Portugal is sometimes perceived by foreigners as part of the exotic Western Europe. This warm Mediterranean country is famous for its hospitality, hidden charms and delicious seafood. Portuguese cuisine can be classified as Mediterranean – fresh and full-flavoured, with a lot of olive oil. As a maritime country, Portugal is well-known for its seafood specialities. Apart from seafood, Portuguese chefs prepare delicious meat, fruit and vegetables in exotic ways, using a generous amount of various herbs and garlic. Probably reminiscent of the colonial past, the variety of spices is remarkable. In the south, you will notice authentic Arabic flavours in the local cuisine.
Food in Portugal is one of the most important aspects of life. It is both traditional and innovative, with bold experiments combining ingredients and seasoning. Fish and seafood – this is undoubtedly the core of traditional Portuguese cuisine. Locals claim that the Bacalhau, for instance, which is dried and salted codfish, can be eaten 365 days a year. Another traditional meal is the famous Arroz de Marisco – or 'rice with seafood'. It exists in many varieties depending on the restaurant, region and chef’s personal taste. Rice is also among the preferred ingredients and is largely used not only in savoury dishes, but also in desserts. Bife de Atum – or 'tuna steak', is another favourite dish and is highly recommended.
Portuguese food is full of rich flavours, interestingly combined to stimulate your appetite. Colonial times left an imprint by adding an exotic touch to the meals with the spices that were quite often brought from afar. The Portuguese love using spices and they know how to use them! So do not be surprised by the effect of cheerfulness or sweetness coming right after a delightful meal in a cosy restaurant. Among the preferred spices are cinnamon, saffron and vanilla. Some herbs, such as parsley and coriander, are also largely used.
The Portuguese always offer the right drink for the right meal, and wine is practically worshipped. This is justified because Portugal produces red and white wines of the best quality and is also famous for its rose wines. Another must-try is the so-called Vinho Verde, or 'Green Wine'. It can be red, rose or white – do not be mistaken by the name! What makes this wine different is that it must be consumed before it matures. Vinho Verde is typical for the northwest of the country and is usually slightly bubbly. When in Portugal one should not miss the world-famous Port Wine produced in the region of Douro. Tourists are also advised to see the traditional process of wine transportation – along the Douro River in special colourful boats.
The Portuguese are open-hearted and always smiling. After offering you a fine meal, they will also serve a splendid dessert. Traditional Portuguese desserts are mainly based on eggs. Some desserts, however, are quite different and unusual. Conservative Europeans might love the carrot cake, but they may have difficulty with another speciality – melon with ham and mustard!
Portugal loves street life. Therefore, you will find a large selection of good restaurants in almost every city and town, especially in Lisbon, Porto or Coimbra. They have a cheerful ambiance and a warm atmosphere. Big cities also offer exquisite foreign and local cuisine. What one must not forget is that legal drinking age in Portugal is 18. Tipping ranges generally between 10 and 15 percent.
In most restaurants tourists will find set menus or ementa turistic (‘tourist menus’) in Portuguese. Most often they will include traditional meals. Don't worry about the prices – they are always affordable in Portugal.