If you go to Spain, you dine on Tapas, in France you have fine sauces, and in Italy, pasta… So what to eat in Portugal? Sardines! Grilled sardines are very Portuguese – and while many fish swim under the name “sardine,” Portuguese sardines are oily, grilled and delicious, served with potatoes, olive oil and green peppers. Just DON’T get them for dinner (big no-no), or order them with white wine – this is red wine only meal!
Next, there is codfish, salted –not fresh. It comes fried, boiled, grilled, and in a cream sauce – they say that there are 300 different ways to makes it. We love little cod cakes, or pasties de bacalhau – just not with cheese in them that is only for the tourist. So, yes, Portuguese love their grilled fish but try the octopus rice, boiled crabs, and wonderful hams. In fact the Portuguese love meat too – and they enjoy big helpings of goat, lamb and pork. Beef is popular, but not traditional – so there are just a few classics: A steak sandwich, steak with an egg on top, Miranda steak – and the landmark steak from the Northeast.
So how to pick a spot to eat. Well please skip any place that has a guy with a menu in front. That is a red flag. If they have to ask you,keep on walking… Are there a lot of Portuguese eating here? If not, head to the door – if the place is crumby, locals won’t go there. Expensive does not mean good. Some of our favorite eateries have been in business for years, and are very well priced. And while many modern chefs are reinventing Portuguese classics, they are inspired by the past – and that speaks to the power of regional cuisine. Regional? Yes, very much so! If you want chanfana (goat stew )then you need to be around Coimbra. Want good migas (bread crumbs)? Head to Evora. Love the fransesinha? See you in Porto. Love espada com banana (fish and banana, why not give it a try!) then is has to be Madeira! Wines, cheese, breads, and spices – it all changes from North to South.
So how to order? Easy trick – look for the ementa do dia. The menu of the day. Basically, this is what is in season and fresh. Often it is a good deal, and then check out the ementa turistica – the tourist menu with appetizer, entrée, desert and coffee. This is a great deal if you are hungry.
Oh, and one piece of advice – those free apps are not free – you will be charged (a little but it will be extra). So if you don’t want bread, cheese, sausage or what have you- just be polite and say “Nao obrigado,” and it won’t be on the bill.