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Portuguese Food

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Having spent a couple of days here, the things coming to my mind about food are that there is plenty of it, it tends to be rich and greasy but not outstandingly nice. Also it's quite cheap when compared to other European countries and people are rather hospitable.

Plenty: When going to a restaurant you'll usually get little dishes with nice-to-very-nice bread not-so-nice (read: bitter-ish) olives and possibly little fish dishes, sausages or cheese. If I understood correctly, you have to pay for them only if you eat them so that's quite fair – although they're always too tempting to leave them alone. This is followed by the main dish, based on either fish or meat – I have the impression that vegetarians have a hard time here as there are hardly ever salads or veggie dishes offered, although the veg you see and try is very nice.

Still you'll order one of these dishes and usually end up with a huge slab of meat, plenty of fish or whatever else you ordered. Favourites are Lulas which is squid, Chanfana which is some kind of rich goat-based stew or Bacalhau which is salted dried cod (and is a bit too fishy for my taste, though some dishes using it as an ingredient are quite good).

Rich: Whatever you'll order, there never seems to be the danger of not feeling exceedingly stuffed afterwards. Many dishes are quite greasy by themselves and you'll get plenty of the meat along with potatoes or rice (and that may mean both) and a little lettuce or other veg.

Also, there are numerous tempting pastries, many of which are filled with cream or pudding and beg to be eaten between meals. My flatmate Philipp, an expert on Portugal, recommended that I should try Pastel de Nata, some kind of cream cake, when visiting Belém in Lisbon – which I'll be sure to do. Having said that the pastries are for the time between meals, I must mention that having to rich meals per days doesn't seem to be unusual. It's a bit more than I can cope with reasonably – and without feeling sick and immobile – though.

Not outstandingly nice: While I haven't had the impression that I couldn't eat a dish I was served here, i.e. nothing was outstandingly bad – the opposite is true as well. Things are fine, but that's about it. It's not my favourite style of food. In many restaurants the food doesn't seem to be prepared with a lot of care, though. I tend to think that I could've done that kind of cooking myself (quickly).

Cheap: Compared to Germany, eating out is cheap. The cheapest (and worst) meal we had was less than €20 and reasonably nice meals were €30 to €40. And that's for four people, including wine. Of course one should have in mind that Portugal in considered one of the EU's poorer countries and people don't earn as much as in Germany, so prices should be lower.

What's remarkably cheap is drinking the house wine with the meal. Frequently you'll get the bottle of very drinkable wine for €3 to €4 – in a restaurant. You'll easily pay that kind of money for a bottle similar wine in the supermarket in Germany or for a glass of most likely worse wine in a restaurant.

The other cheap thing is coffee. A small espresso-like coffee sells for about 60 Cents, and a large one with milk for around €1. Having a coffee elsewhere always seems to also be a financial consideration. Here it isn't. That's fun. I've got the impression that the little sachets of sugar you get with your coffee are larger here than they are in Germany. Will have to check that when I'm back.

Hospitable: As we only speak very few words of possibly wrongly pronounced Portuguese among the four of us and the knowledge of English, German or French of many waiters matches our knowledge of Portuguese, ordering food can be an adventure. However, people are generally very nice and try to explain to you what you're about to order or what they'd recommend, even if all you can say is Obrigado. Try that in France! (I still like France, though. Hm, strange me.)

To be continued...

March 10, 2003, 22:20

Tagged as country:pt, food, portugal, travel.

Comments

Comment by Ricardo: User icon

Amused to read your Portugal trip notes… :-)

September 21, 2004, 15:02

Comment by Ruben Madsen: User icon

What is Academia de Bachalau, Municipal do Estoril Portugal and where can I find information / kontact?

Yours Ruben Madsen http://www.surstromming.se/clownen/ruben-madsen.htm

October 4, 2004, 10:17

Comment by bill: User icon

Ricardo,

I can only assume that you went to all the tourist traps to eat! Unfortunatly, that’s the worst food that you can possibly find there. Having been to Portugal many times I would sincerly disagree with your interpretation of Portuguese cuisine. I find the food to be quite delicious. Your standards seem to be a little unrealistic. Did you have any of the simply grilled fish dishes? Oh, pardon me, I used the word simple. How about the Cataplana dishes as well? Did you try the tasty soups? Any of the rice dishes? Doesn’t sound like you really made an effort to find authentic Portuguese food. I will agree,that some of the dishes can be a little robust, greasy no, rich yes. Even in the more famous food nations ,such as France and Italy,you can have mediocre food. I remember, as a young man,the family went to France on vacation. With obvious high expectations, we were consistantly let down. It wasn’t until a French friend of my mother came around that we finally felt we tasted what the food was about. Anyway, maybe some day you can spend more than just a couple days in Portugal to really taste the great food there.

December 24, 2004, 3:28

Comment by Lara: User icon

All I can say is that i cannot agree more with bill, I’m portuguese and of all the countries i have visited, portuguese food is the BEST. take France for an example: tourists have to eat bread, bread and… more bread!!! Even the most highly recommended french food SUCKS! mainly because we can’t eat nothing out of the plate (the food is decorative not eatable and tastes awfully, and besides that CHEAP is not a word known in their vocabulary).
Portuguese food is not junk food like in America.

February 6, 2005, 1:12

Comment by charlie: User icon

my boyfriend is portugese, and i have been to portugal many times i am very fussy about food and was a little aprehansive about trying traditional dishes, i am so glad i was adventurous, my boyfriend lives in an area where tourists are unheard of so i had no option to wimp out nd eat “english” food i love portugese cusine, i am glad my boyfriends mum shows me how to make proper traditional dishes, i never went hungry and i lost weight and was healthier then i have ever been! chefs who spend their time makin the plate look like a piccasso neglect flavour, and i have never been proved wrong with that…….embrace portugal and love it!, we should all try to be a little more like the people, mealtime is family time, coffee a relaxing ritual and the wine is amoung the best ive tasted! if at first you dont succeed try try again!

January 11, 2006, 15:44

Comment by Tiago Sampaio: User icon

I am portuguese and from the article impression it seems you only had the regular steak with rice/potatoes thats like the common quick meals they serve everywhere, the codfish is used in a large amount of dishes and it can be really good, the really good restaurants are usually secluded in the interior, usually places you cant really reach easily or are not advertised and basically spread as a word of mouth advice beetween the bigger fans of a good meal. The south and coastal areas are usually the tourists spots but the bigger variety of traditional cuisine is in the north and interior, the south specially is very expensive but its easyer to find anyone who can speak english since most of that region survives on tourists they dont even have menus in portuguese often. To taste real good Portuguese food ask the truck or taxi drivers or other persons who make a living in the road, they will guide you to good spots to eat and usually cheap. The problem is prolly finding one of them who understands english, 90% of the younger population speaks english fluently but the olders not much.

April 9, 2006, 17:29

Comment by Ricardo: User icon

Two small errors. It is Bacalhau, not Bachalau; and it is Pastel de Nata, not Pastel del Nata. :-)

July 13, 2006, 8:51

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks for pointing those errors out Ricardo. I corrected them now.

July 13, 2006, 23:02

Comment by Ella: User icon

Dear Travellers, Dwellers, and Natives of Portugal:

I have a few comments. First, I am engaged to a Portuguese man and have had many meals prepared by himself, his mother, his godmother, his friend, restaurants in Portugal, American-Portuguese restaurants etc. Just as with all cuisines, some chefs are better than others, and each of us take our own preferences with us. I, for example, don’t care for really charred dried meat. Other people think medium rare is grotesque. I believe the ‘truck driver’ approach is good, but also to ask the staff of a hotel or shop where they would suggest you go for a ‘date night’ or a ‘meal with friends.’

Second, I’m an American, and as offended as a Portuguese might be with these generalities about their cuisine, I am fed up with people generalizing about American cuisine based on their often limited knowledge of it (i.e. McDonalds and Pizza Hut). While I was last in Portugal, a charming young man offended to make dinner for myself and my fiance ‘American style.’ I said, I suppose, Andre, you mean hamburgers…His mother said “that is precisely what he suggested we make.” At a later meal, hosted by my fiance and myself, we prepared several dishes, including an American salad called Cobb Salad. All the Portuguese (excluding my fiance who has lived in the US for 10 years) had never had it, heard of it, but loved it. And FYI- the only fried ingredient is small pieces of chopped bacon.

Finally, having travelled to various countries and sampled a really extensive range of foods, I can say that I do find Portuguese food to be all of the following: somewhat bland OR somewhat salty somewhat starchy lacking in vegetarian choices *as mentioned repeatative in terms of side dishes relatively low fat relatively healthy (unless you have a box of pasteries for lunch!)

But I can also say that if I lived there I would really miss the variety I get in Boston, where I can get: Indian Portuguese French Italian Spanish- Tapas Russian Polish Thai Chinese Japanese Korean Mexican Jamaican Irish Somalian Bangladeshi etc. etc. etc.

Not to mention good ol’ soul food (Southern US food)… and folks, in my opinion, ALL of these are American food (as validly as KFC, Dunkin Donuts, and Burger King are)

One thing is also true, I almost forgot, Starbucks is a RIPE OFF compared to coffee in Portugal

October 4, 2007, 8:59

Comment by Carlos: User icon

Ella do you have a blog? My wife married to a Portuguese man, which isn’t an easy thing to do. My wife is American and of all my cousins have married Portuguese. I guess the best part of our relationship is that each of us bring the good and bad of each of our cultures which include the food. While in Portugal we experienced the best and worst of food. It really does depend on where you go. Also people in Portugal tend to generalize and really aren’t afraid of offending people with sharing what they think or not caring about what you think.

October 8, 2007, 4:51

Comment by scotty: User icon

I live in Portugal, and i find the food there a real challenge. Prato do dia should in fact be called prato do ano as there is never any variation from week to week. Almost all estrangeiro’s from whichever country whinge about the food constantly. The vegetarians starve. Chafana is great but it gets a bit repetative. As for salt cod, every maritime nation in the world has had this, it’s just that the rest of us moved on with the invention of the refrigerator.

Portugal is a wonderful place, with really friendly people, fantastic scenery, good climate etc.

Just take plenty of sandwiches!

November 24, 2007, 14:35

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