7 Essential Portuguese Foods You Need to Try at Least Once

These traditional Portuguese dishes are beloved for a reason.

Pastel de nata

Fang Jie / Getty Images

You can learn everything you need to know about Portugal by taking a bite out of a few of its famous dishes.

The tiny nation, home to a population about the size of Los Angeles county, comes with a rich cultural history, a welcoming tone to visitors, and a truly unparalleled seafood scene. It's a destination where, as cliché as it sounds, food really is made with love. When I moved to Lisbon in 2021, I was pleased to discover the fish is always fresh, the bread is always still warm from the oven, and the wine is always delightfully chilled and perfectly paired with whatever you're eating. It's also a spot where the chef will happily explain each dish and watch with glee as you savor your first bite.

Not sure what to try? Here are seven essential dishes every visitor to Portugal must try before they leave. 

RELATED: Why Porto Is the Ideal Getaway for Any Wine Lover

Bacalhau a Bras

Bacalhau à brás is as typical a Portuguese dish as they come, and we should all count ourselves lucky that it's so readily available. The dish is made with shredded bacalhau (aka salted cod), chopped onions, and thinly chopped and fried potatoes, then mixed with a bit of scrambled egg to bind it together. It's usually topped with olives and parsley, but some restaurants in Portugal are getting inventive with their add-ons.

If you're visiting Portugal, try to find the dish in one of the taverns in the Barrio Alto neighborhood in Lisbon, where it's said to have originated. 

Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato

For a different seafood treat, order a plate of ameijoas a Bulhão Pato, a clam dish named after 19th-century poet Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato. It's a straightforward dish but absolutely divine in its simplicity. It's made with clams covered in a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, white wine, and cilantro. Pro tip: order extra bread for dipping as you go. 


Feeling really, really hungry? Make your way north to Porto for the sandwich to end all sandwiches, the francesinha. Though even the word "sandwich" doesn't do this justice. The epic mealtime experience is made with two slices of bread, ham, sausage, steak (or other roasted meat), and linguiça (cured pork sausage). Then, the whole thing is smothered in melted cheese and a slightly spicy tomato and beer sauce.

Francesinha, traditional portuguese sandwich with sauce

Getty Images

As though that weren't enough, the dish is usually served with a side of fries. If you don't eat meat, worry not, as some establishments are offering meatless options made with fake meat (mostly BeyondMeat) alternatives. 


If the francesinha is just too much for you, but you're still in the mood for a meaty sandwich, find yourself a bifanas. The simple sandwich usually consists of strips of pork that have been seasoned with garlic, white wine, and other spices. (The toppings can vary considerably depending on the region you're visiting, but you can always count on a good chunk of meat and light, crusty bread.) As the Portugalist notes, it's a true late-night favorite, which, sure, can be enjoyed any time, but there's something extra special about savoring it in the wee hours of the morning after a hearty night out.

Sardinhas assadas

Coming to Portugal and not having a sardine should be illegal. It's an uber-traditional dish that is often trotted out during the holidays and other celebrations. It's especially wonderful to try in Lisbon during the Feast of St. Anthony, the city's patron saint, which reaches its peak on June 12 to 13 each year. It's then that you can find local establishments grilling sardines at every public square garnished with just a bit of olive oil and salt, with hungry patrons lining up for as far as the eye can see. Try them plain and pair them with a side of potatoes for good measure. 

Sardinhas assadas

Getty Images

Cozido à Portuguesa

Get all the best flavors of Portugal in one warm pot with cozido à Portuguesa, a stew made with vegetables like cabbages, potatoes, carrots, and turnips, along with rice, a variety of meats (think chicken, pork, and beef), and smoked sausages. According to City Guide Lisbon, the stew originates from the Beira region of Portugal and now has small variations throughout the country, depending on where you're eating it. And City Guide Lisbon is absolutely correct in suggesting you pair it with a glass of red wine, which is the perfect drink to wash it all down. 

Pastel de nata

Portuguese people love a sweet treat just like the rest — but theirs usually comes with a pinch of cinnamon, too. We'd be remiss in making a list of Portuguese dishes without mentioning its most famous decadent treat, the pastel de nata. The pastel de nata is an adorable bite of eggy custard in a teeny, tiny tart. It's perfect all on its own, but most people here swear (as do I) that it's even better with just a light dusting of cinnamon on top. A prime place to try the treat is at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, which has made (and perfected) pastel de natas since 1837.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles