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4 May 2018

ten traditional tastes from around portugal

before last week, my experience with portuguese food was limited to nandos, pasteis de nata, and a quick trip to the algarve many, many years ago. but, after an incredible invitation to the portuguese embassy in london, and dinner prepared and served by renowned portuguese chef leandro carreira of londrino last month, i was eager to learn more. so, while in portugal last week i took absolutely every opportunity to sample as much as i could, so i could get a deeper understanding of what culinary treats the mediterranean country had to offer. that's just how i am, you know? alsways doing my civic duty and eating all the food in the name of investigative journalism.. fair warning here, too: i ate meat. there will be meat beyond this point. i repeat: i ate meat.

meat stew

the portuguese cozido stew is the oldest dish in the book. originally it combined vegetables, meat and various sausages in a clay pot that was left to cook in an open fire for a full morning, so those working on the land in farms and vineyards would have a hot cooked lunch waiting for them as they weren't able to go home for food. a bit like the original tupperware, i suppose? nowadays though, the meat is less miscellaneous, and more the succulent cuts taken from some of the home grown babes farmed across the country, and usually a combination of meats and sausages too. also: the broth was great for dipping the rustic bread into - you're welcome.

try it yourself at herdade do freixo meio!

pumpkin jam

this one was a shock to me, but a very welcomed one. ok, so you know pumpkins? and you have heard of jam? well, combine the two, and you have a little something the portuguese like to call "pumpkin jam". it's sweet and salty and the perfect addition to any slightly blue cheese or crusty bread before your main course arrives. also just like, to dip things in. like carrots, or bread sticks, or.. a spoon. it's really good, ok?

try some yourself at herminia restaurante fundao!

acorn coffee

portugal is home to an array of amazing trees and wildflowers, including a couple of nut trees. i don't think that "nut tree" is the technical term, but like - a tree that grows nuts, like your oaks and your.. almond trees. i digress! because there are so many nuts growing freely, there's lots of cool things the portuguese do with them - my favourite though, is the acorn coffee. it's sweet and robust and easy to drink, and - on further investigation, totally void of caffeine or any other coffee-like qualities. other than the fact the acorn nuts are roasted in the same way coffee beans are, the only real similarity is the way it's prepared and drank. short and hot, and without sugar, it's a great post-lunch drink if you're not keen on caffiene in the afternoon. i need to hunt some down in the uk!

try it yourself at herdade do freixo meio!

smoked meat

yes, meat. there are two types of smoked sausage that are as traditional in portugal as the pastel de nada, and they are linguiça and chouriço. they are a dry sausage similar to spain's chorizo, but these are way more garlicky. and, crispy. traditionally these sausages are brought to the table on little alcohol-fueled terracotta bowls shaped like pigs, and alcohol is poured over the sausage on the terracotta plate at the table; the waiter flames it, then you wait till the flames die before digging in. they are charcoalley and crispy after being flamed, and they are so good! sorry, but they are. especially with pumpkin jam.

try some yourself, and stay at the gorgeous boutique noble house evora!

rice pudding

not quite the rice pudding you remember from childhood, but something much sweeter, much creamier, and ultimately much better than that. the arroz doce was a shock to me, and i wasn't expecting to like it as much as i did. but, with a sprinkling of cinnamon on the top and the rich flavour of the wonderful ingredient that is condensed milk throughout, it quickly became my favourite of all the desserts on offer during our stay. there are loads of recipes for it online, so i'll definitely be making myself at home!

try some yourself at herminia restaurante fundao!

artisanal cheese

i am a long-time fan of cheese, which is why the whole vegan thing was particularly hard for me; i didn't/don't miss eating meat at all, but cheese? cheese was a hard one to let go of, and it's still somewhat of a treat for me when i travel, so - given the opportunity, i ate the shit out of the local cheeses on offer in portugal. the local cheeses from the douro and fundao region were sooo good, and varied from sheep, goat and sheep, and both combined with a range of things like lavender, thyme, paprika and pesto. honestly though, i like my cheeses fairly normal tasting. like, cheese tasting. because then i can put pumpkin jam on them. *wink*

try some yourself from queijo tradicional soalheira!

local wine

not really sure what i can tell you about wine that you don't already know, but it's important to note this: i am predominantly a white wine drinker. i love a prosecco and a sauvingnon blanc, and really, most white wine will do, but red? not a chance. i find it bitter and ick and it makes my face do that scrunchy thing, but - but! while in portugal i was faced with a literal tonne of red wines, because red table wines are as famous from the douro and alentejo regions as port is from the porto one. and know what? i actually liked quite a few of them. i wish i could tell you more than the name of the vineyard that they came from, but i can't. the reason i can't, is because we were wine tasting and there were no spit buckets, so.. i had to drink it all. i drank it aaaaall so much that i did not take notes.

check out the full range (or stay in a barrel! really!) at quinta da pacheca!


also know as the convent egg sweet, this dessert contains no less than 11 eggs and two cups of sugar. ya-huh, you read that right. we had the pleasure of watching head chef antonio nobre make this traditional dish, and it was quite interesting, actually, to watch something with only two ingredients come together with so much effort. i should clarify, two full eggs and nine egg yolks - which is what gives the dessert its colour, but there's this whole "make a sort of toffee" thing with the sugar, and a "cutting the egg so it doesn't turn into an omelette" thing, and because it's no bake, it's sort of.. very eggy. i'm not a big fan of egg, but this dish is said to be a portuguese staple, so it had to be done.

check out antonio's menu at m'ar de ar muralhas hotel yourself!

olive oil

we tried so many different olive oils, and learned new ways to use it too. namely, don't ever use extra virgin for cooking, because that's a gross waste of delicious olive nectar. also, you're supposed to warm it before you use it - only with your hands though, and it's best used on salads or for bread dipping. also, don't ever buy olive oil that isn't in a black bottle. not a clear bottle. not a white bottle. only a black bottle - that's how you know it's the good stuff. the best quality oils are found in the douro valley because of the region's climate with it's deep valleys and tall peaks and beautiful, beautiful sun.

find out more about douro valley olive oil here.


i don't know if this is obvious, or if everyone knew this already, but.. port is called port because it comes from porto. i had it in my mind that "port" was where it was originally drunk - like, in port towns, not that it was named after a region in portugal, but... i guess the hint is in the name. we tried a few different varieties while in the region, and they ranged from super sweet, to slightly smokey and slightly whisky-esque. i suppose with any wine, sampling a few before you find the right one is the best advice anyone could give, right?

try my favourite at the coa museum restaurant in the douro valley!


*i was a very honoured guest of the portuguese restaurants network and taste portugal for these tastings, but all words are my own!