article. The Portuguese take their bread very seriously, and with good reason because it is always present at the table. Typical Portuguese towns even have a “bread man” that comes around every morning in his van to sell fresh bread from house to house.
Easily one of my favorite things about staying with my grandparents in Portugal is waking up to the bread man’s horn and knowing that I will soon have fresh bread with my coffee for breakfast. It may seem like a minor detail, but believe me, you’ll miss Portuguese bread after you leave.
If you love Spanish tapas, you will love petiscos. Petiscos are essentially just the Portuguese version of a tapa, which is a small dish. Typically many different petiscos are ordered at once, and then shared throughout the table. In Portugal, petiscos are social type of dish and are typically served in the evening or at night while out with friends. Since petiscos are small and ordered in numbers, they’re a great way to try several different Portuguese foods at once.
Located on the Iberian Peninsula with the Atlantic Ocean surrounding about half the country, Portugal has naturally always been home to hardworking fishermen and great seafood. Be sure to try berbigão (small clams or cockles), sardinhas grelhadas (grilled sardines), camarão (prawns) and caldeirada (amazing fish stew). Everything is guaranteed to be fresh and prepared with love.
Bolas de Berlim
Bolas de Berlim are like huge Portuguese donuts. They are dusted off with sugar, and filled with generous amounts of delicious cream (the key ingredient is egg yolks!). They are the perfect pastry to indulge in while at a café or (if you’re lucky) at the beach. At some Portuguese beaches, it’s common for someone to walk around selling bolas de Berlim to enjoy while you’re catching some sun.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, these are definitely something to try. When you hear the word ‘caracois’ in Portugal, it means it’s summertime and you’re about to get served a huge bowl of tiny snails. Served in a tasty broth and usually paired with a cold beer, caracois are a cheap eat in Portugal and are easily found at local restaurants and bars.
#SpoonTip: To enjoy caracois like a true local, ditch the toothpicks they might give you to eat them with and suck them right out of their shells!
Well there you have it. Hopefully at least one (or all) of these traditional Portuguese dishes or treats has convinced you that Portugal should definitely be added to your travel itinerary. I can promise you won’t be disappointed. Happy traveling and viva Portugal!