You know how it is when you return from a trip and you’ve had the most wonderful time. I keep asking people, “Have you visited Portugal, yet?” The answer I receive most often is “no.” I’m on a roll giving people delicious reasons to make their next vacation spot Portugal. You’d think I worked for the Portuguese Tourist Agency :) I found it EASY to appreciate Portuguese food and wine. And of course pastries, too! So let me see if my delicious reasons sway you.
1. Mom and Pop. If I only had two words to describe the food I enjoyed, I’d say SIMPLE and FRESH. Some people might call it comfort food. I was so surprised and delighted that I could get a delicious, home-cooked meal from any one of the “mom and pop” eateries throughout Lisbon. They were everywhere. Simple and inexpensive I believe as a result of their locally sourced seasonal meat, fish and produce.
2. Licor Beirão. Portugal is known for its wine, and I’d agree; trying some is a must. I flew to Portugal on TAP in business class and my experience with Portuguese liquor started on my flight. The flight attendant asked me if I wanted to try Licor Beirão, the “Liquor of Portugal”, from the central Beiras region. It is made from a secret 100-year old recipe that gives it a delicious sweet, herbal flavor. I always sample digestives when I travel, so why not? The crew gathered and we talked some about Licor Beirao, how to drink it, and that if they ever feel like they are coming down with a cold or flu, they take some Beirao. I decided to have mine over ice, and a little bit goes a long way. I rather enjoyed it!
The one drink I didn’t get to try, which I heard will “knock your socks off” was aguardente bagaceira, or Bagaço as it’s commonly called. It’s Portugal’s version of grappa, made from leftover pomace. Pomace is the pulpy residue leftover after crushing fruit. The best Bagaço is said to come from the pomace of Vinho Verde grapes in the northern Minho region and is distilled on an open flame from small wine producers. This method is illegal, so the only way to find it is if you’re in a small, local restaurant where the owner generously pours you a shot from his “unmarked” bottle. Unfortunately, this treat didn’t come my way, but I’ll figure out a way to sample some next time I’m in Portugal! I did find out that you can try Macieira Centenário, which is a legal and respected brand of Bagaco! The other liquor that was popular is ginja. It’s a traditional cherry liquor from the town of Obídos served in a small cup. I like fruity liquors so this one is on the list for next time, as well.
3. Bacalhau. You won’t be in Portugal very long before a local asks if you’ve tried Bacalhau. That’s salt cod. It’s true that salt cod is common in various Southern European countries. However, the Portuguese claim boasting rights because of their 1,001 different ways of preparing it! Fresh fish is so plentiful in Portugal, after all, half of the country is coastline. However, Bacalhau has played an integral part in Portuguese history and culture. It’s usually eaten just boiled, or fried with onions and garlic. I like cod anyway it’s cooked, so this dish worked for me. Some people say cod is a boring tasting fish. If that’s your opinion, try it in Portugal and see what you think.
4. Fish and shellfish. This is what you go to Portugal and imagine you’ll eat, but it was even better than I imagined. I read that many chefs and food writers only eat Portuguese fish. I’m no chef or food writer, but I could easily jump on that bandwagon. Did you know that Portugal is the highest consumer of fish in Europe, and 4th in worldwide consumption? It makes sense given their Atlantic coastline of approximately 943km (586mi) and an additional combined 917km (570mi) around the Azorean and Madeira islands. Portuguese fish dishes are prepared in so many different ways. Fish is boiled, baked, or stewed with rice or potatoes. I have to say though that I LOVED my fish grilled with some olive oil and sea salt! I also fell for grilled fish in butter and garlic sauce. YUM! The most popular Portuguese fish are dourada (dourade or gilthead bream), robalo (seabass) and some of the healthiest fish you can eat like carapaus (mackeral) and sardinhas (sardines). I ate fish everyday, fitting right in with the fish loving Portuguese.
5. Bread. There is no lack of bakeries and fresh bread in Portugal. Whether you like your bread chewy, crunchy, or dense, you’ll find it fresh. I was surprised to see that even in supermarkets, the bread was fresh because all day long the local bakeries supply the bread for the markets. Of course, in the restaurants, you’ll have a bread basket offered with your meals. You need something to dip into all the wonderful olive oil!
6. Cheese. Another surprise was that Portugal is considered by the locals to be cheese heaven. There were so many different cheeses available. The locals eat the handcrafted cheese every day. I actually got hooked on a cheese and have no idea what it was. It seemed to be a cross between mozzarella and ricotta. It came in the shape of a fat cigar. I know that sounds weird but it’s the image that comes to mind. I would slice it up and have some for breakfast every day. It also went well with fruit. Anyway, enjoy the cheese in Portugal, even if you don’t know what it’s called!
7. Coffee. I’m writing an extensive review of the coffee scene in Portugal, so I’ll mention only a few general things now. Portugal has a historic tradition of enjoying coffee. It’s been part of their culture for centuries. As a result of the Portuguese colonization in excellent coffee-growing regions like Brazil and Angola, Portugal was not only one of the first European countries to bring coffee to the continent, but was also partially responsible for the universal success of coffee. Today, with cafes on every single corner of the city, the Portuguese both start and end their days with great quality coffee. I did too!
8. Pastries. If this article is called “delicious reasons to visit Portugal,” I have to give a nod to what I’ve already written about pastries (Lisbon: The City of Pastry Part 1 and Part 2). Yes, they deserved their own voice in the deliciousness that is Portugal. The question remains, did the Portuguese have a sweet tooth before all the pastries came to be, or did the abundance of amazing pastries create the sweet tooth? I guess the answer is… who cares! Just eat the pastries and indulge that sweet tooth.
9. Wine. I know that for people who love wine and enjoy touring wineries, Portuguese wine is special. Though when I travel, I’m not usually visiting wineries or feel like I need to learn a lot before enjoying local wine. Enjoying the local Portuguese wine was easy! And it was very reasonably priced, too. Nowhere else in the world can true Port and Madeira wine be produced. I found out that there are over 300 native grape varieties to choose from, so even basic table wine is good. There are wine bars if you want more guidance and knowledge about Portuguese wines. I was too busy drinking coffee and eating pastries to drop into a wine bar, so that’s on the list for next time.
So those are my 9 delicious reasons to visit Portugal. Portugal has a lot to offer! I’ll be offering some specific restaurant recommendations, so stay tuned for that. Do you have any of your own delicious reasons to add? Any questions, let me know in the comments below. Obrigada!