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Portugal is a great country to visit for foodies, especially if you are into a variety of different seafood dishes. Here are 8 foods and drinks that you must try if you visit Portugal. (These were found in both the Lisbon area and the Algarve and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding them in either region.)
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1. Grilled Sea Bass
The first thing to know about ordering fish of just about any type in Portugal is that you will have to pick out the bones. On top of that, you will sometimes have the skin on the fish as well (this is uncommon in most American restaurants – we usually don’t do bones or skin). We ordered grilled sea bass twice (once in the Algarve and another time in Lisbon) and the latter time, the fish came out with the skin. We’d never tried skin on fish before but it wasn’t bad at all! In fact, the grilled sea bass boasted an amazing, juicy texture that was full of flavor — I definitely recommend you trying it if you’re making you’re way to Portugal.
2. Salted Cod (Bacalhau)
This is the national dish of Portugal and so it’s also a must-try while you are there. I had some very tasty cod at a cafe in Lisbon, near one of the famous overlooks. While I enjoyed the fish, they definitely don’t hold back on the salt at all. I know I ordered salted cod but I just didn’t expect it to so salty that I couldn’t even finish it. So if you’re a salt person, you can’t go wrong with the fish but if salty foods aren’t your thing, maybe stick to some other dishes. Just know that the Portuguese claim that there’s over 365 to 1,000 different ways to cook their cod so you might be getting something a little different each time you try it.
Most people think of Spain when they hear someone mutter something about tapas but don’t forget that Portugal has some amazing tapas that you can find as well! We had one of the best tapas plates in the Algarve while we were in Portugal. It had a little bit of everything: octopus, crab, shrimp, squid, etc. but it was one of the best meals we had during our European trips!
This dish at this specific place is sort of a rite of passage when you visit Portugal. The custard dishes are very good and if there’s one place to try them it’s here. Don’t be too intimidated if you show up on a weekend and there’s a huge crowd – it actually moves pretty quickly because this place is used to dealing with the crowds. I was slightly disappointed to hear that they only had one flavor variety for the dish but in a way it kind made it appeal a bit more to me in a classical sense (I think you can top them with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon). They stuff the pastries in a cylinder for you to take on the go so you can always order more than you think you can handle, though the eggy centers of these pastries are very rich!
5. Green Wine (Vinho Verde)
For me, green wine or Vinho Verde was more of something that we just had to try. Before you get too excited just know that “green wine” isn’t actually green. Green refers to the type of grapes used in the winemaking process so your “green wine” could actually be red or white. These grapes used are younger than the ones typically used producing wine and that’s what gives off the light and slightly sparkling taste. I’m not much of a fan of white wine and that’s the type of vinho verde we ordered so I can’t really rave too much about it. However, if you like drier wines with a bit of a tartness then you’ll probably fall in love with this stuff.
6. Chicken Piri Piri
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Portuguese cuisine is chicken Piri Piri. The chicken we had with Piri Piri sauce was great. Full of spice and flavor. Although the Piri Piri peppers used to marinate and bast the chicken originated in South Africa, you can find Piri Piri sauce bottles and menu options just about anywhere in Portugal. We wanted to really expand our horizons so we didn’t eat it more than once but I don’t think you can go wrong with this dish while in Portugal.
7. White Sangria
We tried some great white sangria (or sangria blanca) in the Algarve. Every place that we tried the more traditional red sangria was also pretty good as well. I also enjoyed seeing sangria on tap as I thought that was pretty cool but the best stuff was always the pitchers full of chopped berries and fruits that you knew were fresh and required a little bit of work to put together.
Fun Fact: As of January 2014, the European Union only allows sangria made in Portugal or Spain to bear the name “sangria.”
8. Steak and Eggs
I’m not sure exactly how traditional this meal is to the Portuguese but I saw it on menus at a few different restaurants. Since breakfast isn’t really a big deal in Portugal it can be a little difficult to find hearty breakfast options at restaurants. We came upon a place outside of Lisbon where we ordered steak and eggs for a nice brunch that filled us up. You might not be able to find it at many cafes around breakfast time but it’s a good option if you’re in the mood for something a bit more familiar while staying in Portugal.
Need more info on visiting Portugal?
Find out how to work the toll system from Lisbon to the Algarve or find some great places to eat in the Algarve!
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.