Great Eats: 7 Best Dishes in Portugal & Where To Get Them
With half the country sporting a sea-coast and the other half prospering in small, family-owned farms, Portugal has a great leg up on foodie culture. From ridiculously fresh seafood to delicately crafted pastries, there’s hardly enough time to do anything but eat in Portugal, and if you’re smart, you’ll start with your knife and fork at these picks, for the best dishes in the country.
And just one word to the wise before you get started: I hope you ditched your global plan so you can upload pics to Instagram guilt-free because these dishes are going to be absolutely divine (just grab a SIM card in the airport on your way in, unlock your phone, and get to snapping, it’s easy)!
Remember what I said about the ocean? It’s close—everywhere—and as fresh as you can imagine. The fishermen head out before the sun and come back once it’s risen with whatever is on the table for dinner, and it’s exactly how seafood ought to be. If you don’t want the hassle of just grabbing a meal at any open restaurant—believe me, you can’t really go wrong with authentic Portuguese seafood dishes—then head to 100 Maneiras in Lisbon and take a taste from their tasting menu, especially the O Brejo Largo. Made of delicious oysters, crab, sea urchin foam, and coriander; it’s so good it will make you rethink everything you’ve ever eaten.
- Bread Stew
When the name of the restaurant is also the name of their most popular dish—Pap Acorda is bread stew—then you know they have a lot of faith in it. And for Pap Acorda, their trust is not misplaced because it’s the most popular, hip place to eat in Bairro Alto. A restaurant to come to for Portuguese comfort food and a lot of shellfish, there’s no way you’re getting the check without taste testing their signature dish: the bread stew which is full of seafood, garlic, and cilantro. Don’t trust me when I say it’s the best around? You don’t have to take my word for it, but if you don’t make a reservation, you’ll be waiting for a table for quite a long time.
While not specifically a dish of it’s own, you know that if you’re planning on getting the best dishes around, you’ve got to sniff out the natives, and for this, I mean it literally: the menu gets updated daily so the only thing you can trust to get you to Taberna Ideal is your nose. Famous for their fresh take on traditional Portuguese and classic Alentejan recipes, you can get the polenta, the wild meat and sausage, the chicken liver, and a couple of cocktails and you won’t leave hungry, or dissatisfied with this rustic hotspot. Bonus: the staff speak lots of languages so if you’re struggling with Portuguese, you’re in luck!
Let me introduce you to the new word for heaven: travesseiro. The word “travesseiro” literally translate into “pillow” and it’s a puff pastry filled with almond cream, and if you don’t think that’s a little slice of the afterlife, we definitely aren’t looking for the same things beyond the grave. I mean, seriously, can you get any better than that? At Cafe A Piriquita, it’s authentic sweets and bakery goodies are paired with a truly simple atmosphere, because they let the sweets speak for themselves. Settle down with a cup of coffee, a travesseiro or two, and maybe a quiejadas for the road—you won’t regret it.
- Suckling Pig
Think it’s not a big Portuguese tradition? Think again. At Eleven, Chef Joachim’s Koerper is master of the suckling pig, the lobster, and everything in between. My advice to you is only this: take an empty stomach and a cleared palate, because this is about to get delicious. Eleven is a two-star Michelin restaurant, and that’s just the beginning. With an incredible view, and the succulent suckling pig on the menu, it’s hard to go wrong and so easy to go right. Book a table, and just enjoy.
Sure, seafood is already on this list, but the prawns are so good, they get an extra mention. And Docaria Almeixar is the reason they get special treatment. Known for their incredible service, and family-owned, hardworking values, the genius behind Docaria’s prawn kebabs is in the simplicity; great flavor and excellent cooking skills don’t need all the extra riff raff you think they’re going to add. Just keep it simple, and come for the prawns on a stick. And while you’re here, grab a bite of the monkfish, and a tart too, because it’s not half bad (it’s delicious, really, you can trust me).
I take the word tapas here, just a little bit, in vain. I don’t mean it in the traditional sense of the word (as in small appetizer like dishes that you share at the table until you’re bursting at the seams) but something a little more liberal, like grazing. And I use this word for one great thing in particular: Mercado da Ribeira. Want oysters? They’ve got them. Great port? Check. Steak, pizza, maybe gelato? Absolutely to all! And that’s the great thing about this market; it’s a smorgasbord of chef delights where you can pick and choose your way to the perfect meal. You can eat there or take it home for a quiet night in—just make sure you get there.
I hope you’re hungry (and I mean really, really hungry) because with a list like this, delicious is on the menu for dinner tonight.
Do you have any favorites: roadside or five-star, that I missed? Share in the comments, I love taste testing new things!
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