Last Updated: 26 August 2022
Feeling warm sand between your toes on Portugal’s finest golden beaches is an unforgettable experience.
But you can work up quite an appetite! Fortunately, the Algarve boasts some of Portugal’s best cuisine. Tickle your taste buds with these three classic dishes when you’re next in the Algarve region.
Ask anyone to name Portugal’s “local” favourite food is. Odds are high they’ll say sardines.
Sardines usually evoke images of shrivelled fish on top of pizzas and long frowns as people wrinkle their noses in disgust. But the sardines caught in Portugal’s oceans are meaty, flavourful and embedded in Portuguese culture.
Portugal’s reputation of having the finest sardines in the Mediterranean is rivalled only by Italy and Spain. They have a much meatier flavour than you may expect. They taste more like a richer tuna.
I’ve enjoyed many balmy nights by the little quay in the beautiful seaside town of Portimão. The harbourside is lined with restaurants and cooks stoking their coal barbeques.
Fending off clouds of smoke, I easily succumbed to the aroma of sardines cooked over the hot charcoals. Who wouldn’t? Even if you’re not hungry, it’s impossible to resist them, as they are grilled right before your eyes.
There’s no right or wrong way to eat sardines. Pick them off their bones and eat them with fresh bread topped with olive oil.
Sardines are an important part of local culture and play a key role in local festivals. Every February, the picturesque village of Carvoeiro celebrates Carnival. Families cram together (like sardines!) and join processions of giant sardine floats winding their way through cobbled streets.
Alternatively, if you’re staying close by in early to mid-August, celebrate Portimão’s Sardine Festival with the locals.
>> For more information on the Algarve, check out “The Algarve – Portugal’s Winter-less Region”.
Chicken Piri Piri
If sardines are not your taste, don’t worry. Portugal has much to offer the travelling foodie.
Cooking with passion over hot coals are hallmarks of Portugal’s food. The Portuguese are unashamedly proud of their earthy cuisine. They conjure up simple dishes, using only a handful of fresh ingredients bursting with strong flavours.
A classic example is Portuguese Chicken is Piri-Piri. This fiery speciality owes its name to the crimson coloured pepper that livens up the sauce. Grown in southern Africa, in former Portuguese colonial territories, the piri-piri pepper (or African Birds Eye Chilli) is a dozen times hotter than a jalapeno.
The first time I tried it, local Bombeiros (firemen) would have struggled to contain the fire raging in all 4 corners of my mouth!
The sauce is made from crushed African Birds Eye Chillies, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, citrus zest, lemon juice, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano, bay leaves and tarragon.
If you feel adventurous but don’t have asbestos lined tonsils, ask the waiter to sprinkle a drop of the sauce on the side of your plate.
But remember to have emergency number 112 programmed in your ‘phone. And a full bottle of ice cold Sagres beer on hand!
Pastel de Nata
No meal is complete without dessert. I’m sure Portugal is single-handedly responsible for increasing demand for dentists in far flung places like Brazil, Mozambique, India and Macau.
Portugal’s seafarers are renowned for sailing to all 4 corners of the globe. They introduced this national egg tart pastry, with centuries old history, to anyone looking for a quick sugar fix.
It’s a wonderfully simple dessert and synonymous with Portugal. It’s soft and creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Just writing about them, stirs up vivid memories of “having just one more” and licking my lips at the end of a wonderful meal.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” as the cliché goes. “When in Portugal, eat until your heart’s content”.
Eaten all over Portugal, the most famous pasteis de natas are from Belém in Lisbon. I’ve been lucky enough to have one or two in Beléms many pastelerias
>>For more information on Belém and Lisbon check out “24 Hours Exploring Lisbon’s Maritime Past and Tram 28”
Shadow-box through thick clouds of barbeque smoke; tackle an African Birds Eye, and become best friends with your dentist because there’s a big prize awaiting you.
Discover Portugal’s love affair for fresh fish, spices and custard tarts. You’ll quickly realise there’s more to the Land of Navigators than Port. It deserves its status as a country with a rich culinary history.
I remember visiting Portugal several years ago and your story made me want to be back there – thanks!
I like yoru sense of humour. Carvoeiro is a lovely friendly village with lot of things to do close to hand. I know what you mean about the sardines – fresh and wonderful!
Anyone who has ever been to the Algarve will know how good the fish tastes there! I kmow what you mean about the Piri sauce. I travel to India a lot and the Piri sauce would be well accepted in any Delhi restaurant.
Awesome article dude! I have just comeback from Portugal and loved the Algarve.
Just reading this article made my mouth water. It brought back fond memories of Portugal. There is something incredibly evocative about the cuisine and spices of the Mediterranean. No trip to Portugal would be complete without indulging in one of their deliciously-spiced dishes – and Pastal de nata is addictive! I visited Lisbon a few years back and can still remember an unforgettable dish: salmon baked in Port and served with steamed carrots and courgettes. The richness of the Port – another famous Portugese export – complemented the tender salmon, which simply melted in my mouth! Even years later, I still have vivid memories of that meal. I also remember the friendliness of the other diners, and the informality of the setting that made me feel as if I were dining at someone’s home. Portugal is definitely a foodie’s dream but it’s also a feast for the eyes and soul.
I have read many of your articles with interest and thought that I’d leave another comment on this post. I have not yet been to Portugal and had not even considered it before but when I next go to europe i”ll give it a go.
I really do not recommend to read this article to all women who is keeping to a diet! You didn’t just tickle our taste recipes, but my drool ran down! But seriously, a great sense of humor! And now, I know exactly where I will spend my next birthday!
Wow, the pictures of the Pasteis de Natas have brought me back to my first visit to Lisbon. My friend grew up there and said no trip to Lisbon – or even Portugal – would be complete without indulging in some Pasteis de Natas. I was sent, with very specific instructions, to visit Pasteis de Belem on my very first day and to order no less than two of these delicious treats.
The building itself at least half the experience: adorned with beautiful tiles and elegant tableware, it pays respect to the company’s 70 year history. The smell of freshly baked pasteis encases the surrounding stores and gently lures you inside. There’s always a bustling crowd, mostly mothers and grandmothers buying the delicious pasteis for their loved ones. You could see the staff delicately removing fresh pasteis as they were baked, pacing themselves to keep up with the demand.
I ordered two pasteis, as per my strict instructions, and noticed they were still warm in the bag. There’s no way to describe the feeling of crunching into the perfect pairing of the flaky pastry and buttery custard – it’s an experience every person should indulge in at least once in their lifetime. My intentions were to keep the other pastei as a snack for later, but as soon as I’d finished the first I was tempted by the second.
Pasteis should come with their own warning label – they are dangerously irresistible. As much as I loved Lisbon and the culinary delights on offer, the pasteis were the only true serious concern for my waistline. It was probably for the best that my visit to Lisbon only lastest a few days, otherwise I might have had to invest in a new wardrobe.
I really like ham and peas in my pasta. I like
salmon loaf with peas in product sauce. So how could I
not adore this dish….better of all worlds.
Many thanks with the publish.
The Algarve is my favourite place in Europe and I always love to read other people’s comments about the place. I have Chicken Piri Piri all the time and my sweet tooth ensures that i also sample Portugals desserts every night too!
Awesome place. The Algarve has many places like Carvoeiro. Can’t wait to go back.
I am planning to go to Portugal this year and am looking forward to following some of your tips. I have also visited your beautiful country in New Zeeland and came across your site recently for things to do.