Fishetarians will eat well in Portugal!
Cuisine in Portugal varies by region, but being a seafaring nation with a well-developed fishing industry, fish and seafood dominate most menus. Fishetarians like Tony and I will eat well here.
Portugal has been fishing and trading cod since the 15th century and it’s no wonder that ‘Bacalhau’, a cod dish served with potatoes, is their national plate. Other popular seafoods include fresh sardines (especially when grilled as sardinhas assadas), hake, horse mackerel (scad), lamprey, sea bass, scabbard (especially in Madeira) and a great variety of other fish.
Then there’s octopus, squid, cuttlefish, crabs, shrimps, prawns and lobsters. The range of crustaceans and molluscs cover barnacles and goose barnacles, clams, mussels, oysters, periwinkles, and scallops. Caldeirada is a stew consisting of a variety of fish and shellfish with potatoes, tomato and onion.
Other typical dishes in Portugal include:
- sopa de mariscos – a shellfish soup made with vegetables and shellfish
- caldo verde – green soup made with green cabbage leaves
- porco altentejano – fried pork served with a sauce of mussels stewed with tomatoes and onions
- grilled chicken – marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil
Cooking styles in Portugal are simpler and traditional
Fish is served grilled, poached, fried or deep-fried, stewed (often in clay pot cooking) or even roasted, and ‘Bacalhau’ can be found virtually everywhere. Cod is almost always used dried and salted because the Portuguese fishing tradition in the North Atlantic developed before the invention of refrigeration. It therefore needs to be soaked in water or sometimes milk before cooking. It is said that there are more than 365 ways to cook cod, one for each day of the year. Cooking styles in Portugal are much simpler and traditional with fish dishes often flavoured with virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.
Sardines used to be preserved in brine for sale in rural areas. Later, sardine canneries developed all along the Portuguese coast. Yes, I distinctly remember consuming a lot of sardine sandwiches when I was younger. Ours were canned sardines in a tomato base which we would mash up and add chopped onions and lemon juice to spice it up. These days, I think the best way of preparing sardines is to have them freshly grilled.
Canned tuna is widely available in Portugal. Tuna used to be plentiful in the waters of the Algarve. They were trapped in fixed nets when they passed the Portuguese southern coast to spawn in the Mediterranean, and again when they returned to the Atlantic. Fresh tuna, however, is usually eaten in Madeira and the Algarve, where tuna steaks are an important item in local cuisine. Canned sardines or tuna, served with boiled potatoes and eggs, make a convenient meal when there is not time to prepare something more elaborate.
And if you like Pork…
Meat eaters need not panic. Food in Portugal includes Cozida Portugesa which is a thick stew made with meat. Roast suckling pig is a big favorite in the north but is also found centrally such as in Fatima. Cured ham from the north of Portugal and Monchique in the Algarve are popular. A specialty of Porto is spicy pork sausages and the Minho region is known for tasty garlic sausage made with turkey and chicken meat as well as black sausage made from pork.
For those with a predeliction for cheese, Portugal produces a wide variety of cheeses with the best one reputably being from the town of Serpa. A close competition is cheese made in the Serra da Estrela region.
Portuguese wine: a lot more than Mateus Rosé
Wine drinkers of a certain generation may well be scarred by Portugal’s Mateus Rosé which flooded the world in the 1970s, but wines in the country have changed quite a bit over the last decade. Many of the newer wines are domestic varieties with distinct flavours. The locals are knowledgeable at matching Portuguese food and wine so it’s good to ask about which wines go best with which dishes so you can enjoy the perfect complement.
Enjoying good food and the social aspects of dining out is a cherished way of life in Portugal. Lunch is a grand affair lasting up to 2 hours and is served between 12 noon and 2pm or between 1pm and 3pm. Dinner is normally after 8pm which is typical of Mediterranean times, but not as late as places like Spain.