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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Portugal

Culinary Influences

Portuguese Food - Meat and potatoes
Meat and potatoes

Portuguese food today is the result of the sea as the ocean has provided both seafood as well as transportation resulting in numerous foreign spices.

The first group to substantially influence Portuguese cuisine is the Romans, who brought numerous Mediterranean ingredients like garlic, onions, and olive oil. Much later, the Moors arrived from North Africa via Spain and brought with them numerous spices, nuts, and rice.

The greatest transition to modern Portuguese food came in the 1400s with Portuguese exploration and power. As they expanded trade routes, new spices and foods were brought to Portugal. Most of these spices came from Asia, while potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and more were imported from America.

In the 1700s a new food was introduced that deserves mention since it has since become a part of Portuguese culture. Nuns began selling pastries of various flavors and styles during this time and since these have become commonly seen foods throughout Portugal.

Staple Foods

There are a number of common ingredients in Portuguese cooking, including olive oil, pork, meats/fish, and pastries, but the country only has one true staple food:
Bread: always on the table with meals, a simple, but necessary start to any meal

Regional Variations & Specialties

Arroz de Marisco: rice, shellfish, and fish stew
Bacalhau: the national dish, dried and salted cod
Cozido a Portuguesa: vegetable and meat (usually pork) stew
Tripas a la Porto: stomach (generally beef stomach) and bean stew with fish

Dining Etiquette

Portuguese Food - Pastel de nata
Pastel de nata

Once the meal arrives there are no unusual formalities to dining in Portugal, however prior to this point, greetings and dress must be addressed. Dress conservatively, but well and be sure you have the right shoes as every Portuguese is sure to take a glance at them. When you arrive (about 15 minutes late is appropriate), shake everyone's hand and make eye contact. If you're eating in a local's home, be sure to also bring a gift such as candy or chocolates.

Once the host invites you to sit down, sit when everyone else does and don't begin eating until the host indicates you can with the words "bom appetito." Leave your napkin on the table and use it to dab your mouth if needed; also be sure to eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left). If in a home, the food will most likely be served family style, let the guest of honor serve him or herself first.

As you finish eating, move your napkin from the left side, to the right side of your plate and leave a little food on your plate. If dining out the host will most likely pay for everyone present and men will generally not allow women to pay. If you are paying the bill, get the server's attention by making eye contact, but don't wave as that can be considered rude.

Tips in Portugal are generally small and reserved for nice restaurants, no matter the cost of the meal. Rounding up or adding 5% of the bill is standard, although for excellent service that number can increase to 10%.

Drinks

Although all the most popular non-alcoholic drinks are available in Portugal, like juices, tea, and soft drinks, coffee is the drink of choice and can be found nearly everywhere.

On the alcoholic side, port is the country's most well-known drink and Portugal is generally considered a leader in quality port production. More common though are beer and wine, both of which have numerous local variations. A term of note commonly seen on the wine menu is something called "vinho verde" or "green wine," which is just to signify that it is a young wine and should be drank as such; these can be red, white, or rose wines.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Portugal, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013