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Best of Portuguese cuisine: tourist edition

Learn about the best dishes of Portuguese cuisine!

By Anna Purpurpurpur

Portuguese cuisine is delicious, versatile and has dishes for every taste. I’ll focus on the ones I loved the most, but want to note from the beginning that there are lots of dishes for the meat-eaters too, such as Bifanas, or a pork sandwich, and Alheira de Mirandela, traditional sausage with bread and meat.

Look for those dishes on the streets and in your menus when in Portugal!

Pastel de nata 

If you have never heard of Portuguese cuisine, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about those custard tarts invented by monks from Jerónimos Monastery because Pastel de nata is the symbol of Portuguese cuisine all over the globe! I really loved them both in London and Macau which was a Portuguese colony and still has lots of delicious cafes selling Pastel de nata.

The historical place to go is The Pastéis de Belém at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém dating back to 1837 when the pastries became sold there. You might be frightened by the crowds but they serve the freshly made tarts to go really quickly providing you with the powdered sugar and cinnamon to go too. 
Nevertheless, you can try very similar tarts (the recipe of The Pasteis de Belém is still kept a secret) almost everywhere else in Lisbon so don’t worry if you don’t have time to go to the Belem area. 

Sardines: Portuguese cuisine’s classic

Sardines is another symbol of Lisbon, and it’s so famous that you can even notice the sardines soft toys in tourist shops. There are lots of shops that sell canned sardines all year round for instance, The Fantastic World Of Portuguese Sardines.. Alternatively, you can go for the sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines), a nice summer treat to celebrate the festivities of San Antonio starting in June. The legend says that during his travels around Italy he addressed the fish, because people ignored him, and the fish listened. This event is known as the Miracle of the Fish and is frequently depicted in paintings. 

Bacalhau à Brás

Bacalhau à Brás is a very traditional dish of the Portuguese cuisine made out of salted cod called bacalhau, potatoes, and eggs which is believed to originate from the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon. I loved it so much that I’ve eaten it every single day of my trip to Lisbon, and I’m not kidding! 

Traditional pastries of Sintra

If you happen to visit Sintra, don’t miss a chance to try their absolute star desserts too. Those are travesseiros, famous cushions with sweet almond feeling invented in Piriquita pastry shop in the 1940s, and queijadas traditionally made with cheese (we tried those at Queijadas Da Sapa) but I loved the orange flavoured one the best.

Queijo Serra da Estrela

Portugal has an endless list of various cheeses that unfortunately are not very well known. The most famous cheese variety to try in Lisbon is Queijo Serra da Estrela made out of sheep milk and produced following a very strict set of rules in the mountains called Serra da Estrela. We tried it at the Lisboa a Noite restaurant.

Pão de Deus

Pão de deus, or the bread of god, is a delicious fluffy crispy brioche bun topped with coconut, a real star of Portuguese cuisine. Locals frequently have it for breakfast. I highly recommend trying it in the historical Café a Brasileira!


Ginjinha is a famous portuguese sour cherry liqueur served in shots with a few cherries inside. The legend says that it was created by a Galician monk in the 19th century. The best places to try it in Lisbon are the oldest bar serving those cherry liqueur Ginjinha do Rossio opened and the Ginja Sem Rival opened in 1890 near the Rossio Square!

Pastel de Bacalhau 

Another way to enjoy codfish in Lisbon is to try the cod croquettes, or Pastel de Bacalhau. There are the where you can learn how the croquettes are made and take a few to go (on their own or with some wine), and you can choose between a plain croquette or the one stuffed with cheese at Casa Portuguesa.

Polvo à Lagareiro 

Polvo à Lagareiro, or roasted octopus with olive oil and potatoes, is a delicious dish originating in Beiras, which you can try in many places in Lisbon. Lagareiro refers to the method of cooking in oil and garlic, and you can see it applied to other ingredients as well. We tried it in the Bairro do Avillez restaurant stylised as a tavern and run by Michelin-starred chef José Avillez.

Monk and nuns’ sweet treats

As you might’ve already noticed, some of the pastries contain egg yolks. Those were invented by monks and nuns who were allowed to consume eggs in their strict religious food regime. And so they did since the 15th-16th century, and this type of pastry became a very traditional thing for Portugal, and just to name a few more you just have to try:

  • Pastel de Tentúgal Invented by Carmelite nuns of Tentúgal in the 16th century
  • Pastel de feijão with white beans
  • Brisas do Liz invented in the beginning of the 20th century

Porto sandwiches

Francesinha is probably the number one local dish to try: it’s a sandwich filled with ham, fresh sausage, roast meat, covered in cheese and served in warm tomato and beer sauce. Another one is cachorrinho, it’s like a baked hot dog covered in melted cheese again and served with beer sauce too. And finally another unusual Porto sandwich to try is prego.


When visiting Porto, you have to try Tripas too: this is a traditional Porto dish that consists of beef tripe (edible lining from stomach), white beans, carrots and rice. I know it’s not for everyone but it was pretty tasty!

Port wine

 And of course – Port wine is a must to try when you’re in Portugal and especially in Porto, I’m sure you don’t have to be reminded of that.

Hope you loved my blog!

2 thoughts on “Best of Portuguese cuisine: tourist edition”

  1. Of you want a really good pastel de natas, I suggest you visit Pastelaria Manaus. They are very fresh and crispy as it should be. You have a choice of ordering it with cinnamon or without cinnamon. That with a “Bica”(expresso) Will make the experience even better.

    1. Anna Purpurpurpur

      Thank you very much for your recommendation! Will pop in once I’m back to Lisbon!

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