One of the best ways to get to know a place is through its cuisine, and one of the most unique aspects of Portuguese food is that many staple ingredients were obtained through centuries-old trade routes. Rice, cod, sausages and fiery spices were culinary jewels picked up around the world and incorporated into the Portuguese dishes you eat today, combined with the country’s access to fresh seafood, produce and that famous olive oil. And yes, while you can experience fine dining via tiny portions at Michelin-starred establishments throughout Portugal, a true taste of the country is found in the stick-to-your-ribs meals a Portuguese grandmother would make.
With up to five nights to experience Lisbon or Porto during TAP Air Portugal’s Portugal Stopover, you’re able to experience two destinations for the price of one. So while you’re in Portugal, make sure to try these six dishes that highlight each city’s unique landscapes, cooking traditions and industries — then continue on to your next destination, dreaming of all the delicious local foods ahead. Here are the quintessential dishes to seek out while you’re stopping over in Portugal with TAP Air Portugal.
Bacalhau à bras
It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to discussing the Portuguese love for bacalhau (cod in English). If you know anything about Portuguese cuisine, we can bet you’ve heard of this staple fish that’s served across Portugal in nearly any way you can imagine. A visit to any food market in Lisbon or Porto will showcase bacalhau in its most common state – dried and salted, which helps maintain its shelf life for a longer period of time. While in this dried and salted state, it became a centuries-old comfort food recipe that is one of the most popular dishes in all of Lisbon and a must-eat while visiting the capital city – Bacalhau à bras. The dried and salted cod is pan-fried with julienned potatoes, onions and slowly scrambled eggs to create a creamy texture. After plating with a garnish of a side salad, the mixture is usually topped with a few black olives and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. It’s creamy, salty and crunchy at the same time; pretty much all the flavors and textures you’d want in a comfort food.
Vegetarians beware, this iconic Porto sandwich is not for you. The francesinha is stuffed with up to four or five different meats including sausage, ham, steak and pork roast, then topped with melted cheese and a fried egg, The sandwich is also accompanied by, or drowned in a special sauce that varies by restaurant, but is typically based with tomatoes and beer. Yea, you may want to stroll the hilly streets in Porto before eating this bad boy. Considered to be the Portuguese version of a Croque-Monsieur, it’s rumored that the francesinha (translated as “little Frenchie”) was created by a Portuguese immigrant who returned to Portugal in the 1970s after living in France. Back in the day, the sandwich had a bad reputation thanks to its calorie content, but today you’ll find it on the menu of nearly every restaurant in Porto served with a side of fries.
Although the simple, but oh-so-comforting caldo verde soup (translated as “green broth”) originated in northern Portugal where temperatures are chillier, the collards-based soup has become the most widely known soup in the entire country and can be found on menus in both Lisbon and Porto. Based with pureed potato to provide a thicker texture, shredded collard greens are added for a nutrient boost as well as color, along with garlic and a scattering of slice chouriço, a spicy pork sausage. Caldo verde offers a depth of flavor that’s savory, rich (without being heavy) and satisfying. Best of all, you won’t have to wait until cooler months to enjoy caldo verde; it’s so loved that it’s become a year-round staple.
Tripas à Moda do Porto
Tripas may not be at the top of your favorite foods list, but you can’t visit Porto without at least trying the city’s namesake dish, especially once you know the story behind it. It’s believed that as Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator (a 15th century colonist who spearheaded Portugal’s maritime exploration) prepared for an expedition, he requested help from the people of Porto to gather supplies before his trip. They went above and beyond, gathering so many supplies and the best cuts of meat for the Portuguese Navy that all that was left for the townspeople were animal entrails a.k.a. tripe, and a new dish was born! Porto’s love of trip earned its residents the nickname tripeiros, and you can even see the statue called the Monumento aos Tripeiros on TAP Air Portugal’s Portugal stopover, dedicated to those who built and supplied Prince Henry’s ships.
Through some creativity and ingenuity over the years, the stew-like Tripas à Moda do Porto now most commonly includes white beans, chicken, smoked sausage, vegetables, cumin, paprika, bay leaf and other herbs with, of course veal trip. Enjoy it served over or alongside rice.
If there’s one thing to take away from Portuguese cuisine, it’s that in most cases, simple is best. So many Portuguese dishes are made without heavy seasoning or sauces, allowing for the flavor of the fresh ingredients to take center stage, and grilled sardines (or sardinhas assadas) are a perfect example. Traditionally an early summer dish, sardines are grilled whole and served on thick slices of broa (or corn) bread with roasted bell peppers. A popular festival food in Lisbon, you’ll see sardinhas assadas everywhere at the Festo de Santo Antonio in June, where fish grilling stands line the street accompanied by Portuguese wine. The simple snack offers smoky and crispy skin with moist and flaky meat.
Pastel de Nata
We couldn’t forget about dessert! Ask any Portuguese person while strolling the streets of Lisbon and Porto what’s the one pastry to have before leaving and the Pastel de Nata is what they’ll recommend. The recipe for Portugal’s favorite puff pastry dates back more than 300 years to a town west of Lisbon called Belém, where monks at the Jerónimos Monastery used leftover egg yolks in desserts they created and sold to support the monastery. After the monastery closed in 1834, the monks sold the recipe to the Clarinha family that owns the Pastéis de Belém bakery, where the pastry is sold under the name Pasteis de Belém. While the original recipe served at the Pastéis de Belém bakery is held under tight secrecy, bakeries across Portugal have created their own versions, called Pastel de Nata, that are just as delicious as the original. Somewhere between a custard tart and a crust with the texture of a croissant, the outside is crispy and flaky while the inside is sweet, buttery and creamy.