Portuguese food doesn’t have the same high profile as some other European cuisines. Apart from port and sardines, nothing else immediately sprang to mind as being Portuguese. We suspected it’d be much like the Spanish cuisine. To begin with, our experiences were a little hit and miss and many restaurants serve the hordes of tourists chicken and chips, burger and chips and even fish fingers and chips. But seek and you shall find a more authentic Portuguese culinary experience. Portuguese food & drink is nothing if not fresh, simple and totally delicious.
There are a huge amount of restaurants in Portugal. I don’t just mean in the tourist destinations either. In rural villages with populations of 100 or so, you’re likely to find at least 3 restaurants serving local dishes. We drove past some service areas situated on long commuter routes that had nothing other than 8 or 9 restaurants. I’ve no idea how they compete with each other, particularly as these routes seem relatively light on traffic.
Every restaurant will have a large TV, always on and the volume high. Fellow diners will be tucking into their meals whilst watching the latest news, soap opera, chat show or football match. It’s simply the done thing.
All restaurants serve one portion size: huge! Even if you’re feeling hungry, maybe glance around at the plates of other diners before deciding on 3 courses. And if you’ve ordered chips, do not be surprised if what you actually receive are crisps.
I love fish and there’s a wide choice available along the extensive coastline. That said, it can be a little expensive, particularly in the Algarve and its popular restaurants.
If you’re looking for the freshest catch, cooked simply with no fuss and not seeking a fine dining experience, head down to the local fishing harbour.
Here you will find the fisherman’s cafés. The fishermen haul their catch ashore and the café owners immediately place some of the catch on the BBQ before sending the rest to the market next door. The price is excellent, the fish as fresh as you’ll ever get and your fellow diners will be the chaps that caught your meal.
If you’d prefer a slightly more refined experience, head into the square with the al fresco restaurants. The chefs here will have acquired your fish from the market around the corner but they are pleasant enough, if not a little more expensive.
Pork is hugely popular in Portugal. You’ll not be hard pushed to find a spit roast BBQ slowly roasting a pig, or a large pot of hearty pork stew, particularly in the north of the country. Like fish, meat is almost always served with potatoes, rice and salad. Hearty indeed and wonderfully succulent.
Read more about the chestnut festival in Vinhais, northern Portugal
Of course, beef and chicken are also widely available and some of the steaks are just scrumptious. Served in a puddle of meaty gravy, it’s impossible not to order a basket of fresh crusty bread to mop up your plate.
Portugal is a huge orange growing nation and it’s possible to pick up 10kg of oranges in a local market for about 4 euros. I’m not sure what we’d do with quite so many, but it gives you an idea of the price. It is then a little hard to swallow when a café wants to charge you almost 3 euro for a glass of freshly squeezed juice. Even so, it is delicious.
Portugal is of course, famous for its production of Port. The entire Douro Valley is given over to its production and increasingly to some fine wines.
We visited a really interesting Port museum in Peso Da Regua. A few euros entry, and we learnt about the history of the Douro Valley and its port making traditions. It’s fascinating and with an excellent glass of port to finish off your visit, is well worth a couple of hours of your time.