When people find out I'm Portuguese they often ask me about Cristiano Ronaldo and Portuguese water dogs. It's not that I don't want to talk about those things (I could go on about Benfica versus Porto, and the Obamas do have the cutest dog I have ever seen), but no one ever seems to ask me about Portuguese food.

Cities like Lisbon have incredible options for dining, but I'd like to share some personal foods that have been staples in my own home. Comfort food, decadent desserts, and elegant delicacies can all be found from Faro to Aveiro. 

1. Pastéis de Bacalhau

A classic appetizer for any family occasion. My avó makes these from scratch by soaking the cod, shredding it and mixing it with a blend of potatoes and herbs. They are formed into small oval shapes and then pan fried (in my grandmother's case). I always eat way too many before family dinners and I can't say I regret it. 

2. Flan

I'm sure you've all at least heard of flan, but you haven't lived until you've tried Portuguese flan. Perfectly caramelized and a creamy, pudding-y center make this flan irresistible. 

3. Queijo Fresco and Cornbread 

When I stayed in my grandparents house a few summers ago, I would always start the morning with cornbread and queijo fresco. Portuguese cornbread is not at all like American cornbread. It's dense, unsweetened, and sports a characteristic dark brown color. It pairs perfectly with the slightly sweet, creamy queijo fresco. My grandmother still sends this cheese back with my dad when he goes to visit. 

4. Caldo Verde  

You can't look up Portuguese food without stumbling across caldo verde. This kale and potato-based soup with chorizo is perfect for the cold season. Why not partake in the millennial kale craze with this hearty soup?

5. Pastéis de Nata 

I swear, my dad used to solve all of our fights by bringing me a box of pastéis de nata. These egg custard tarts with a flaky outer shell are the stuff of fantasies. Check out this article for some history and more of my love for this dessert. 

6. Wine

wine, alcohol, champagne, liquor, red wine, white wine
Megha Srivastava

Portugal accounts for nearly half of the cork harvested worldwide. Needless to say we're really serious about our wine. My uncle still grows grapes and makes wine by hand (or you could say by foot, because he actually steps on them to release the juice). Then, the wine is stored in barrels and fermented until the time is right. It's not a holiday if we aren't serving Uncle Jack's wine. 

7. Bacalhau with Potatoes and Onions

Bacalhau is an iconic Portuguese food. The dried cod has to be soaked for hours and even days at a time before serving. My family usually opts for thinly sliced potatoes and caramelized onions to bring out the flavor of the fish. 

8. Sumol

Soda, really? I'm not a soda person either, but at every family get together or dinner in Portugal I end up drinking Sumol. The drink is light and not overpowering like traditional soda. Plus, the fruit flavors include passion fruit and pineapple. What's not to love?

9. Olives. Lots of them. 

My grandmother's house in a small village outside of Luso is home to a small farm with olive, fig, and lemon trees. Even at 75 years old, my grandmother would climb the olive trees and shake the branches until the olives fell from the tree onto the tarp she had placed on the ground. Olives are used in countless traditional dishes, made into olive oil, and served as an appetizer at every Portuguese restaurant I've ever visited.

10. Rice Pudding 

When this gets placed in front of me at any meal, expect half of the plate to be gone. Portuguese rice pudding puts all other rice pudding to shame—you can quote me on that. Made by boiling rice in milk for extra flavor, a signature blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and the other amazing spices my family has perfected over the years, this dish is a killer.   

If you're planning on visiting Portugal, these traditional Portuguese foods will make your trip worthwhile. Personally, I think one of the best ways to truly experience a new culture is through food, especially when language barriers can prevent us from getting the most out studying abroad.

Luckily, the appreciation of food is a universal language, and learning to take part in this universal love of food can make any study abroad experience that much more fulfilling. Plus, you'll definitely want to bring these foods back with you or scope out the nearest Portuguese restaurant after trying these authentic Portuguese foods.