Savour clams and black pork, local game and homemade puddings – and that's not including the fresh seafood and fish! What we now value as modern, healthy cuisine has been born of poverty. 'Fast food' outlets don't exist – just authentic, traditional dishes served in family run restaurants. Food and wine is locally produced and it's possible to order a set lunch menu including wine, coffee and desert for as little as seven euros! Round off your meal with a Portuguese spirit such as Medronho or BrandyMel. 

The food

Choose between fresh Atlantic seafood, creamy local cheeses, black pork from the famous black free range pigs (porco preto), traditionally cured sausage (choriço and linguiça) and cured ham (presunto), game, free range chicken, stews, soups and a lot more. 

The seafood is superb with bass, sea bream, octopus, clams, enormous prawns and sardines on the menu of many seaside restaurants. The Portuguese are very fond of goose barnacles (perçebes) which, along with edible snails, are a seasonal delicacy. Try the clams cooked in olive oil and coriander leaves – heaven! However, salt cod is the staple fish, there are 365 ways of cooking it – one for every day of the year! It is traditional to eat it on 24 December, the day that the Portuguese celebrate Christmas.  

Every meal is traditionally accompanied by bread. It is served with and is often part of the main dish (like in Migas and Açorda). Also the use of local high-quality olive oil (azeite), olives, garlic, honey, herbs (such as coriander, oregano and bay leaves) and some good regional wines are part of everyday life. 

An evening meal with coffee, wine and dessert is usually under 15 euros, with lunchtime set menus as little as 7 euros. Of course there are also some fancy restaurants, but even these, compared to Northern Europe, are reasonably priced.

Tip: Usually bread, cheese and olives are placed on your table when ordering a meal. You will be charged a small amount for it. So, if you do not fancy this, say so straightaway. 

Traditional recipes

(click on the photos to download the recipes)

The drink

Alentejan, and more recently, Algarve vineyards have been producing world class wines in the last 20 to 30 years – take a look around a vineyard or two to find some very good robust red wines and some easy drinking, fragrant whites. You can buy a winebox of amazing quality for next to no money.

You may be offered the local schnappes called Medronho distilled from the fruit of the arbutus tree which grows wild in this area. Or try some port, made in the north and with strong links to the English who have traded with Portugal for centuries. Madeira, from the Portuguese island of that name, is similar in taste to sherry. A sweet local spirit with a kick is Brandy Mel, brandy sweetened with honey.

The most common beer is called Sagres and if it is ordered from the pump ask for a caneca – a half litre – or a meia caneca for a quarter litre.

Coffee is invariably good and always from the expresso machine.  

Bica – an expresso  
Bica dupla – double expresso
Bica cheia – expresso filled to top with hot water
Galão – long milky coffee in a glass
Meia cheia – half milk and half coffee
Cafe duplo com um pouco de leite – for those who like a strong white coffee

Photos: Migas © ricardo   Seafood rice © Cayetano Delgado  Pastel de Nata © Jessica Spengler  Caldo Verde © Therese C