Tantalizing Tastes in the Beautiful Center of Portugal

 

I wrote this post after my media trip with Turismo de Portugal. My trip was hosted, but all suggestions and endorsements are solely personal. I only recommend what I personally like and experience. 

Portugal has been on my list to visit for years. I’ve heard from so many friends that I would just love Portugal and needed to get there. I almost couldn’t contain my excitement when I received an invitation to visit. To add to the sheer joy I was going to the center of Portugal a part of the country many folks I knew had not yet explored. I was ready for the adventure.

I’ll be doing multiple articles about this beautiful region of Portugal but I wanted to start with the tastiest part – the food! Come along as I share just some of the tastes you can expect in this truly amazing part of Portugal.

Where?

You may be familiar with Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve region in Portugal. If you venture just a short 90-minute drive you’ll find yourself in the beautiful center of Portugal. When we first arrived I was surprised by the abundance of trees bursting with citrus fruit.

 

The rich fertile soil in the region make is perfect for growing so many fruits and vegetables. As we drove through the area we saw many vineyards and farms.

 

Lemon Trees in the Courtyard of Convento of Cristo Tomar
Lemon Trees in the Courtyard of Convento of Cristo Tomar

 

Couple this agricultural area with the proximity to the coast and you have found a food lover’s dream come true. Fresh vegetables, fruits and seafood truly make a culinary trifecta. This first post will introduce you to some of the wonderful food you can expect to find in the center of Portugal.

Seafood Lovers Paradise

If you like any kind of seafood you will be in heaven while in Portugal. Whether you’re trying the iconic salted cod they are well known for or the delicious dried octopus you will not be disappointed. From fine dining at the historic castle, Pausado do Castelo in Óbidos to watching the fishermen’s wives hawk the day’s catch on the beaches you will have so many choices it will make your head spin.

Appetizer Clams at Pousado do Castelo Obidos Portugal
Appetizer Clams at Pousado do Castelo Obidos Portugal

 

We ate fresh caught clams at the Pausado do Castelo in Óbidos. They came from the Óbidos Lagoon outside of town that very same day. The restaurant prepared them “Bolhao Pato” style, in olive oil  with generous portions of fresh garlic, white wine, lemon, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  The clams were small tender and nearly melted in my mouth. Served as a hearty appetizer and even knowing I still had a full meal ahead I couldn’t help but eat every one. Bolhao Pato was a 19th-century Portuguese poet who didn’t invent this dish but apparently ate it often and helped spread the word to make it one of the favorite national dishes. The dish was named in his honor.

Nazare Fish Market Portugal
Nazare Fish Market Portugal

 

Fishing Villages

As we strolled along the beach in the fishing village of Nazare you could find the ladies cleaning the seafood and placing it all on large drying racks. The fish is ready for purchase later in the day for those who are anxious or the next day when it is completely dried. The locals season and reheat the fish on a grill and it is scrumptious. We had a similar preparation at the Mar Restaurant for lunch located right across the street from the beach. Let’s just say the fish just don’t get any fresher. Bacalhau or cod is served many different ways in Portugal. The mild fish is just perfect to use in so many dishes. In fact, it’s said that there are more than 1,000 recipes!

Grilled Fish at the table at Mar Nazare Portugal
Grilled Fish at the table at Mar Nazare Portugal.

 

The cod dish seen below was sauteed and topped with onion and peppers on a bed of greens at The Literary Man Hotel in Obidos, Portugal.

Cod at The Literary Man Obidos Portugal
Cod at The Literary Man Obidos Portugal

 

I’ve had tuna prepared many different ways around the world. But this tuna steak at the Pousado do Castelo in Óbidos was a game-changer. I would have sworn this was a pork cutlet. It was rich, meaty and totally satisfying.

Tuna Steak at Pousado do Castelo Obidos Portugal
Tuna Steak at Pousado do Castelo Obidos Portugal

 

One Fish, Two Fish

Sardines are another fish you’ll see often in Portugal. One of my favorite dishes had sardines loaded with sautéed onions, garlic and dried sardine shavings on Portuguese bread drizzled with olive oil. The bread in Portugal is also something that is different and delectable. This particular bread was a corn-based bread with just a hint of sweetness. It paired perfectly with the sardines and onions.

Sardines on Portuguese Bread with Onions
Sardines on Portuguese Bread with Onions

 

Cod fritters are another popular appetizer. They come lightly battered and fried stuffed with a spread of cod. The one below we had at Mar Restaurant in Nazare. Almost every restaurant serves them in a variety of shapes, sizes and with different types of fish spreads inside. This was light and crispy, not greasy at all. Delicious!

Cod starter at Mar
Cod starter at Mar

 

Shellfish is also abundant. We had crab with other starters before going to the USA vs. Portugal soccer game. Unlike fans in the United States, the Portuguese go out before the game to have snacks and drinks. They take “football” very seriously and concentrate on the game instead of the food at the game. This is a tradition that we might want to consider adopting. This crab appetizer at Cervejaria Lis Bar in Leiria was filled with a crab dip. Perfect for dipping that wonderful bread.

Crab Appetizer Portugal
Crab Appetizer Portugal

 

On The Lighter Side

Like many in Mediterranean cultures, the Portuguese like to snack and socialize. It’s a wonderful way to relax, not eat too much and have a leisurely conversation. Frankly, most of these dishes are pretty darn healthful. You can expect lots of vegetables, fish and foods prepared in olive oil. If you’re a meat eater don’t despair. Pork and sausages are found on most menus. Beef and poultry are not as plentiful but can be found.

Starters at the Literary Man in Obidos Portugal
Starters at the Literary Man in Obidos Portugal

 

Every meal typically starts with bread, olive oil, and olives. From there you can order other small plates prior to your meal. Eggs with meats like ham or chorizo, or tuna are very popular. On our visit to Casa de Ratas we tried many appetizers like the blood sausage, sautéed liver, sautéed mushrooms and eggs with chorizo.  This is a small but storied spot that’s great for having a few drinks and some delicious food. I’ll fill you in on more about how this place got its name in my next article. Stay tuned, it’s a doozy!

Appetizer of Eggs with chirizo, olives and beef liver at Casa de Ratas Tomar Portugal
An appetizer of Eggs with chorizo, olives and beef liver at Casa de Ratas.

 

The dish below, pica-pau, is known as a “picking” dish because it’s placed on the table and everyone just picks at it. The yummy combination of olives, vegetables and meat in a type of mild stew is great while sipping a beer or wine.

Picking Snack Portugal
Pica-pau snack at Cervejaria Lis Bar in Leiria, Portugal

 

Platters of meats and cheese like this one at the Luz Houses in Fátima are quite popular too. Portugal has some amazing cheeses in both hard and soft varieties. They are usually pretty mild in flavor and always delicious.

 

Meat and cheese in Portugal
Meat and cheese at Luz Houses in Portugal

 

More Bread

As I mentioned before Portuguese breads are dangerous. You will want to eat the entire basket – but don’t. Save room so you don’t miss any of the other incredible food to follow. Garlic bread, my nemesis, shows up a lot of tables in Portugal. This particular bread below at the Luz Houses in the city of Fátima got the best of me. Toasted fresh bread with slices of garlic and olive oil. It just kept calling my name. And, it still does.

Garlic Bread at the Luz Houses Portugal
Garlic Bread at the Luz Houses Portugal

 

Meaty Choices Too

Everybody knows that I’m a huge burger fan. I had the chance to try a “Barrosã” burger at Restaurante O Convite in the Dom Gonçalo Hotel & Spa in Fátima. Barrosã beef is a specific cattle breed from Portugal that has the protected geographical status of DOP (Denominação de Origem Protegida) from the European Commission. Let’s just say this was no ordinary burger.

 

Hamburger at Restarant O Convite Fatima Portugal
Hamburger “Barrosa” at Restaurant O Convite Fatima Portugal

 

Another meat specialty you will need to try is the black pork or “porco preto.”  You may also see “pata negra” on menus in Portugal. This fabulous delicacy is one of my favorites. I discovered it on the menu at Restaurant Nau dos Corvos and knew I had to try a bite. These free-roaming, well cared for pigs eat acorns just like their cousins in Spain. This make for some of the tastiest pork on the planet.

Black Pork at Nau dos Corvos Portugal
Black Pork at Nau dos Corvos Portugal

 

 

Sweets Galore

The Portuguese love their sweets. And that trills us! One ubiquitous specialty you can’t miss is the pastel de nata or egg tart. Every town has its own rendition, you’ll want to be sure to try them all and do your own comparison.

When in the center of Portugal visit Alcobaco home of the UNESCO World Heritage site the Monastery of Alcobaca. After taking the time to tour the Monastery walk across the street to Pastelaria Alcoa for the best pastel de nata in town. They have another location in Lisbon as well.

Pastel de nata egg tarts in Portugal
Pastel de nata egg tarts in Portugal

 

Cakes are often available on the breakfast spreads that you see at restaurants and hotels. Citrus flavors are typical. The sweet orange cake is moist and perfect along with your morning tea or coffee. The choices at the Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel in Alvados included sweet cakes and savory ones too. The variety and quality are wonderful.

 

Breakfast at Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel Alvados Portugal
Breakfast at Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel Alvados Portugal

 

This apple tart at Restaurant dos Corvos in Peniche was the perfect finish to our lunch, especially when paired with a magnificent seaside view.

Apple Tart at Nau do Corvos Portugal
Apple Tart at Nau do Corvos Portugal

 

More To Explore in Portugal

This is just the beginning of my explorations in the center of Portugal. In the upcoming weeks I’ll be providing more in-depth coverage of the hotels, restaurants, beaches and attractions I experienced while in Portugal.

There are A LOT more food, spirits and sights to show you.

Trying to capture everything in one post is simply impossible. I hope you’ll come back and savor the experience with me.

For more information on visiting Portugal check out centerofportugal.com.

Our guide and one man encyclopedia of facts on Portugal was José Santos of Madomis Tours. I highly recommend him and his company. They did a terrific job from start to finish.

Pin for your Center of Portugal Food Travel Planning

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Tantalizing Tastes in the Beautiful Center of Portugal

  1. I did some fantastic eating in Portugal. I have never been a big fan of sardines, but once I sampled them fresh in Portugal there was no going back. My favorite meal was grilled octopus with potatoes. Baked together with olive oil; yummmm. I love the egg tarts too. The bread was always hard to pass up, too!

  2. Thx for the tasty post! Buy far, the thing I would like the best would be the black pork. I absolutely love pork and some is just tastier than others. I think Portugal is edging closer to the top of my bucket list thanks to you!

  3. The food looks amazing, we explored a lot of Portugal but now I feel we missed a lot too. I look forward to returning and exploring more especially the food 🙂

  4. It’s been years since I was in Portugal, but we seem to have been in a lot of the same spots. You’re absolutely right that there is wonderful food everywhere. . now I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

  5. Dessert is my favorite meal of the day, so it’s what I look forward to most when I travel. The seafood options in Portugal all look so fresh and deliciously prepared. But the egg tarts and apple tarts are begging me to book a flight.

  6. Yum. I’d like to visit Portugal. After reading this, I wonder if I’d ever get out of the restaurants to see anything else!

  7. We visited Portugal last year and fell in love with it. Looking at all your photos is making me drool and making me want to start packing for another visit!

  8. One of my good friends travels to Portugal every year. We always love to hear his adventures. Looks like you enjoyed a lot of great food. YUM!! I hope we can visit one day.

  9. I would love to vist Portugal one day , and of course I would definitely try some of these dishes . Your images are beautiful!

  10. I cant wait to visit Portugal in February. Thanks for shaimg all those foods I should try…..although the first thing I want to try are the egg tarts!

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