Over the last 10 years I’ve sampled a lot of different Portuguese food. Most of the time, it’s been a pleasure, although there are some things I will never touch (snouts, feet and ears) and others I refuse to repeat (tripe).
Fortunately for the less adventurous palate, it’s easy enough to avoid dubious ‘delicacies’ and discover why Portuguese people are so proud of their food.
Note: The word ‘best’ in this context is wholly subjective and based on my preferences.
Best Portuguese cheese
Portuguese sheep and goat cheeses are delicious, from the soft requeijão made from whey to rock hard 18-month old cured cheese. My first choice is always a runny (amanteigado) Serra da Estrela sheep’s cheese. Cut a lid out of the rind and scoop out the gooey goodness. I love it with fig jam, although pumpkin jam will do.
Best Portuguese cake
Most visitors to Portugal will try at least one pastel de nata, the creamy custard tart that originated in Belém.
While I am fond of them, I would choose a queijada, a light tart made with cheese, or the wickedly indulgent três delicias from the Algarve with its layers of carob, fig and almond. (This one has an added layer of chocolate so I suppose it should be called quatro delicias).
Best Portuguese bread
For white bread rolls, my first choice is pão da avó (grandma’s bread), which is crusty, moist, full of holes and very tasty.
What I head for in a bread basket, however, is broa, especially the yellow version. Broa is Portuguese corn bread, traditionally cooked in a wood oven, with a wonderfully crunchy crust and moist innards. It’s quite dense and filling so you won’t need much.
Best fish/seafood dish in Portugal
When I first moved to Portugal I discovered the joys of octopus. Polvo à lagareiro has remained my dish of choice all these years. It’s steamed octopus baked in the oven with tiny baked potatoes and garlic, all drowned in olive oil.
My favourite Portuguese meat dish
One of the best meat experiences I’ve had in Portugal has got to be naco na pedra. This is a thick chunk of quality beef served on a sizzling hot stone.
When it reaches your table, the outside will have been seared but it will continue to cook for as long as it stays on the stone. If you prefer your steak well done, you’ll need to slice it so it cooks through before the stone cools. Otherwise, tuck in.
Best Portuguese soup
Soup is an integral part of the Portuguese diet and when you eat in restaurants, this is often where you’ll get your vegetables. Although caldo verde (kale soup) is hugely popular, I’m not overly fond of the texture and it’s not my favourite Portuguese soup.
Give me Alentejan tomato soup any day. It could easily be a meal in itself, thanks to the bread and poached egg it contains. This tasty recipe is a great way of using up stale bread.
Best Portuguese ‘sausage’
The closest translation for enchido is sausage but Portuguese enchidos are a world apart from British sausages. The traditional way of making sure none of a family’s slaughtered pig goes to waste is to cure the resulting meat products by hanging and smoking.
The most well-known enchido is probably chouriço, a paprika sausage that’s often flambéed at the table or added to other dishes for flavour and colour.
It came as a surprise to me to find that I am partial to a good quality morcela, a blood sausage which is similar to black pudding. When served on a bed of cooked apples, it’s quite a treat.
Best Portuguese petisco (snack)
My guilty pleasure is a rissol de camarão, a fried shrimp patty. Inside a golden breadcrumbed pancake envelope you’ll find a creamy prawn sauce, hopefully with an actual prawn inside.
What’s your favourite Portuguese food? Please tell me in the comments.
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