Portugal is one of Europe’s hottest travel destinations and for good reason. This small country, nestled on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, offers travelers a bevy of rich culture, interesting history, and stunning scenery. But one specific aspect of this beautiful country that especially deserves further exploration is the wide breadth of traditional Portuguese food and drink. From the freshest seafood to an epic and decadent sandwich to a famously secretive tart to the king of dessert wines, Portugal truly has it all.
Read on for my favorites that absolutely must be sampled on any trip to the region. After all, you can’t really know a country until you’ve explored its gastronomic delights.
Must Try Traditional Portuguese Food and Drink
Pasteis de Nata
Sometimes called pastel de nata, this Portugese egg tart has been a long time favorite indulgence. According to Lisbon lore, only three people on earth know the original recipe from the monks who created it centuries ago.
The best spot to try this bite is at the Pasteis de Belem near the Belem Tower. They’ve been open since 1837! Try to go early or even before they open as the line is known to get quite long. But fear not, if travelers aren’t inclined to wait, nearly every bakery in Lisbon will offer their version of this egg tart.
My favorite discovery from my Portugal trip was vinho verde or “green wine” from the northern reaches of the country. Think of it as a crisp and herby sip that’s reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Since it’s so light and acidic, this wine is perfect in warm weather and goes well with a Portuguese meat and cheese board as well as any number of seafood dishes.
If you can, sample some single origin vinho verde as well as an effervescent or semi-sparkling variety. All will be pleasing to your palate.
This dish is simply freshly grilled sardines, which shouldn’t be surprising given Portugal’s location on the sea. Generally, sardinhas assadas can be eaten as a finger food from street stalls or with utensils at fine dining establishments.
While very well-known in Lisbon, sardines are a favorite all over Portugal. For an especially traditional take, find a vendor that cooks them the old fashioned way with heads on and bones intact. The end result will be crispy, flavorful skin with flaky, mild innards.
No trip to Portugal, and especially Porto, would be complete without trying its most famous export, Port. This fortified wine is only made in the Duoro Valley in northern Portugal. It can be enjoyed when touring vineyards near Porto, at many restaurants all over the country, or in the wine cellars in Nova de Gaia.
Be sure to enjoy Croft’s offerings as they are the oldest producer in Portugal. They also have a rosé port wine alongside the usual tawny and ruby varieties.
Next up is the ultimate Portuguese sandwich, the unbelievable Francesinha. My Lisbon born-and-bred friend, Marta, lovingly calls is “a heart attack on a plate”. This sando reminds me of the French croque madame, as it is piled high with cured meat, melty cheese, and a savory sauce.
It is known as the dish of Porto, but can be found all over the country. I especially recommend it for after a night out and about on the town or for a hearty brunch.
Ginja or Ginjinha
This Portuguese sour cherry liquor is an acquired taste. But, it should definitely be on a traveler’s list of things to try. It’s especially common to find in Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, Alfama. Say cheers like a local using “saúde” or “ching ching”.
Codfish, or bacalhau, is one of the most popular dishes in all of Portugal. And for a country famous for its fresh seafood, cod remains the undisputed king of fishes. It’s even eaten on special occasions like Christmas. Bacalhau has tons of different versions and iterations and can be found on nearly every restaurant menu. Try a few preparations to get a good grasp on the national dish of Portugal.
There are so many flavors and textures to explore via Portuguese cuisine, but this list provides a great starting point for any traveler. Cheers to more culinary adventures around the globe!
A Minnesota native, Katy is a freelance travel, food, and lifestyle writer currently based in Omaha, Nebraska. Besides contributing to the LifeDoneWell brand, Katy is a contributing writer and content creator for a variety of other print and digital outlets including Travel Awaits, The Reader, google’s Touring Bird, Matador Network, and Modern Mississauga. She was also a popular Bridal Blogger for Wedding Essentials Magazine, an Omaha World Herald publication.