So you´ve come to Portugal and you want to try the local cuisine… However the menus rarely give descriptions so it can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few of the popular Portuguese and Algarve dishes to put on your “to-eat” list.
Starter: One of my favourites foods is the Algarve carrots “Zanahorias Aliñadas” or ” Zanahorias al estilo del Algarve”. They are often served together as a small starter (“Couvert”) together with olives, before your meal. They are simply boiled carrots with garlic, a dash of vinegar and olive oil, oregano and a hint of cumin. Sounds simple but they are really delicious! Not all of the Portuguese restaurants serve them, but Casinha do Petisco (Lagos) usually has them. If you do make it into Casinha do Petisco (Yes its worth the hour wait at the door), then you must order their house prawns (Camarão à Casinha) as a starter. Its almost obligatory! Its a generous serve of prawns cooked in a rich creamy, tomato garlic sauce. Although they are delicious enough to eat the whole plate, its a big served so best shared between two as a starter.
Snack: For a simple but satisfying snack, the “Bifana” is a Portuguese staple. It is simply a juicy piece of sautéed pork, whacked in a dry bread roll (“papo seco”), and put on a plate. You then squeeze on some mustard, and it might just be the tastiest thing you eat all week… And the price is usually around 2€! If you are vegetarian, a snack will usually mean a toasted cheese sandwich, or the Portuguese “Sopa de legumes” (vegetable soup), is hearty with a potato base and blended vegetables. Always satisfying and usually 1–1.50 a serve.
Sweet snack: Of course, we couldn’t overlook the “Pastel de Nata” Custard tart. Whether you like custard or not (I don´t), you need to eat at least one of these. I don´t know anyone who would turn one down.In Lagos you can find the freshest ones in the Central bakery “Padaria Central” ( Rua Primeiro de Maio, 29). Or beside it at Snack bar Mimar where they also serve great coffee.
Meals: Cod fish “Bacalhau” is very popular in Portugal. It has a strong flavour and they usually mix it in dishes. For example “Bacalhau à Brás” (pictured above) is shredded salted cod fish with onions, potatoes, scrambled eggs and olives. “Bacalhau com natas” (Cod fish with cream) is also popular. The cod is baked in the oven with onions and potatoes cream.
If you are not a fan of the strong flavoured salt fish and prefer a clean grilled fish, Robalo and Dourado (sea bream) are commonly served and are the ones to go for. Portuguese food is usually clean and simple. Grilled fish or meat rarely has a sauce, and is served with boiled potatoes or mixed rice and a basic salad. Just drizzle with olive oil and its clean and satisfying.
“Cataplana” is a typical and special dish. It is a big seafood stew served in a metal cataplana cooking pot, and is made for a minimum of two people. The dish includes potatoes, firm white seasonal fish, seafood, peppers, tomatoes, onions and a hint of chilli added to the base sauce. You can eat good Cataplana at Ala do Castelo, Restaurant Reis.
Desert: Bola de Bolacha is a typical Portuguese cake, constructed of biscuits and layered with a heavy, creamy sweet filing. Other desert menu items include Flan (custard tart/cream caramel), chocolate mouse, jelly and fruit.
To finish: A Portuguese meal would´t be complete without a stiff drink to finish – namely Medronho, Ginjinha or Aguardente.
Medronho is made from a wild fruit which is typically found in the Algarve region. It makes a strong drop, at 48% alcohol and not a lot to disguise the strength!
Ginjinha is a much sweeter liquor, made from sour cherries (with quite a dose of sugar). The cherries remain in the bottom of the bottle and you can ask for your Ginjinha shot “com”(with) or “sem” (without) the cherries. Its often served in chocolate cups, to add to the indulgence. Try one at the lovely Dona Ginja bar in Lagos.
The Portuguese usually take their after dinner shot together with a bica coffee.