One thing that truly amazes me about Portugal is its relatively reasonable standard of living in comparison to other European countries.  Although 23% tax had already been incorporated onto the price, almost everything was cheaper than my expectation.  On top of that, unlike most other countries, customers are not expected to leave a fat tip at restaurants in Portugal.  That being said, if service was good (which I dare say that 99% of my encounters were positive), we typically would give a 10% gratuity.  This really puts some of the restaurants in my hometown Toronto to shame, where on one occasion I had incorrectly calculated the bill so the server did not receive any tip, and he made some really nasty and unprofessional comments.

In addition to reasonable price tags, Portugal is also a gourmand’s heaven.  Seafood, charcuterie, olive oil, traditional Portuguese cuisine, wines, desserts…The wide array of delicious food is bound to satisfy even the most fastidious critic.

This blog post is an overview of some local traditional foods that can be found throughout Portugal.

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In Lisbon, a shot of espresso is called bica.  However since most Portuguese who live in big cities like Lisbon and Porto speak very fluent English, simply saying “café” or “coffee” will suffice.  As tourism gains popularity, it is somewhat amusing to see that the most typical response to “coffee” would be “do you want an espresso or American coffee”.

The following picture is not a bica (which resembles an espresso) but rather, a traditionally made “bag coffee” from Cafe Progresso.  Coffee beans are grinded, placed in a bag and boiled.  The resulting espresso-style coffee, albeit without crema, was well-balanced, smooth and aromatic.  While a typical espresso costs roughly €2 Euro in France or Italy, it is around €0.70 in Portugal, quite the bargain.

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Bacalao simply means cod.  These deep fried cod fish balls are quite labor-intensive to make at home, but thank goodness they are cheap to buy.  I think they tasted alright, but I did not like the fact that they were served at room temperature.  I’ve been to a couple of places and they both served the bacalao cold, so I think it must be common practice.  In my opinion, they would probably taste much better if they are fresh out of the deep-fryer.

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Sardines are famous in Portugal, be it freshly grilled ones, or even those from a tin can.  Sol e Pesca is place where customers can buy canned seafood to-go, but also eat them right inside the shop served with bread (at approximately 10 – 15% premium).  The variety includes sardines, sardine roes, cod fish, mussels, octopus, squid, eel, etc.  Great place to purchase souvenirs, and it was an overall interesting experience as well.

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Bifana means pork bun.  The bifana on the left side was from O Trevo in Lisbon while the one on the right was from Conga in Porto.  They were different in texture and sauce, but both cheap (under €2) and delicious.  O Trevo’s bifana came with no sauce but the pork was extremely tender.  Just add a bit of mustard and it was melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  Conga macerates the pork in a spicy oil.  I loved the kick, although the bun eventually became soggy as they soaked up the oil so it is best to finish eating quickly.

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This sandwich called Francesinha is very popular in Porto.  Stuffing includes ham, meat, sausage with melted cheese on top.  The sauce is tomato based, along with some beer.  It was said that this sandwich is a modified croque monsieur, brought over by a lady who moved to Porto from France in the 60s.  The portion was massive, only a half portion was shown in the picture below.  For my taste, it was a bit too heavy and salty.  Although it is available almost everywhere in Porto, the one I had was in a tiny place in Vila Nova de Gaia.

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Portuguese tart, Pastel de Nata is unarguably the most famous dessert in Portugal.  Creamy custard filling sprinkled with cinnamon and a crunchy shell pastry, they are at their best when served warm.  We visited the most famous pastry shop for nata, Pasteis de Belem (about 15 minutes driving distance from downtown Lisbon) and were thoroughly impressed.  There is usually a line-up around the shop, and we were told that the recipe to make nata in Pasteis de Belem is a secret that only the owner and a few in-house chefs are privy to.  It is consistently the gold medal winner across all nata blind tasting competition.  On the right side of the picture is the best nata place in Porto, Nata Lisboa. Although they were still tasty, but in my opinion Nata Lisboa does not stand a chance against Pasteis de Belem.

 

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