30 Strange Foods Portugal Loves to Eat!
We all love food, some of us considerably more than others, but the Portuguese take it to an entirely new level. To be an outstanding foodie in Portugal requires unbelievable stamina to both talk and eat for hours upon end, a capacity to consume anything even remotely edible and the wisdom to never EVER say no to another helping. Why? Because Portuguese food is not only unbelievably good, but it’s their way of saying, “Let me show you how much I care.” To refuse that last dish, no matter how insanely weird it might be to you, is sacrilegious. Hence the question is, how bold of a foodie are you?!
Regardless of your adventurous foodie adventure, we’d love an excuse to custom-design the perfect food tour for you in Portugal. Whether it’s a week-long tour of the oddest Portuguese foods, or just simple traditional dishes, we’re up for the challenge! Contact us for more information!
30 Weird Portuguese Foods
Arroz de Cabidela
I’ve often wondered if my fellow Portuguese are decedents of vampires. Why? With all of the blood dishes in the country’s culinary repertoire, it’s kinda plausible – except for the fact that vampires don’t actually exist…oh details, details… Blood rice, “Arroz de Cabidela,” is a favorite. Note: anything “cabidela” in Portugal is a blood dish of some sort. Typically made with chicken, this Portuguese rice is also infused with the bird’s blood once it’s been doused with vinegar to tame its metallic notes. This gamey dish isn’t for everyone, but those who love it can’t get enough of it. You know…the vampires.
Baba de Camelo
Doesn’t camel drool just sound delightful for dessert? Well, “Baba de Camelo” (Camel Drool) is quite popular in Portugal – but don’t let the name fool you, it’s in fact a runny caramel dessert (if yours isn’t runny, it’s not right) infused with condensed milk and almonds. Though it’s quite tasty, you can’t help but associate it with drool as it oozes from your spoon. It won’t mess with your stomach, but it will with your mind! Are those really crushed almond bits or chunky camel cough up? Maybe, you should have the chocolate mousse instead…
Move over bacon, because the fatty “Bifana” is in town! The “Bifana” is a paper-thin pork cutlet that has been marinated in garlic, wine and vinegar for hours. The best are fried in lard and simmered in their own marinade, then shoved inside a Portuguese roll. The entire thing is so juicy it’ll seep into the bread like a sponge. But when you bite into it, the flavorful juices ooz out of the bread and into your mouth – NICE! If you’re lucky, some restaurants will even dip the open-face rolls in the lardy wine sauce before shoving the meat inside the bread. It’s messy but absolutely worth it! Just beware that it’s highly addictive.
Cabeça de Peixe
Portugal is renowned for its delectable fish, ubiquitously served whole intact or butterflied. Though that’s already pretty hardcore for some, the Portuguese step it up a notch by putting a gigantic fish head on the menu. Yes, just a big-ass boiled fish head! It might be mind-boggling, but this is the tastiest part of the fish. In the nooks and crannies of the head and collar is succulent meat. Sure, you’ll have to deal with the googly fish eyes staring back as you gnaw its face, but these are the prices foodies pay to reach a flavorgasm.
Ready to swap your bowl of peanuts at the bar for a plate of snails swimming in an herby broth? Don’t let the thought of sliminess deter you, the Portuguese are pros at cleaning out these ’lil suckers. Cleaning the snot equals submerging the snails in water several times until they stop blowing snot bubbles. Is this too strong of an image? I apologize, instead, think of straw mushrooms from a can that…have tiny eyes and antennas. I give up, you’re either going to love them or not! Read more about the Portuguese obsession for wee snails!
Choco com Tinta
If you’ve forever wondered what your entire set of teeth would look like if they were black instead of white (don’t we all wonder this?) but didn’t want to experiment with markers (wise!), here’s your chance. Order grilled “Choco com Tinta” (cuttlefish with ink), which not only tastes wonderfully of the sea but is the ideal opportunity to smother your teeth and tongue in black ink. You can certainly ask for cuttlefish without ink, but who can pass up on the chance of shocking a few folks on street with such a frightful mouth. Way too much fun!
If you thought lips and a-holes a.k.a hot dogs were cholesterol inducers, try a “Sandes de Courato.” Traditional game day food in Portugal, sold in food caravans outside of soccer stadiums, nightclubs and at fairs and festivals, Courato is none other than pieces of pork skin (what you get before the rinds) marinated in garlic, white wine, bay leaves, black pepper and red bell pepper paste before hitting a sizzling grill. Once charred, it’s shoved inside a Portuguese roll and washed down with ice-cold beers. Beware of the fuzzy ones – you see, some folks miss a few hairy spots on the pork skin. C’mon it’s just a little fuzz…
Though you might be an avid appreciator of your local sushi joint’s eel, this Portuguese version is a tad more complete. Can you handle eating eel with its head and eyes intact? Well then, this eel has your name written all over it. Often called the snake of the sea in Portugal, this fish is most commonly eaten fried, sometimes with a pickled onion sauce over it, or in a stew. Eating ’em is easy…killing ’em, however, ain’t. Even with their heads chopped off, they like to attempt great escapes.
During the annual pig slaughter in Portugal, the “Matança do Porco” (read about Spain’s Matanza) rural families gather to make a ton of smoked sausages. A staple of Portugal’s heartland is the “Farinheira,” or what I like to call a “leftovers sausage.” There’s nothing meaty about this smoked sausage, it’s all about the fatty bits! Laced with flour and seasonings, it’s the lardy pieces of the pig that rule this rural delicacy. Once cooked, it’s a rustic pâté that spreads beautifully on crusty bread. You may also find it on a plate with scrambled eggs and sometimes wild asparagus.
Feijoada à Transmontana
Who doesn’t enjoy a heartwarming beef stew? Now, add to your pot of cubed beef, a pig’s snout, its ears, belly and feet. Don’t forget the smoked sausages – especially the BLOODY one (Morçela). And in addition to potatoes and carrots, lots of red kidney beans, collards, and heck why not – a side of rice! That’s how the northern Portuguese gain the strength to endure winter months in the coldest parts of Portugal. It’s messy, but oh so tasty!
Fios de Ovos
If the folks at silly string decided to create a new product out of egg yolks and sugar syrup what would you get? Fios de Ovos: egg threads. Except that this isn’t something you spray on others as a joke, nope, you eat these. These are traditional Portuguese sweets made of egg yolks, turned into thin strands and boiled in sugar syrup. Picture a pile of sweetened angel hair. Stuffed into cakes and pastry puffs, these can be quite good, but on their own it can be a bit of a challenge. Thanks to Portuguese explorers, you’ll also find these in Brazil and several Asian countries.
Ever have the civilized French Croque Monsieur? Well, this isn’t it. Just because “Francesinha” translates to Little French and was indeed slightly inspired by the croque monsieur, there are HUGE differences, starting with size. A sandwich (more like an experience) on steroids, the “Francesinha” is a monster packed with cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage and steak, stacked between two thick slices of bread smothered in melted cheese and doused in a spicy, aromatic tomato and beer sauce. Oh don’t forget to drop a fried egg on top of it and serve it surrounded by a ton of fries. Good luck finishing it!
Iscas com Elas
Does the thought of liver with onions make you want to gag? Perhaps, you’ve been introduced to this dish with liver cutlets that are way too thick. Those don’t work for me either. Try the Portuguese version, where you’ll find paper-thin liver marinated overnight in wine or beer, citrus, garlic, bay leaves and pepper. The next day, they’re fried with onions and served with homemade French fries. Can’t promise the liver will look appetizing, but it will taste delicious. By the way, if they ask with “Elas” or not, say yes (sim) to “Elas” – they’re the onions. And, they help!
Ah the tasty tiny Jacks (Joaquim + inhos = tiny Jacks). About the size of your index finger, these fish are pressed into flour and fried whole. Yes, you eat the head! Remember, fish heads in Portugal are totally normal. You might find these served as a snack – pop them into your mouth like popcorn and down ’em with a beer. Or, order them as an entrée with tomato rice. Some even like them cold, smothered in a pickled onion sauce called “Escabeche.”
If you thought the Enguia (eel) was creepy, check out its gigantic snaky cousin, the lamprey. As you can tell from our image (or any google image), it ain’t pretty… Look at that mouth – yikes! It is times like these that you’re certain someone could only have thought of eating this ugly creature because they were seriously starving and had nothing else to eat. Be grateful, though, because this is some serious foodie stuff. A prized delicacy in Portugal and other European countries as well as parts of Asia, try it in a wine (Bordalesa) sauce or in its own blood (cabidela). Yes, we managed to make this more horrific by cooking it in its own blood. Check out our Porto Gourmet Guide for the best places to enjoy it!
I can’t hear the words suckling pig without immediately picturing a roasted piglet’s face with an orange in its mouth. No, I don’t blame period movies and their replicas of medieval buffets for this – I blame traditional Portuguese weddings. There’s always one of these smack in the center of the buffet table. Good thing, too, because it’s one of my favorite meats! The skin is crackled on the outside and the meat is Über tender on the inside. Hey, at least I don’t gnaw on the snout like some of the elders in the family. Just give me a few years… Here’s a delicious recipe for Leitão!
Cow tongue – need I say more?! Yes, this tongue like our very own has bumps on it. Ignore that, please! There’s nothing quite like tongue, though. It’s as if a Portobello mushroom shacked up with a cow – and bravo, there’s braised tongue (Lingua Estufada). The Portuguese scald the tongue first to remove any unnecessary fatty tissues (Bet you’re really feeling this…) and then braise it in olive oil, garlic, onion, bay leaves, tomato and white wine. The slow cooking process allows all of these flavors to meld into a thick, earthy sauce that’s ideal served with mashed potatoes.
Goat stomach stuffed with ground goat meat, rice, minced onion and mint. Think of it as the Rob Zombie version of lamb with mint jitney! This may not sound appetizing, but it is. Beyond a refreshing fusion of gamey and aromatic flavors, this dish is quite light. If you can get past the tiny bumps on the stomach casing and its rubbery texture, this is truly a treat. Forget the casing altogether if it’s what’s turning you off, and enjoy the stuffing inside it. Let’s just say that it looks like what mountain folks would come up with if they were tasked with making a rustic sushiesque roll.
Several countries have their very own version of black pudding with condensed blood as the common denominator. In Portugal, the most typical blood sausages are made by lacing pork belly bits with pig’s blood and seasoned with clove, cumin and several other herbs. There are versions with rice as well. Fry it, boil it or throw it into a stew, once you’ve got a taste for this bloody sausage chances are you’ll be hooked for life. Not to mention, it packs lots of iron for your body. And may I add, this is not one for the squeamish!
These are boiled bones, period. Clearly, this sounds like something you would whip up for your dog, not yourself, but trust me that it’s so damn good. These aren’t any old bones, either; they come with plenty of meaty morsels still attached to devour. From the spinal area of the pig, these are extremely flavorsome. The bones are splashed with water and then covered generously with coarse salt. They should sit in the fridge overnight. The next day, the excess salt is shaken off and the bones are boiled in a broth of garlic, onion, bay leaves and black pepper. Ask for a big jug of the house red and dig in with your hands!
As a kid, I just could not understand why adults got so excited each time they found “ovas” (roe) in their freshly grilled sardines. Sounded gross to me – all I could think about were embryos or how they looked like veiny brain. Many moons later, I dig these fish eggs, especially as a snack garnished with minced onion, olive oil, vinegar, parsley and dash of black pepper. Toast up slices of “broa” (cornmeal bread), pop up open a bubbly – and it’s espumante wishes and Portuguese caviar dreams.
Papas de Sarrabulho
Doesn’t a nice hot bowl of mashed blood sound scrumptious? You heard right: MASHED BLOOD. Somewhere between a paste and a soup, the “Papas de Sarrabulho” is a mish mash of pig’s blood, chicken, pork, ham, salami, bread (or cornmeal) and cumin. It can be served on its own or with “Rojões,” roasted pork chunks that have been pickled overnight in a garlic and wine marinade called “Vinha d’Alhos.” There’s also a rice version called “Arroz de Sarrabulho.” Other than the blood, not too scary, right?
Translated, “Percebes” means “understand,” however, your first glance at these sea creatures will do nothing but confuse you. With nicknames like dinosaur toes, you can imagine that these aren’t a pretty sight. If you’re a literature fan and like to let your imagination run wild think back to your first guesses at what Grendel’s horrific paw in Beowulf might look like – this could be the answer! Yet looks can be deceiving, so if you’re into briny, flavorful crustaceans don’t shy away from Gooseneck Barnacles (their English name), which require a mere twist of their tip to slurp out the meat.
The result of the no-waste Portuguese policy are dishes like “Pipis,” a stew of all those “lesser” parts of the chicken – feet, heart, gizzards and liver. If you like chicken livers, this is right up your alley. The best part is the sauce of onion, garlic, tomato, red bell pepper, spices and herbs, thickened by the livers that melt throughout the slow cooking process. Customarily enjoyed as a “petisco” (a small bite), it makes a tasty meal if you throw a bunch of French fries into that awesome sauce! My only pet peeve is, please remove the talons from the chicken feet…
It’s tough to ignore the fact that octopus looks like it’s straight out of a sci-fi film, ready to suction your head off in one fell swoop. Yet despite its appearance, octopus is not only delicious, it’s ubiquitous in Portugal. Whether it’s served salad-style in bite-size pieces tossed with minced onion, olive oil, vinegar and parsley, grilled on hot coals, roasted, or the star ingredient in soulful rice, the Portuguese are huge fans of chomping on this creature from the depths of the ocean floor. Paul the predicting octopus best stay in Germany!
Pudim Abade de Priscos
Bet you’ve had chocolate-covered bacon at one of the many state fairs that dot the U.S., so this bacon pudding can’t be that intimidating. Sure, pork belly in a dessert doesn’t exactly scream out appetizing but give it a chance because it’s quite subtle. What you’ll pick up on instead are traces of citrus, cinnamon and caramel. But the pork belly is there, too! The giveaway that it’s somewhere in this dairy-free pudding is the dessert’s silky (or perhaps greasy, and you know from what, don’t you…), nearly gelatin consistency. It truly melts in your mouth!
Salada de Orelha de Porco
Pretty self-explanatory, these five words equal pig’s ear salad. Pig’s ears are boiled and then cut into small squares. They’re then tossed in olive oil, vinegar, garlic and cilantro. What do I hear – the ears aren’t enough for you. How about tiny pig’s feet called “Pézinhos de Coentrada,” the latter referring to a whole mess of cilantro (coentros). For folks that love the chewy texture and vibrant cilantro flavors, go for it. Others, I suggest you learn the words “orelha” and “Pézinhos” and stay away. Look out for “chispe,” too, it’s another word for pig’s feet. Glad to be of service…
Surely, you’ve had the pleasure of cracking crabs with friends, but do you turn the sea creature’s guts into a delectable dip? The Portuguese do this by combining the Sapateira’s (Stone Crab) guts, some of its meat, bread crumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, herbs and a drizzle of beer. This chunky dip is then stuffed back into the empty crab carcass, placed in the center of a dish and surrounded by the remaining crab legs. It’s divine on toast or crackers! Check out our Sapteira Recheada Recipe in our book, “Porto: Stories from Portugal’s Historic Bolhão Market”!
Here’s one that’s truly an acquired taste. Unlike smoked sausages, these are fresh, which means the hoggy aromas are much more intense! Pig’s tripe is stuffed with flour laced with lardy goodness and seasoned with herbs and spices that include cumin and pepper. Don’t settle for any soggy versions, make sure you try them at a place that fries them up nice and goldeny crisp. Otherwise, you’ll never want to eat these things again. If done right, you might just become the first to line up for them.
Tripas à moda do Porto
If you’re a fan of chitlins, this Portuguese tripe stew is no sweat. It’s too bad that the chances of someone liking chitlins are slim… Let’s agree that neither dish is for the texture sensitive! For those who love chewy textures, come on down. Made with calf intestine (sounds yummy already, doesn’t it!?), this stew also includes cow’s feet and a variety of other meats, fresh and smoked with white beans. The sauce is a smooth medley of pureed tomatoes, red bell pepper, onions, carrots and fresh parsley. Even if you’re not into chewy textures (you can shove those aside) give this stew a chance, the layers of flavor are worth it.
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Since 2005, Catavino has been exploring the Iberian Peninsula looking for the very best food and wine experiences.