Food and drink is of utmost importance to the Portuguese culture, and meal times are a vital social activity in the country. Even though Portugal is much more fast-paced than it used to be, you will rarely find a Portuguese who races through a meal on the way to something else.

Portuguese food originated from the traditional hearty dishes and peasant food historically prepared in the country, mostly consisting of fresh fish, shellfish and pork. African, East Indian and Far Eastern influences also pervade traditional Portuguese recipes, with spices such as ginger, saffron, pepper and coriander featuring heavily. These spices were actually introduced to the Mediterranean by the Portuguese, along with coffee, rice, pineapple, and potatoes. Traditionally popular flavours include Piri Piri, cinnamon, saffron and vanilla, harling back to the Moorish and Arab influences from ancient Portugal and the traditional Portuguese recipes of old.

Portuguese food is fresh, locally sourced and sustainable – fashionable long before the various food movements in the UK and US! Food is also an important part of local culture, with food festivals held annually to celebrate different aspects of local cuisine: octopus, chestnuts, chorizo, and, perhaps the most famous food to come from Portugal, sardines.

Seafood is a key part of the Portuguese diet: with fish such as sardines, trout, salmon and sole popular and common across the country.

Soup is a traditional mealtime staple, such as caldo verde (made with potatoes, kale, and spicy sausage). Dried cod, or bacalhau, is also a popular dish, found throughout the country.

Seafood is a key part of the Portuguese diet: with fish such as sardines, trout, salmon and sole popular and common across the country. Fresh fish is usually grilled or fried, often served with sauce in a type of casserole. Grilled chicken with a variety of sauces is also incredibly popular in Portugal, and you will usually find this is a marinated in olive oil, garlic and chillies.

Vegetarian options are more difficult to find, as vegetables are traditionally served as a side order rather than a main dish. An important note – salad is usually already sprinkled with salt, so be aware if you are following a low salt diet.

If you are eating off the beaten track, in the countryside or less touristy areas, be prepared for the restaurants to not have a menu. In these cases, you are expected to ask the waiter for the dishes available that day. It’s also a good idea to get a sense for the price of these dishes at the outset, so you don’t get a shock at the end of the meal.

Another Portuguese tradition is to get a selection of small snacks brought to you before the dishes you have ordered, such as bread, olives or cheese.

Restaurants generally open for lunch from 1200 to 1500 and dinner from 1930 to 2300, or later, depending on the type of restaurant and its location. Bars tend to be open 2200-0400.

Another Portuguese tradition is to get a selection of small snacks brought to you before the dishes you have ordered, such as bread, olives or cheese. Don’t be worried about asking the price of these upfront – they are free!

Portuguese wine

You may not be aware that Portugal is the seventh biggest producer of wine globally, but you are likely to know about two of Portugal’s well known exports, Port and Madeira. Portugal is home to two wine regions designated UNESCO World Heritage sites – these are the Douro Valley, almost 200 years old, and Pico Island. Some of the other famous Portuguese wine regions are Alentejo and Dão.
Minho, in north west Portugal, is famous Vinho Verde, “green wine”. This wine is not really green – it can come in red or white varieties – made with grapes grown to a lower sugar content than usual wine grapes. It is also lower alcohol, thanks to the short fermentation process.

Douro is known for Port, so-called because it is produced in Douro, but exported from Porto.
Wine from Dão is made using grapes from the mountainous region. Red wines from the region are fruity and white wines dry.
Around 12% of Portuguese wines are produced in Alentejo, and you will find this is usually the popular choice. Red wines from the region are more acidic and the white wine is fruity.

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