Granite slabs as fence for cabbage fields, Quintiães, Portugal

Cabbages, cabbages everywhere, except for on your plate in Portugal!

Unless, perhaps, you go to a Brazilian restaurant and get shredded cabbage served alongside your black beans and rice. Otherwise, the only place you’re likely to find it served is in soup, usually caldo verde, which looks like grass floating in wallpaper paste but actually tastes quite nice.

Caldo verde. Portuguese kale soup
Caldo verde / cabbage soup

The importance of soup in Portuguese diets

Expats and holidaymakers are often baffled by the lack of vegetables served with meals in Portuguese restaurants. In the UK, for example, we don’t stray far from the ‘meat and two veg’ mentality in that most meals are served with some kind of vegetable, even if it’s just mushy peas to go with your fish and chips.

It’s easy to feel deprived of vegetables when dining out in Portugal but it’s important to realise that most Portuguese people get their daily dose of vegetables via their soup.

Unlike in the UK, where soup is a meal on its own, here it’s a typical starter, and sometimes served after the main course if its part of a lunchtime menu deal. And it invariably contains cabbage of some description.

Cabbage in Portugal

I’m not sure exactly how many varieties of cabbage people grow in Portugal but there are lots. There’s even a special Christmas cabbage. A quick look around the vegetable patches in my village illustrates everyone who grows vegetables grows cabbage; I think it’s obligatory.

cabbage patches in a Portuguese village
Cabbage patches in a Portuguese village

For city-dwellers or those who just can’t be bothered shredding the leaves to make soup, pretty much every supermarket sells packs of pre-shredded cabbage, or kale, for making caldo verde.

The prize for amusement value has to go to the couve galega, which I think translates as ‘collard greens’. They grow about a metre high and look like trees. It seems they will grow anywhere, judging by these ones I found growing out of some granite steps in Santa Comba Dão.

This post forms part of my Personal A to Z of Portugal.

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6 Comments

    1. Author

      Thanks – I thought it was hilarious and couldn’t resist taking a photo, or blogging about it!

  1. I like cabbage – as long as it isn’t just boiled like my mother used to do!

    Chop finely, pour boiling water over, pop in an oven dish with chopped bacon and onion and some butter…………. bake……………. YUMMY!!!

  2. Most Cozida dishes in the Alentejo contain cabbage and other veg,Feijoada trans montana has cabbage,Cozida fish dishes all come with potatoes,cauliflower,carrots,cozida polvo comes with green beans,carrots,and also a sausage wrapped in cabbage in tomato sauce dish,so there are lots of dishes that come with cabbage and vegatables

    1. Author

      Thanks for the correction. I have had cabbage, and other vegetables served served in stew type dishes, come to think of it. It’s just been my experience so far, in over four years of eating in Portuguese restaurants around the country, that it’s unusual to get vegetables served alongside the main course, unless they are in a stew. I must be going to the wrong places 🙂

  3. Author

    Hi Jan, glad you like the idea and hope you change your mind and join in the challenge 🙂

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