Petiscos, Portugal’s answer to tapas, might change the way you entertain—just follow the lead of Chicago’s exceptional Fat Rice restaurant.

By Kevin Pang
Updated June 13, 2017
© Eva Kolenko

If you can guess the meaning of the Portuguese word petiscos, with no help from the Internet and on your first try, congratulations—you are ready to throw a party with the delicious snacks that are championed by Chicago’s Fat Rice.

© Eva Kolenko

Co-owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo took a gamble that petiscos, Portugal’s working-class answer to tapas, might catch on in the Midwest. Success (critics’ accolades, long lines, award nominations) was not a given. Conlon and Lo’s petiscos fascination began, esoterically, with tiny Macau, a former Portuguese colony on the South China Sea. “We’re tracing the empire backward,” says Conlon, explaining Fat Rice’s focus on Portugal’s onetime conquests, including Goa, Malacca and Cape Verde.

© Eva Kolenko

With Fat Rice’s recent expansion—there’s now The Bakery at Fat Rice and The Ladies’ Room lounge, and, as of this month, a cookbook called The Adventures of Fat Rice—Conlon and Lo are doing even more to enlighten the uninitiated. At night, they transform the bakery into a petiscos counter. And sometimes, after hours, they host petiscos parties, setting out platters of food with piles of small plates and bowls, so guests can serve themselves tasting-size portions of different dishes: mini sandwiches called bifanas, filled with tender pork drizzled with red pepper broth; the Azorean soup caldo verde, combining kale, luscious bits of shredded beef and fat slices of sausage; and bowls of snails with toothpicks. All stay true to a humble, no-frills spirit.

© Eva Kolenko

With parties, of course, comes wine. Fat Rice is arguably the biggest stateside proponent of Portuguese bottlings, with wine director Craig Perman making annual trips to find and send back the best. He explains that Portugal’s topography is so diverse that a cool, damp coastal microclimate might be only an hour’s drive from rugged, heat-blasted slopes. These conditions produce wildly divergent wines, from juicy Douro reds to tart and bright Vinho Verde, all from a country the size of Indiana. To see how well these wines pair with the lusty flavors of petiscos, try them with the recipes that follow and have a Fat Rice adventure of your own.

7 Great Petiscos Recipes

Fried Pork Belly with Pickled Vegetables

Fresh Figs with Ibérico Ham and Goat Cheese

Spicy Sautéed Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro

Caldo Verde with Beef Shank and Sausage

Pork Sandwiches with Garlicky Red Pepper Jus

Littleneck Clams Steamed in Vinho Verde

Warm Mushroom and Charred Onion Salad

© Eva Kolenko

Kevin Pang is a Chicago-based writer and food editor of The Onion’s A.V. Club.