Some of the finest lesser known Portuguese food
Mention Portuguese cuisine, and most people’s thought bubbles overflow with images of port wine and custard tarts. Perhaps they’re also familiar with bacalhau – the salted codfish the Portuguese famously have over a 1000 recipes for – or the tradition of grilling fresh sardines outside in the streets. But away from these few more famous dishes, the cuisine of Portugal remains largely unknown to those who haven’t directly experienced it.
If you’re travelling to Portugal, be sure to look out for these delicious lesser known Portuguese foods.
Papas de Sarrabulho
Originating from the Minho region in the north of Portugal, this dish is a reminder of the times when food was truly seasonal. A hearty winter stew-like-soup, it’s both heavy and warming, typically made from pig’s blood, chicken meat, pork, ham, salami, lemon, bread or cornflour, and cumin. Slaughter of the pig traditionally takes place in winter, hence the seasonal nature of the dish.
The alheira is a Portuguese sausage with a backstory of intrigue and deceit. It was actually invented by the Jews in the late 15th century after they were forced to either convert to Christianity or flee the country. Those who “converted” found a crafty way of avoiding the clutches of the Inquisition: by appearing to produce and consume pork sausages. Seasoned with plenty of garlic (“alho” hence the name “alheira”) to disguise the lack of pork flavour, the sausages were actually made from other meats like poultry and game mixed with bread for a soft, doughy texture. The popularity of the sausages quickly spread, and these days you can eat them in Portugal in numerous meaty variations – pork included.
Typical to the Algarve region in the south, cataplana dishes feature various combinations of meat, vegetables and – most importantly – seafood or shellfish. The “cataplana” is actually the name of the unique cookwear used to make the stew: a clamshell-shaped dish with a hinge on one side and a clamp on the other, usually made of copper. Some typical combinations you can find in restaurants include chorizo sausage and clam, prawn and clam, and mixed fish and potato.
Cozido à Portuguesa
Vegetarians, look away now. This dish is entirely for meat-lovers, a huge stew that typically contains chunks of beef, pork, chicken, chorizo and blood sausage (yes, you read that right – and, not or). Vegetables are also included, though meat clearly has the starring role. Expect the likes of cabbage, carrots, beans and potatoes to show up alongside your hearty bomb of meaty goodness. An interesting variation on cooking cozido (called Cozido das Furnas) can be found in the Azores Islands, where pots of the stew are actually buried in the ground and left to slowly cook using the heat from the volcanic earth.
Chanfana is a kind of stew or casserole made from old goat, popular mostly in central Portugal. Why old goat? The origin stories are a little hazy. Some say the dish was invented when the French invading forces of 1810 pillaged all the good stuff, leaving only the old goats behind because their meat was considered too tough to eat. Others recount the old goats being slaughtered for food once they were no longer useful for giving milk. Either way, the result was the same: the meat was tenderised and made palatable – delicious, even – by slow-cooking it in plenty of red wine, herbs and spices. Traditionally cooked in black earthenware pots inside a wood-fired oven, Chanfana is still well-loved today.
“Cheesecake” means different things to different cultures, as the Portuguese queijada would attest. These are usually small round pastry casings containing a custard-like center of eggs, milk, sugar and fresh cheese (or requeijão, a Portuguese loose white cheese of ricotta-like consistency). The most famous are queijadas de Sintra, but other regions also produce their own tasty variations, such as the Queijadas de Vila Franca from Sao Miguel Island in the Azores, or the buttery Queijadas de Évora.