Here's what Portuguese cuisine is not: Instagrammable, fancy, molecular, trendy, plated with care, artistic, modern.
Here's what Portuguese cuisine is: simple, fresh, well-salted, traditional, tasty, grows on you, and most importantly of all, prepared with pride. Portugal feeds you foods that have endured thousands of years. Forget all the drama about label reading - go into a Portugese restaurant and the food on your plate came straight from the earth or the seas.
With each trip to Portugal, my partner and I return to his old haunts and try out new places (that are new to us, but really, have been around for ages). I am incredibly lucky to have tasted Portugal through a local, for the most famous food, bacalhau or salted cod fish, is an acquired taste. If that was the first and only thing I'd tried I would cringe, but if you know what to eat, the food creeps up on you. Today I find myself craving Portugese cuisine and a good hearty dish of bacalhau a bras.
Where and what to eat:
Many outlets but head to the original one. Don't expect fancy service - there's usually a futebol game on the TVs there.
Salada de Polvo - chopped octopus in olive oil and herbs, soak up the olive oil that's infused with the taste of fresh herbs with bread after
Croquette -croquettes can be found at every corner and they're all tasty, but here they serve the best croquettes ever, warm and lightly crispy and soft inside
Ameijoas - light and salty, again use your bread to mop up the juices
Recheio da Sapateira -crab meat minced and served in a special sauce served in a half shell - don't expect the usual texture of crab meat but god this is tasty
Bacalhau a bras -very comfy, homey food. Salted cod mixed with potatoes and egg, the salted cod flavor is more muted and I find this a better dish for first-time bacalhau-eaters
Bacalhau - grilled salted cod! I recommend you share this with a friend if it's the first time you're eating this. Eat with boiled batatas- yum!
Any of their bife or frango steaks in their signature sauce and wobbly egg
Portugalia makes amazing fragrant rice - not the prettiest but so comforting especially for asians like me!
"Mr Fish" this restaurant is just minutes away from the Oriente station and SANA hotel.
Old-man waiters, under-stated decor, catch of the day laid out across ice - so fresh
Salada de Polvo - if you haven't tried it at Portugalia or loved it and want more
Ameijoas - the clams here are cooked in a really buttery sauce. They are tasty but heavier, depending on their preferences
Green beans - they don't look the tastiest, limp beans boiled until soft, but they're so comforting and go perfectly with salted mains!
Boiled batatas - potatoes boiled and served with olive oil - somehow the way the Portuguese boil their batatas retain a sweetness
Tiger prawns - grilled with salt only - my personal fave and what I order almost every time there
Squids - grilled with salt only
Fish - ask for recommendations if you're a fish lover! - grilled with salt
(Essentially, any of their fresh catches grilled with salt over charcoal)
About an hour's drive from Lisbon city, in Cascais
This place is slightly fancier - but still expect old-man waiters
I would order all the same things as at Senhor Peixe and then take a walk around the coast. This place has fantastic views.
I don't think I've ever had a bad meal in Portugal. Once I had salmon that was slightly off and the owner was SO apologetic he did not want to charge for the entire meal! Salmon is not commonly eaten there, and so common in all other parts of the world, so I would go for something else. For breakfast, you need to try a 'papo seco' (pronounced pop-sic) which is a special airy bread with ham and cheese. Pasteis de nata needs no introduction and it is worth it making a day trip to Belem for the most famous one of all. Portuguese food is so simple and so fresh. I am crazy about the sardine paste restaurants serve as starters (slather them onto your bread!). Arroz de polvo is a hearty rice and octopus stew. Perfect for winter time. Caldo Verde - veggie soup that is easy on the tummy.
Portugese cuisine is not exotic or pretty. If you're looking to brag about the food you've eaten Portugal isn't the place. But if you're looking to experience the heart of Portugal, the humble, dependable, fresh, enduring fare is the perfect reflection of the country and its people.