Portugal is brimming with history, tradition and an abundance of natural resources, mainly of the edible variety! I’ve lost count of the number of nut, cork and olive trees; the vast amount of grapevines and vegetable gardens capable of growing in every nook and cranny; clear rivers and streams teeming with life and herds of goats and sheep, cattle and Iberian black pigs that graze along expansive sunny green pastures. It’s a life that makes you green with envy yourself.
Take a walk through the countryside in the springtime and flowers are so lush and wild that they’re bursting through drainpipes and sprouting on rooftops. It’s these images that come to mind when I go shopping for Portuguese products. It’s these images that create an unconscious smile to form across my face – delicious foods made from these natural resources, combined with skilled Portuguese craftsmen using traditional methods passed down for generations. Consequently, it’s no wonder that Portugal produces such quality food products, ones you can savor in Portuguese restaurants as well as back home with your friends and family.
I’ve been doing this myself for the past five years: sending back tasty tidbits for everyone at Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries or just because I feel like it. Though, as much as we want to practically wrap up the entire country and bring it back with us, there are just some things that cause more headache than enjoyment when fighting our way through customs.
Have you ever tried to bring home a 15 kilo block of cheese, or an entire Iberian cured ham? Depending where you’re located in the world, this may prove extremely challenging. And let’s not forget wine. How many times have you had a bottle break in route? Hopefully the successes have far outweighed the failures, but no matter how you cut it:
Glass + Liquid + Baggage Handlers = Russian Roulette
Now, that hasn’t stopped me from taking wine and olive oil back home, but when I have so many people to shop for, having smaller, lighter and more durable products can make life considerably easier.
With your summer vacation right around the corner, let’s take a minute to explore travel – friendly Portuguese products! Many of these products are easy to find and several are produced organically, just look for the SATIVA label on the product.
Top 5 Travel-Friendly Gourmet Portuguese Products
1. Conservas de Peixe e Paté – Canned Fish and Patés
This is not just a boring ol’ can of tuna. The Portuguese have a wealth of high quality fresh fish and seafood that have been preserved for centuries. In fact, preserving is considered an “art” in Iberia as a whole. Canned Portuguese fish is preserved in the finest Portuguese olive oil, spicy piri-piri or escabeche sauce and can often be found with the additional garlic and sweet potato added in for additional flavor. Azorean atum is absolutely spectacular, especially when canned by Santa Catarina, having the most sustainable sourced line – caught tuna. Also keep a look-out for canned sardines, bacalhau (saltcod/codfish), carapaus (horse mackerel), cavala (Atlantic chub mackerel), polvo (octopus), lulas (squid) and mexilhões (mussels). If you want to sample some of the fish yourself before buying, try one of the new “canned food restaurants” in downtown Lisbon, such as Sol e Pesca and Can the Can. You can also find some excellent Portuguese canned patés, both in fish and meat; the most popular being paté de sardinha and paté de atum. Look for the cans wrapped in boxes, which are generally of higher quality. Meat patés are sold in sealed jars, usually made from porco (pork), pato (duck) or veado (venison) and some have Port wine or Moscatel raisins mixed in, delicious.
You can find just about any type of fruit preserves here in Portugal. Many doces de fruta (fruit jams) also come in geleia (jelly) if you prefer a smoother version but I’m prone to suggest the chunky jams and preserves which really highlight the local flavor. Look for products with at least 65% fruit to sugar ratio and no preservatives (ie. nothing with acido asorbico in the ingredients). The Portuguese also have excellent local mel - honey, my favorite being mel de rosmaninho - honey originating from rosemary flowers.
Popular Traditional Jam Varieties and Preserves:
- Doce de Abóbora (Pumpkin Jam) Paired with requeijão (similiar to ricotta cheese), you can find this duo on many restaurant menus which gives you a chance to taste the jam beforehand. You can also often find this sold with nuts, such as nozes (walnuts), amendõas (almonds) and pinhões (pine nuts).
- Doce de Tomate (Tomato Jam) – Sweet with just a hint of that ripe tomato flavor, this preserve is wonderful especially if you’re a fan of strawberry or raspberry jam. Great on bread, toast, crackers or even mixed in or spread on top of yellow cakes or sponge cakes.
- Doce de Figo (Fig Jam) – Made from green Moscatel grapes and Black Mission figs, which are abundant in the southern regions, especially Algarve during August and September. Fig jam is great with hard cheese (my suggestion), on toast or mixed into breads and cakes.
- Marmelada (Quince Paste or marmelo in Portuguese) – The perfect accompaniment to cheese, you can find this in any supermarket or grocery; but for the highest quality, and best variety, check out the gourmet shops and open markets. The most famous variety of marmelada is from nearby Odivelas, a suburb of Lisbon. Marmelada is sold both in sealed plastic containers as well as in beautiful ceramic bowls but the container form is safe for travel.
- Ameixas de Elvas (Preserved Plums) – Sourced from the city of Elvas in upper Alentejo close to the border with Spain, these sweet plums/prunes are so special they’re actually a certified DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) product. The Rainha Claudia Verde (Queen Claudia Green) variety of plums originated in France, named after the 14th century French Queen Claudia and were cultivated in area of Elvas with the first recipe for preserving them coming from the Dominican Nuns of the Convento do Nossa Senhora da Consolação in Elvas not long after the queen’s death. However it was only in 1834 that the preserved plums became industry produced by the Fábrica José da Conceição Guerra & Irmão Elvas. The preserved plums are sold both in a simple dried, prune form or confitada - “confit” in a sweet syrup and jarred, with the latter being the one to look for taking home. These syrupy plums are also the topping on the traditional Alentejano dessert sericaia, a type of light and eggy sponge cake served in almost every Alentejano restaurant, a good way to taste before you buy.
For the more adventurous, try these jams (not as easy to find):
Doce de Cenoura- Carrot Jam
Doce de Castanha- Chestnut Jam
3. Sal Marinho – Sea Salt From ideal climate conditions, and traditional production techniques, sea salt is still gathered from three ancient salt – production regions of Portugal: the central coast around the city of Aveiro, the Lisbon coast and the southern coast of Algarve – known for the country’s best quality of salt. Every Portuguese cook, whether professional or amateur, always uses sea salt in their cooking, as it’s readily available and incredibly inexpensive; not to mention flavorful and a good source of natural minerals. A one – kilo (2.2lb) bag of traditional Algarvian sea salt can cost as little as €0.99 at a supermarket, but for the full variety of salts, it’s better to go to a gourmet store. The highest quality (and most expensive) sea salt is flor de sal, (” flower of salt”) which like fleur de sel in France, is the very top crust of the salt layer that garners the highest mineral content. This is also the strongest salt so use sparingly. It’s great for sprinkling on top of prepared dishes for that final touch. However, for everyday cooking, especially seasoning meat and fish, go for the regular sal marinho, which comes both natural and iodized. And if you’re looking for even more flavor, many shops sell jars of seasoned flor do sal with herbs like oregano and rosemary, great for steak and other meats.
4. Chá dos Açores e Café Torrado- Azorean Tea and Portuguese Coffee Did you know that the island of São Miguel in the Portuguese Azores is the oldest tea producer in Europe? Tea plants were introduced to Portugal in the 19th century by the island’s agricultural society to help curb the orange production crisis. To our great fortune, the plants proved to thrive in the island’s temperate climate and volcanic soil. With the help of two Chinese technicians who came from Macao to teach the ancient techniques of tea cultivation and production, this knowledge was passed down from generation to generation, and helped found the first commercial tea factory and 1883, Gorreana, followed much later by Porto Formoso. Porto Formoso was in production from the 1920′s to the 1980′s before it was recuperated and reopened in 1998. Ironically, these 2 companies are the only Azorean tea brands still in production today, producing the aromatic Orange Pekoe and Pekoe black teas, as well as Broken Leaf, a less aromatic but smoother black tea. Gorreana also produces a smooth and delicate green tea, both in packet and loose leaf (Hysson) form.
Some of Lisbon’s most famous brands of coffee can be easily purchased in bags of whole beans or grounds for home consumption at any supermarket or gourmet shop. My favorite brand for making on my own is Sical 5 Estrelas , but Nicola and Delta Cafés also have great home products, including pods and Nespresso-style capsules. You can also find some old-fashioned style “morning coffee” and the Café a Brasileira brand at the gourmet shops. For more information on the history and styles of Portuguese coffee check out Portugal’s Coffee: A Sumptuous and Delectible Treat.
5. Ervas e Infusões - Herbs and Herbal Infusions Portugal sells a wide variety of dried herbs and herbal infusions used for both seasoning food and brewed for drinking. For herbs, the best and easiest to find is oregãos - oregano, which is staple in Portuguese cuisine, used mainly in salads and seasoning. I’ve also found that the Portuguese dried oregano seems to be a different variety than the Italian one I was used to back home, having a smoother, more delicate flavor. Though not a spice, I would highly suggest the spicy piri-piri pepper, which originated from the African colonies and is mainly used on their favorite “fast-food” frango no churrasco. You can buy it ground, preserved whole in jars or as a little bottle of hot sauce. For herbal infusions, many Portuguese grannies will recommend these for their natural healing powers. If you want to go biológico- organic, look for herbs and infusions under the brands Jardim da Boa Palavra and Mão de Semear, which are both SATIVA certified organic. Aside from the usual chamomila (chamomile) and hortelã pimenta (peppermint), some of the other common ones you can find are cidreira (lemon balm), lúcia lima (lemon verbena), tília (Tilia/Linden) and equinácea (Echinacea), all good for preventing and fighting colds and infections. There are also some other interesting ones you may never have heard of like:
- Cavalinha (Equisetum/horsetail)- recommended for relieving stomach problems, laryngitis and fading scars.
- Carqueja (Baccharis trimera)- also recommended for relief of stomach and intestinal problems, kidney and liver inflammation, diabetes, cholesterol
*Please note to be prudent when buying herbal infusions that you know exactly what they are, some are known to interact with certain medications*
Non-Gourmet Honorable Mentions : While these may not be edible, it would be a shame not to mention these traditional Portuguese products. All can travel but some are easier to bring back than others.
- Sabonetes (Handcrafted Bath Soap) - the Portuguese’s fabulous luxury soaps. All of the known soap brands are from the Porto area in the north and most have been in business since the late 1800′s. Most importantly though, the soaps smell really nice! Brands to look for are Ach. Brito (Portugal’s oldest brand), Claus Porto (Ach. Brito’s luxury brand), Confiança and Castelbel/Portus Cale.
- Azulejos (Traditional Portuguese Tiles) - It’s impossible to miss all of the beautifully tiled walls, buildings and churches in Lisbon or anywhere in Portugal, these typical blue and white azulejos are an integral part of Portuguese history, art and architecture. If you’re mesmerized by these traditional hand-painted tiles and want more, check out Lisbon Lux’s Lisbon Tile Art Guide for where to see and buy in the city. Most places have shipping.
- Bordados de Viana do Castelo (Embroidered Linens from Viana do Castelo) - Portuguese women have been embroidering for generations but the most famous hand-stitched cotton and linen fabrics come from the northern city of Viana do Castelo, bordering Galicia. Just like the azulejo tiles, most of these tablecloths, napkins and handkerchiefs are embroidered in traditional blue and white thread but you can also find blue and red, plain white or red or yellow dominated mixes. There are tons of souvenir shops in the downtown that sell these linens but many are factory-made knock-offs, look for the real stuff at A Vida Portuguesa . You can learn more about the embroidery on Portugal Web.
- Cerâmica Portuguesa e Barro Alentejano (Portuguese Ceramics and Alentejano Pottery) - The Portuguese make some beautiful tableware, Vista Alegre Atlantis (Atlantis is their crystal collection) is the most famous brand with plenty of shops all over Lisbon (and one on Madison Ave. in NYC). Another known historical brand is Bordallo Pinheiro, from 19th century artist Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro who worked in the Portuguese ceramic capital Caldas da Rainha. The region of Alentejo makes traditional earthenware kitchen crockery decorated with hand -painted white patterns, you can usually find these dishes in large supermarkets or traditional drogarias - small shops that sell just about any kind of household item. Try to find an Assador Alentejano for roasting Portuguese sausage, the best are ones actually shaped like a little piggy!
Recommended Gourmet Stores in Lisbon:
- A Vida Portuguesa Rua Anchieta 11 1200-023 Chiado (Downtown- Baixa Chiado metro stop) – This is usually most convenient for visitors as it’s located right in the heart of touristville, down from Bairro Alto. Along with the above mentioned gourmet products, this shop also sells Viana de Castelo embroidered linen.
- Pimenta Rosa Rua Francisco Metrass 2-A (Campo de Ourique) – My favorite, and not just because it’s in my neighborhood but because they have the best variety of Portuguese products, including a great selection of wines, liquors and olive oils. They also have a great soap selection. I normally do my shopping here. Take the #25 trolley towards Prazeres and hop off on the second to last stop and you’ll see it on the corner. And if you want to taste before you buy, check out their new restaurant which is just on the next block over on Rua Tomás da Anunciação 9B, 1350-321.
- Perola do Chaimite Avenida Duque D’Avila – 38 e 38A 1050-083 (Saldanha metro stop) – Just around the corner from the metro entrance on the promenade is this tiny little classic coffee and tea shop has been around since 1940. The places sells a wide variety of coffee, tea, doces, chocolate, Portuguese liquors and other sweets.
- Mercearia Criativa Avenida Guerra Junqueiro 4A, 1000-167 (Alameda metro stop) – Though far out from the downtown, this shop is just up the street from the green line Alameda metro stop, which you can hop from downtown Cais do Sodré or Rossio and go straight there. This shop sells gourmet products (many organic), including wine, olive oil, cheese and organic produce.
*Tip: If you want to bring some tasty Portuguese olive oil back home without the risk of breakage, look for the TGTL (Think Global Taste Local) brand which sells beautifully decorated aluminum tins of extra virgin olive oil from around the country.
Recommended Wine Shops in Lisbon: For those of you who looking for a larger selection of Portuguese wines to choose from!
- Garrafeira Nacional Rua de Santa Justa 18/24 1100-485 (Rossio or Baixa Chiado metro stops)
- Wine O’Clock Rua Joshua Benoliel, 2B 1250-133 Amoreiras (Rato metro stop)
- Garrafeira do Campo de Ourique Rua Tomás da Anunciação 29 1350 Santa Condestável (Campo de Ourique)
Suggestions For Bringing Portuguese Products Home Safely:
- Be cautious if you bring back any fresh products (especially meat and cheese). If it has to be refrigerated then you may have difficulties to get it past customs.
- Make sure all products are either in a hermetically sealed jar or sealed package and labeled.
- Put all liquids and “liquid-like” items (that includes jams and honey) in your check-in bag.
If you have any helpful tips, never hesitate to share!!