In a culture that’s as old as that of the Portuguese, there are bound to be complexities in its every aspect. From what is produced to what is consumed, every bit of the Portuguese culture contains nuances dating back hundreds of years. There’s no better place to see that than by enjoying the food of Portugal, the Açores and Madeira. The bad news is that there are so many beautiful dishes and variations of each of them that I would have to fill an entire book to cover those you have to taste. The good news is that you have to start somewhere, so read on to learn of the eight most popular Portuguese main dishes you must try. So as not to imply superiority or favoritism, these main dishes are listed in alphabetical order.
But first, a word of cultural clarification. For purposes of this blog, I’ll use the term “Portuguese” to cover the people of mainland Portugal, the Açores, and Madeira. However, it's important to note that the people of the autonomous regions of the Açores and Madeira are also identified as Açorean and Madeiran.
Alcatra. This stew made of beef, potatoes, onions, and pork baked with white wine in a clay pot is a rich masterpiece of a main dish. Claimed as the signature dish of Terceira, when prepared correctly, is deceptively complex in its simplicity.
Caldo Verde (Portuguese kale soup). Caldo Verde originally comes from the Minho region in northern Portugal. It is the most famous Portuguese soup and is served as part of a meal or the entire meal when accompanied by lots of bread. The name translates to “green broth” and is often at the center of the debate, identifying the most authentic version of this very Popular Portuguese soup.
Chicharros (mackerel). This main dish is like a magnet for those who love Portuguese cuisine. Often roasted, chicharros are usually served in a simple manner because they’re so naturally delicious that it would be a shame to add anything to their flavor. Offered with an equally straightforward side dish such as boiled or roasted potatoes and, of course, bread, chicharros rightfully hold their place as a Portuguese food favorite.
Cozido Nas Furnas from São Miguel. This extremely popular main dish is as well known for its content as the method in which it's cooked. Outside the village of Furnas, set amongst steaming rocks, is where you'll find the burial ground is for the dish, Cozido das Furnas. These cooking holes have been passed down through the generations and allow for large containers of food to be cooked slowly in a style unique to this island. What makes up this wonderful dish is carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage combined with pig ears, chouriço, chicken, beef, ham, pork belly, and blood sausage.
Espetadas (beef kabobs) . This is a dish that's popular in Portugal, the Acores as in Madeira. The secret is the same as with all Portuguese cooking-a medley of amazing spices combined with patience in preparing the food. Marinated in red wine, liberally coated with garlic, salt, pepper, and other seasonings unique to the preparer, this dish is served with simple side dishes that allow the diner to appreciate the great flavors of the espetada. Did I mention they are usually accompanied by bread?
Francesinha. Although not as old as some of the others mentioned here, this dish is one of the most appreciated and is Porto's signature dish. In fact, I've heard meat-lovers say that it's the type of food that makes you hungry just reading about it and makes you dream of it after you've tried it. This sandwich is made with two slices of bread interspersed by steak, ham, sausage, covered with Edam and a sauce, and then topped with a fried egg.
Peixe de Espada Preto com Banana (black scabbard fish with banana). This fish, the black scabbard, is available in few places globally; Madeira happens to be one of them. Fish lovers rave about its unusual flavor and, when served Madeira style, also rave about the unique way in which is done. Seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, they are served with a side dish of deep-fried, battered bananas, potatoes, lettuce, and tomato salad.
Torresmos de Vinha d'alhos (. This Acorean dish is another one that’s not complicated but to do if full justice, must be done with the method in mind. The meat is marinated in garlic, salt, pepper, wine, and crushed red pepper for at least three days. That's mandatory to get the full effect. It is then cooked in more wine in slowly until done and then transferred to bake or finish off in a frying pan. As with all dishes listed, side dishes can be very simple as this main dish is very rich and filling.
Like many other cultures, a meal is an occasion in the Portuguese culture. Time spent dining with family and friends is as savored as the food itself. It's easy to see from the list above that Portuguese dishes reflect the culture’s enjoyment of dining. The above list contains only a fraction of the many excellent main dishes in Portuguese culture. I hope these dishes bring back great memories and serve as inspiration for your food journey.