Portugal is a country with a vast history, and it has developed a diverse range of traditional foods that showcase the culture and landscape of the land.
Portuguese food has become very famous around the globe. The country boasts some of the best European restaurants, and its cuisine is rich in flavor and variety.
Portuguese dishes are a fusion of many different cultures that have influenced the country over time. Additionally, it is one of the most popular cuisines in Brazil. Portugal is home to some of the most comforting dishes in the world. From traditional dishes like Cataplana and Caldo Verde to modern delights like Bacalhau à Brás, and Francesinha, Portugal is known for its rich culinary history, international cuisine, and a wide variety of foods.
Portuguese cuisine includes a traditional and diverse set of cooking traditions and practices influenced by their local ingredients, geography, climate, and history. The origins of Portuguese food are multi-faceted and date back to the 13th century.
History of Portugal
In the early 1400s, Portuguese seamen began to explore the Atlantic islands discovered by Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello. In 1488, Bartholomew Diaz rounded the southern tip of Africa (which he named Cabo of Good Hope), opening up a sea route to India that would prove more lucrative than any other European trade route at that time.
From the 15th century on, Portuguese cuisine became more diverse, thanks to new ingredients discovered during the Great Navigations.
The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to arrive in India, opening trade routes between Europe and Asia that would last for centuries. They also explored Africa and South America, bringing back products like sugar cane, cashews, and pineapple.
The Portuguese explorers were among the first who traveled west in search of spices and trade routes, which gave them access to new foods from around the world, which they incorporated into their dishes with influences from France and Italy through their colonial possessions in Europe and Asia.
The most well-known ingredient in Portugal is their seafood, including cod and octopus. Portugal has a fantastic coastline, and many different kinds of fish, shellfish, and algae are harvested from the ocean around Portugal.
Late in the 15th century leading into the 16th century, when the Portuguese first began to fish off Newfoundland, they salted cod so that it would not spoil during their long voyages across the Atlantic.
Portuguese food has a unique and rich gastronomic tradition that has evolved over the centuries. In the 1800s, Portuguese society was influenced by the Mediterranean and neighboring regions. Portuguese chefs began experimenting with countryside game and native fruits. These ingredients eventually led to the creation of modern classic Portuguese dishes such as coxinha (a savory meat croquette), arroz de pato (rice with chorizo, duck, and vegetables), and frango na tangerina (chicken baked in tangerine sauce).
During the 20th century, globalization continued to influence Portuguese dishes, with international products becoming more widely available.
Portuguese Food Today
Today's Portuguese cuisine remains true to its roots alongside modern additions that have become popular throughout Portugal's vast coastline and regions, such as Alentejo or Minho. Each area has its own distinctive flavors based on local ingredients, such as seafood from coastal regions or beef from inland areas where cattle farming is standard practice.
Cod is a mainstay on Portuguese tables—and is featured on many plates around the world. It's often served as part of the national dish called bacalhau: dried and salted codfish. Bacalhau is a staple of the Portuguese diet and a cultural icon.
The most popular meats in Portuguese cuisine include beef, pork, and chicken, although lamb is also very popular in Portugal. Additionally, blood sausage and Portuguese sausage are staples of this cuisine.
Portuguese cuisine is known for being simple but also hearty and delicious. Portuguese dishes are usually accompanied by a selection of fresh vegetables such as potatoes, radishes, collard greens, artichokes, leeks, onions, carrots, and lettuce. Tomatoes or tomato sauce and cabbage are common additions to many dishes.
Portuguese cheese is a unique and flavorful addition to any dish. Portuguese cheeses such as Famoso or Sao Miguel can be melted, used in sandwiches, or eaten alone with olives and wine. Pork sandwiches with melted cheese are a staple of Portuguese cuisine. The black pork sandwich is one of the most famous Portuguese sandwiches. This pork sandwich is typically made with pork loin, a fried egg, and fried potatoes served on a fresh roll or baguette with mayonnaise or Portuguese olive oil and a spicy sauce.
Another staple of Portuguese cuisine is port wine. Port wine is an important part of Portuguese wine and culture because it's made from grapes grown mainly along the Douro River in Northern Portugal. Port wine can be served ice cold or warmed up, depending on the region.
Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine that comes from the region of Vinho Verde, a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC), which is the country's largest appellation. Vinho Verde wines are usually made from a blend of native Portuguese grapes and released without being aged.
Traditional Portuguese Dishes
Traditional Portuguese cuisine is enjoyed throughout the year, but certain special occasions use seasonal ingredients. In the summertime, seafood becomes the primary protein source. During the fall harvest, there are many traditional vegetable dishes; over the Christmas holidays, several traditional recipes include pork.
- Caldo Verde - Portuguese soup made from green vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, chard, leeks, escarole, cabbage, and celery, generally served cold with cheese on top.
- Cozido à Portuguesa - Chicken or lamb boiled with onions, green peppers, celery, potatoes, and other vegetables until tender.
- Frito Morango - Fried eggplant seasoned with olive oil, spices, sugar, lemon juice, and garlic.
- Grelha - Chopped pork mixed with mustard, parsley, and white wine and simmered slowly.
- Arroz De Pato- Rice with chorizo, duck, and vegetables.
- Porriça - Bread dough spread with a savory filling and then rolled into balls before baking.
- Sardinhas Assadas- A simple but comforting dish of freshly grilled sardines originated in the Lisbon and Vale do Tejo regions. Although the dish varies from region to region, the basic recipe is simple: fresh Portuguese sardines are grilled and served with Portuguese olive oil and lemon juice.
- Accord Alentejano - Portuguese bread soup often made with leftover or stale bread.
- Cataplana de Marisco- Seafood stew, often consisting of clams, prawns, and chorizo.
- Peixinhos da Horta is a traditional dish in Portuguese cuisine. The dish's name is translated as "Little fishes from the garden," as it resembles small pieces of colorful fish. Peixinhos da Horta is generally tempura green beans, but it can also be made with peppers or squash.
When people think of the cuisine of Portugal, they usually think of seafood dishes like arroz de marisco (Portuguese seafood rice. While many Portuguese recipes are indeed fish-based, their desserts are just as delicious and popular as their savory foods.
Portuguese desserts are some of the best in the world. They are often lighter than American desserts but also rich and flavorful. Portuguese desserts usually contain less sugar than their American counterparts while still being sweet enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. Some examples of Portuguese desserts are Portuguese egg tarts or Portuguese custard tarts made with puff pastry instead of shortcrust dough like most European desserts. The Portuguese also have a sweet bread called massarela that resembles a croissant but is filled with custard instead of cheese or fruit.
The Portuguese dessert Quijada de Sintra ("Sintra cakes") is made from almond paste and powdered sugar. Arroz Doce is an additional popular Portuguese dessert that translates to Portuguese sweet rice.
One of the most famous Portuguese desserts is Pastéis de Nata (also known as Pasteis de Belém), similar to a flan or custard tart. The pastry shell is filled with creamy custard flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest. Nuns from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a monastery in Lisbon, are believed to have originated the tarts and many other conventual desserts in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Another famous Portuguese dessert is Queijadas de Sintra, which consists of small cakes made from almond paste and covered in powdered sugar.
The Portuguese have a long history of defining their place in the culinary world, and it's not hard to see why. Their traditions are just as unique as the people who uphold them. Throughout Portugal's history, the country has faced turmoil yet still manages to keep its traditions and culture alive. Today, Portugal continues to evolve and create in the culinary world.
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