Traditional Portuguese food – 26 best dishes to eat in Portugal

Portuguese food isn’t as famous as French, Italian, or even Spanish, but it has strongly influenced world cuisine. Portuguese have changed history by cruising the world during the age of discoveries. We reached unknown places and traded with Africa, America, and Asia, even reaching Japan. Furthermore, many Portuguese emigrated worldwide, seeking a better life and spreading Traditional Portuguese Food worldwide.

All these events impacted Portuguese cuisine and left a trace of our cuisine worldwide. Piri-Piri, our pastry, fios de ovos, tempura, tea, Piri-Piri chicken, and Pan de castella are some examples of our influence on world cuisine.

In this article, we will explore the main aspects of Portuguese cuisine in general and the best typical dishes to eat in Portugal in particular.

Portuguese food is one of the main reasons to visit Portugal
What to eat in Portugal? – Portuguese Presunto

One of the most important things you must remember is that the Portuguese love food! We easily travel hundreds of kilometers just to eat a specific dish or go to a particular restaurant. Plus, we always think about the next meal – even while eating. So, food is a big deal in Portugal! It is always a good opportunity to join family and friends on a traditional Portuguese dish. Oh, we forgot to mention to the Portuguese that there’s nothing like Portuguese food; it’s the best in the world.

As Portuguese foodies with extensive knowledge of Portuguese food (we eat several times a day), we created this guide to help you better understand traditional Portuguese cuisine.

What should you know about traditional Portuguese food?

Each region has its own traditional dishes

Although Portugal is a very small country, each region has its own typical plates, which create a huge variety of dishes and an incredibly diverse cuisine.

In the North of Portugal, the food is typically heavy – it’s farmer’s food, like Feijoada, Cozido, and different kinds of sausages. Fish and seafood are predominant by the coast, so you’ll see plenty of grilled Sardines, clamshells, and octopus. Some of the typical dishes of the south of Portugal are Açorda, Sopa da Pedra, and Xarém.

things to know about Traditional Portuguese food
Traditional cooking pots, Northern Portugal

Staple ingredients of traditional Portuguese cuisine

Portugal produces exceptional olive oil, and we use it in abundance. Olive oil is used in everything salads, stir-frying, dressing food, or simply dipping bread. We are lucky. We have the opportunity to use top-quality olive oil in every meal.

The Portuguese use onion and garlic in everything; moreover, I think it’s safe to say that we don’t know how to cook without them.

Portuguese traditional food isn’t spicy, we don’t use too many condiments, and most of the time, only salt. Besides some dishes, traditional Portuguese food is healthy – it is regarded as part of the Mediterranean diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish, and olive oil.

Traditional Portuguese cuisine - What to eat in Portugal
Fruit and Veggies Market in Santarém, Portugal – traditional Portuguese food

Cod’s special place in Portuguese cuisine

Portugal is Europe’s 3rd highest per capita fish consumption, and codfish is the main reason. Portuguese love codfish but salted cold. We even say that there are more than 365 ways to cook cod (in Portugal, Cod is Bacalhau). One for each day of the year… We never counted them, but we believe that there are even more!

Cod/Bacalhau is so important in Portuguese food that the Portuguese don’t even regard cod/bacalhau as a fish! It has its own category. There is fish, meat, and cod/Bacalhau.

What to eat in Portugal – Best Traditional Portuguese dishes

Typical Portuguese snacks


Chouriço is a traditional sausage that is cured, smoked, and fermented. It is mainly made with pork, fat, salt, red pepper paste, garlic, and wine. There is a wide variety of Chouriços, and each region or even family has its own recipes and uses different seasonings. Traditionally, the best chouriços come from Trás-os-Montes and Alentejo.

There is a black Chouriço called Morcela, which is made with pork meat and blood and is very tasty. We advise you to try several varieties of chouriços, don’t be afraid to experience all the different tastes!

Chouriço is usually eaten as a snack or appetizer before the main meal. Portuguese may roast them in a typical clay plate called the assador.

Don’t mistake chouriço for chorizo, the Spanish version. They are similar but not the same. Although it is a typical Iberian food, each country has its own version. The Spanish chorizo tastes different from the Portuguese chouriço.

Best Traditional Portuguese dishes you have to try
Portuguese traditional Chouriço, Morcela, and Presunto

Alheira – a unique Portuguese sausage

Alheira is a type of smoked sausage made with poultry (instead of pork) and connected with bread and fat. Opposite to chouriço, which you don’t need to cook, an alheira must be fried for a few minutes.

It is good as a snack or even as a main meal with fried egg and chips. You’ll find them everywhere, but they are really traditional in Trás-os-Montes. The most famous Portuguese alheiras come from Mirandela, but the ones from Vinhais and Boticas are equally good.

The story behind alheiras is fascinating. The Jews created them during the Portuguese Inquisition. To prove to the community that they had converted to Christianity, they created a Sausage – the Alheira, a poultry sausage instead of the forbidden pork. People thought that they were eating pork when they were, in fact, eating poultry.

Traditional Portuguese food
Portuguese Alheira, eaten as a snack.

Bolinhos de Bacalhau

Bolinhos de Bacalhau is one of the most typical snacks in Portugal. They are made of Portugal’s favorite ingredient, Bacalhau (cod). They are deep-fried fish cakes made of codfish, potatoes, onion, parsley, and eggs.

Eating a Bolinho de Bacalhau with a fresh soda or a beer is simply fantastic. You can’t really have a picnic in Portugal without Bolinhos de Bacalhau.

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Top Tip

You will find restaurants selling different types of Bolinhos de Bacalhau, with cheese or other ingredients, but these aren’t typical Portuguese. The best are the original and plain, simple ones. There’s a tourist trap in Porto and Lisbon selling a Bolinho de bacalhau com Queijo da Serra (cheese from Serra da Estrela)… Don’t eat this! They are bad and not typical at all! Bolinhos de Bacalhau are great! Queijo da Serra is a typical and delicious Portuguese cheese from Serra da Estrela. Bolinhos de Bacalhau with Queijo da Serra is horrible!

Best Traditional Portuguese dishes you have to try
Um Bolinho de Bacalhau (cod cake)


Bifana is one of Portugal’s best sandwiches. It is a pork steak sandwich seasoned with garlic and a spicy sauce. It is simply mouthwatering. The sauce is obviously the secret of this sandwich. Usually, you can find these sandwiches in food stalls at fairs, festivities, or some specific restaurants.

Best Portuguese snacks - Bifana
Portuguese street food: Bifana (South style)

Although they originated in Vendas Novas, Alentejo, you can find them all over Portugal, with slight differences.

In the North of Portugal, they are a bit different, the pork steak is cut into extremely thin pieces, and they are seasoned in a big pot of spicy sauce, and placed in a small bread roll along with the sauce.

In the South of Portugal, the steak isn’t cut into small pieces, and the sauce isn’t as spicy. They are served simply on a bigger bread with a touch of mustard.

Portuguese snacks
Portuguese snack – Bifana (North style)


Almost every restaurant serves a plate of olives seasoned with garlic and olive oil as an appetizer. They are simply addictive and challenging to resist.

As we said before, Portugal has pretty good olives, and you will find many different kinds – some are small and sour, and others are big and full-bodied.

What to eat in Portugal
Olives are a good appetizer

Typical Portuguese soups

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde is one of the most traditional dishes in Portugal. It literally means green soup, and it is comfort food. Originated in Minho, in northern Portugal, this soup is cooked with thinly cut Couve Galega (a type of cabbage), onion, garlic, potato, and chouriço/Salpicão and served with Broa de Milho (cornbread).

It may sound simple, but it’s very good. You won’t be disappointed if you can have a good Caldo Verde.

Top dishes in Portugal
Caldo Verde and a Bifana in the restaurant Conga in Porto

Canja de Galinha

Canja de Galinha is chicken soup. The soup you eat when you are sick.

Every country has a version of this soup. In Portugal, it is made with chicken (sometimes with chicken liver and heart) and chicken broth, rice, or small pasta.

Main dishes in Portugal
Chicken soup is also traditional at Christmas

Sopa da Pedra – Stone Soup

Sopa da Pedra means stone soup. And yes, it is literally made with stone, but it also has several types of meat, chouriço, beans, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots.

This traditional dish is typical of Almeirim in Santarém, in the South of Portugal. It is a very rich and satisfying soup. Actually, Sopa da Pedra may look more like a stew, and you won’t want to have anything else after eating a typical Sopa da Pedra in Almeirim.

Legend says that this soup was created by a starving monk passing by the village of Almerim. He asked each person in the village for only one ingredient so he could make his stone soup. The people were so curious about this soup made with stones that they gave him the ingredient just to see how he could make it. He used every ingredient received to make a rich, hearty, and delicious soup and then put one stone in it.

In Almeirim, they still serve the soup with a stone inside.

Traditional Portuguese soups - the incredible Sopa da Pedra
Traditional Portuguese soup – Stone soap of Almeirim

Açorda Alentejana

Açorda is a traditional dish from Alentejo, but you will find many variations of it. It has several different ingredients, more or less liquid, but the base of the dish is bread. The Morish created this dish as a way to reuse stale bread when they occupied the Iberian Peninsula.

The soup is made with garlic, salt, bread, olive oil, and water poured over the bread. In the end, a poached egg and a handful of coriander are added. The bread soaks up the delicious liquid of the soup.

Traditional dishes of Portugal
Açorda a traditional dish from Alentejo in the South of Portugal

What is the National dish of Portugal?

Portugal doesn’t have one national dish. On the other hand, any dish with salted Cod is Portugal’s National dish, the Portuguese simply love it, and it is part of our history.

Ironically, codfish aren’t fished on the coast of Portugal but in the North in the Norway Sea and near Newfoundland. Cod was a good fish to dry, so ships were packed with it during the Portuguese discoveries because it would last for years. Later, with the refrigeration process, salted cod became very cheap, and as a poor country, we adopted salted cod as our main protein.

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Be aware that there is no such thing as fresh cod in Portugal, only salted. So, to cook dry cod, you must soak it in fresh water for several days, or it will be very, very salty.

Bacalhau Assado com Batatas a Murro (Roasted Cod with punched potatoes)

Roasted Cod with potatoes is a classic Bacalhau dish. The Cod is roasted in the oven with garlic, bay leaves, and a generous portion of olive oil for at least one hour with small new potatoes with skin. In the end, you must give a small punch to the potatoes and add more olive oil. This is probably the most traditional dry cod dish.

typical Portugal dishes
Portugal National food | Bacalhau Assado com Batatas à Murro – Roasted Cod with punched potatoes

Bacalhau à Bras

Bacalhau à Brás is one of Portugal’s most loved recipes of Bacalhau. It is made with shreds of cod, very small and thin fried potatoes, onions, and mixed eggs. Everything is stir-fried, and the dish is garnished with eggs and parsley.

This traditional Portuguese dish should be on your list when visiting Portugal. It’s also one of the easiest to find in restaurants nationwide.

National dish Portugal - Bacalhau Portuguese dishes
Typical Portuguese cuisine Bacalhau à Brás

Bacalhau com Natas (Dry cod with cream)

Bacalhau com Natas isn’t one of the most traditional recipes, but it is very popular and a staple dish in several restaurants.

Although Portuguese cuisine doesn’t use cream and cheese frequently, this luscious recipe has plenty of both. It consists of shreds of cod and potatoes boiled in milk and then roasted in the oven, topped with cheese.

Bacalhau com natas Traditional Portuguese food - 26 best dishes to eat in Portugal
Bacalhau com Natas phot by the blog “O Comilões”

Typical Portuguese food – fish, and seafood dishes

Grilled Sardines

Sardines are oily fish packed with flavor. This simple dish is cooked by grilling the sardines on a hot grill. It is mostly served in the summer, particularly during the Popular Saints’ festivities.

Typically, it is eaten with a slice of cornbread and roasted red peppers. We could have included this in the snacks or street food headings, too.

Sardines are one of the most abundant fish on the Portuguese coast. They are also one of the most popular and typical dishes in Portugal.

Typical dishes of Portugal
Grilled Sardines | Portuguese food

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato (Clams)

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato is one of those dishes that makes us salivate merely by thinking about it. This traditional Portuguese dish is light and perfect for eating in Summer after coming from the beach, preferably on a terrace. It consists of stir-fried fresh clams, garlic, and olive oil, then adding lemon juice and coriander. Make sure you have bread to dip in the sauce.

Portugal Dishes tradicional
Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato (Clams) – Portuguese seafood dishes

Choco Frito com Arroz de Tomate (fried cuttlefish with tomato rice)

Choco Frito with tomato rice is a traditional Portuguese food from Setubal and an example of a dish you simply have to eat where it is the best. This dish is made with fried cuttlefish in egg and flour (similar to calamari) and then served with humid tomato rice.

In Portugal, this kind of humid rice is called “Arroz malandro” (which translates literally to “naughty rice”). Note that Lemon is always served with the dish, so you can squeeze it on top of the cuttlefish.

Traditional Portuguese food
Choco Frito com Arroz de Tomate (fried cuttlefish with tomato rice)

Arroz de Marisco (Seafood rice)

Arroz de Marisco is a traditional dish very appreciated by the Portuguese, normally eaten at a festival or on important days.

The dish combines several kinds of seafood, such as shrimp, clams, cockles, mussels, and lobster. The rice is slowly cooked in a seafood broth, and the seafood is added at the end. The rice should be very humid, as we referred to above as the so-called “Arroz malandro.”

This is also a dish that is very easy to find in Portuguese restaurants, but try to taste it in a restaurant that specializes in seafood.

Best dishes of Portugal
Arroz de Marisco (Seafood rice) | typical Portuguese food

Polvo à Lagareiro (Octopus)

Polvo à Lagareiro is a traditional Portuguese food made with octopus and potatoes. Any octopus lover will be delighted with this dish. After being cooked for 1 hour, the octopus is roasted in the oven with punched potatoes and a huge amount of olive oil. The octopus is tender and silky, and the olive oil makes it so decadent that you will love it.

There are several other good dishes with octopus in Portugal, like a green sauce with octopus and octopus stew… Try to eat a few of them, you won’t regret it. However, our favorite is Polvo à Lagareiro.

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You may also find Bacalhau à Lagareiro, a very similar dish made with cod instead of Octopus. It’s also delicious if you are fond of salted cod.

Portuguese fish and seafood dishes
Polvo à Lagareiro with punched potatoes and olive oil

Best Portuguese Food – Meat main dishes

Cozido à Portuguesa (Portuguese stew)

Cozido à Portuguesa is the mother of all traditional Portuguese food! It is a slow-cooked dish made with various vegetables like carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage, turnip, and different pieces of meat, chicken, beef, pork, chouriço, and morcela. It is a heavy farmer’s dish, eaten in winter and typical of the North of Portugal.

Cozido à Portuguesa is traditionally a Sunday dish in Portugal, but it’s complicated to find in restaurants, and unfortunately, it’s even more difficult to find good ones.

What to eat in Portugal? cozido à Portuguesa
Cozido à Portuguesa – traditional Portuguese food

Feijoada à transmontana

Feijoada, meaning beans, is another traditional Portuguese dish from the north of Portugal, specifically from Trás-os-Montes. The dish is made mainly of red beans, different cuts of pork meat (ear, trotter, nose), and then several cured sausages like chouriço and salpicão.

Traditionally feijoada is eaten on the Sunday after Carnaval, which is called Domingo Gordo (Fat Sanday), where you can make a pig of yourself before fasting for Easter.

This is one of our favorite traditional Portuguese dishes on this list, but similar to Cozido, it’s not easy to find in restaurants and even harder in tourist areas. However, it’s worth searching for a good Feijoada restaurant just to try it out!

Portuguese food -  Feijoada à Transmontana
Feijoada à transmontana | Typical Portuguese dishes

Leitão à Bairrada

Leitão à Bairrada is a roasted piglet cooked in a wood-fired oven. It is succulent and crispy, typical of the Bairrada region in the center of Portugal. This dish should be eaten only in the Bairrada region (Mealhada, Anadia, Águeda) or in particular restaurants. It has to be prepared and cooked in a very particular way for it to be truly good.

Leitão is served with chips, salad, and a spicy sauce made with the fat of the piglet to dip your fries and season the Leitão. Most restaurants also serve sandwiches of Leitão, which are also very tasty.

Important note: Please don’t eat supermarket leitão, it’s horrible. If you are trying leitão, you must do it correctly in a specialized restaurant.

Typical dishes in Portugal
Food in Portugal

Carne de Porco à Alentejana

By now, you probably have noticed that the Portuguese have plenty of traditional foods with Pork, but this dish has to be on your shortlist and won’t disappoint you. This is a Portuguese surf and turf!

Carne de Porco à Alentejana is made with pork meat, clams, and fried potatoes. The dish is seasoned with garlic, paprika, red wine, bay leaf, and coriander. This is traditional Portuguese food at its best! Curiously, this dish is from the Algarve despite the name, which says it is from Alentejo. This happens because Alentejo is well known for its good-quality pork.

Carne de Porca Alentejana is one of the best foods to eat in Portugal
What to eat in Portugal? Carne de Porco à Alentejana

Frango Churrasco (Piri Piri Chicken)

Portuguese Frango de Churrasco, aka Piri Piri Chicken, is one of Portugal’s most famous foods. It can be found worldwide in restaurants like Nando’s or Oporto (Australia).

For those who haven’t tried it, Frango de Churrasco (or Piri-Piri Chicken) is succulent roasted chicken on a hot grill seasoned with a hot Piri-Piri sauce (a type of chili).

Frango de Churrasco is a meal that people eat quite frequently in Portugal. Many places sell it, although you won’t find Nando’s (the most famous chain) in Portugal.

This universally known Portuguese dish isn’t exactly from Portugal but from Moçambique, a colony of Portugal. It was created in Moçambique, where the Piri-Piri originated. The Portuguese loved it so much that they started opening Piri-Piri chicken restaurants everywhere, in Portugal and the rest of the world.

Portuguese Food – desserts

Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belém

Pastel de Nata is easily the most famous Portuguese dessert. It is a crunchy tart made with a delicious egg cream that is roasted in the oven and topped with cinnamon and/or icing sugar. This traditional Portuguese dessert was created in Lisbon by the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery.

Is there a difference between Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belém? Pastel de Nata is sold all over Portugal, but Pastel de Belém is only sold in Belém, Lisboa, right next to the Jerónimos Monastery. Pastel de Belém is the original Portuguese tart, and its recipe is a secret. They are only slightly different from most of the Pastel de Nata.

Portuguese typical desert
Expresso with a Pastel de Nata, a traditional Portuguese Breakfast

Ovos Moles

Ovos Moles means soft eggs, and it is a dessert made of egg yolks and sugar covered by wafers. This is a traditional dessert of Aveiro in the center of Portugal, and the European Union has designated it a product with Protected Geographical Indication. Ovos moles are sold in different shapes, like shells, fish, and Moliceiros (a typical boat of Aveiro). It may sound weird, but it is good, so good.

In Portugal, most desserts are made with Ovos Moles paste (yolks and sugar). In the past, convents and monasteries created and produced these sweets. Why? They used egg whites to iron their habits, so there was a surplus of egg yolks, which were later used for cooking desserts. There are hundreds of varieties of these sweets, but they are all designated as “Doçaria Conventual,” which literally means sweets from convents.

Portuguese desserts you must try
Ovos Moles from Aveiro in different shapes

Bolo Rei

Bolo Rei, or Kings Cake, is a traditional Portuguese cake eaten at Christmas and Epiphany. Nowadays, you can find Bolo Rei year-round. The cake is made of soft dough with nuts and dried fruit and covered with crystallized fruit. Tradition says that the one who finds the fava bean in the cake has to pay for the Kings Cake next year.

Honestly, it is not our favorite cake; the dough is too dry, and is the fruit crystallized? Nah. But it is very, very traditional!

Traditional Portuguese desserts
Bolo Rei, the Traditional cake of Christmas in Portugal

Pão de Ló de Ovar

Pão de Ló is a sponge cake made with a generous amount of egg yolks, which makes the cake very humid. There are different versions of this cake, but the best one is from Ovar, in the center of Portugal.

The cake is humid on the outside and very liquid on the inside. It looks elementary, but it’s delicious and downright decadent. Plus, if you like Portuguese egg cream, then it’s just irresistible. It also used to be cooked in convents and monasteries.

Best sweet food to eat in Portugal
The delicious and beautiful Pão de ló of Ovar

Final Thoughts on Portuguese Cuisine

Don’t be afraid to try different things and allow yourself an opportunity to discover all the delicious Portuguese dishes. Eating well in Portugal is easy and cheap. Like everywhere else in the world, always try to eat where the locals are eating. They know all the best places. Some of these (and other) traditional dishes are very regional-specific and best found in certain regions.

Anyhow, in Portugal, you will eat like a king. The food is luscious and tasty, and it won’t break your wallet.

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What to eat in Portugal

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