Portugal is almost as well-known for its fine food and excellent wine as it is for its mild climate and sunny beaches. The dining in Portugal blends Mediterranean traditions with those of a far-flung colonial empire and the western Atlantic countries, and cheap, good eats are an important part of why Portugal remains one of the best of Europe’s bargains. Even so, you won’t necessarily find good or reasonably priced food everywhere you go in Portugal, but following these tips will help.
1. Eat Lunches in Pastelarias
Pastelarias are a Portuguese institution, filling the same role as the diner in America, and these eateries usually have a menu of between four and eight specials of the day. Even the half portions for these lunch menus are huge, so they can easily fill the role of the day’s main meal, and a lunch platter with couvert (bread, butter, seasoned olives) and wine almost always costs less than 10 euros. This is especially the case in Lisbon, where the long lunch at a pastelaria’s sidewalk seating is part of the working culture. Since the menu consists entirely of national dishes, visitors can easily sample a wide range of Portuguese cuisine while keeping costs down at the same time.
2. Eating Light? Try the Fish
Eating light in Portugal is tricky. The soups tend to be heavy, and green salads are not a Portuguese forte. Thankfully, the Portuguese are very fond of grilled fish, even those who live far from the coast. The simplest way to avoid filling up and feeling sloughy is to order a grilled fish plate of such fare as dourada (bream), robalo (snook), spada (swordfish), or salmon, or to go with grilled seafood such as polvo (octopus).
3. Don’t Forget the Curry
The Portuguese founded their Indian colony of Goa in 1510, and over the intervening centuries the Portuguese have had at least as much influence on Indian cuisine as Indian cooking has had on the Portuguese. Most menus include a very Portuguese spin on fish and/or shrimp curry, which is more aromatic than spicy and quite unlike any other rendition of those dishes. The Goan tie also makes Portugal a great place to stop at an Indian restaurant, especially when you consider that recipes like vindaloo were created for Portuguese palates.
4. Wine for the Right Price
Portugal has an underrated wine industry, especially for red wine, with many excellent labels virtually unknown outside the country’s borders. As a result, few visitors have any real notion of what to choose off the wine menu. For a mellow red, try Quinta da Cabriz or Chamine. If you like something more full-bodied and with plenty of tannins, choose Esteva, Marques da Borba, or EA. A label in the middle that offers enormous value is Terras do Po.
Portugal isn’t merely average when it comes to white wine, but it does have great vinho verde (green wine). For something cold and refreshing, try out this local treat from the northern regions of Portugal.