Thursday, October 26, 2017

Portugal - The very mediocre food.

As often is the case, this post is written with the usual disclaimers. Opinions are hurriedly made, with inadequate knowledge and information, based on a biases and may deeply offend people. However, every word of I write has been personally experienced and none of the facts are false. Opinions and surmises may be damaging, but facts, incontrovertible.

To start off, Portuguese cuisine does not really exist as a stand-alone business opportunity. There really are a miniscule number of Portuguese restaurants. No one says – let’s do Portuguese tonight! There is a reason for this, Portuguese food is rubbish.

Please do not tell me about Goan food being Portuguese. Vindaloos. Cafreals, Reachado and so on are heavily Indianised versions of food with a very suspect Portuguese origin. So much so that Chicken Vindaloo in the UK is an Indian dish. Certainly not Portuguese. You do have a couple of Portuguese dishes that have survived without being subsumed by local influences. Caldo Verde or the famous Potato Soup with Kale is one. This is widely recognized world over as a Portuguese creation. The other, strangely is Chicken Peri Peri or Frango Assado or grilled chicken. This we know not because of Portugal, but, because of the South African chain called Nando’s that has popularized the dish. So, finding Portuguese food in a restaurant is next to impossible.

Chicken Peri Peri

Now there are two Portuguese ingredients that are literally all pervasive. The first is obvious, Bacalhau or dried salted Cod. This ingredient is beloved by all Portuguese. It is said that there are 365 ways to make a dish with Bacalhau. The most popular way to use Bacalhau is to reconstitute the fish and flake it. Then they seem to make a “bhurjee”. Literally, I kid you not. This is known as Bacalhau a Bras. This dish drives all Portuguese mad with delight. Onion is sautéed till softened, then the shredded reconstituted Bacalhau added with beaten eggs and finally some “Sali” or potato straws. This is cooked to various stages and served in many presentations. You could have the mix put into a ring mould and served as a neat circular tower. Or slop it on a plate or even serve it with the egg still runny, quite loose.

The second all pervasive ingredient is the egg. In the 8 nights we spent in Portugal, I have not eaten as much egg. Eggs are all over. You get them in cocktails as foamed egg white, you get fried eggs topped on steak on sandwiches and anything else you can think of. Desserts are made with egg, the famous Egg Tart or Pata Negras. Other desserts are also made with egg sugar and flour. You get Doughnuts filled with an egg custard. Little or no cream is used. A Parsi would have been happy with the amount of egg consumed.

A cocktail - Port Wine Sour. The layer of white is foamed egg white

The legendary and reasonably good Pata Negras or Egg Custard Tarts from Belem

The food we ate was by and large very mediocre if not poor. The food looked and tasted like the kind of food you get at a Club in Mumbai that is stuck in a time warp. Much like the “Conti” food you get at the Willingdon or CCI or Bombay Gym or Yacht Club. Meat or fish simply cooked in a pan or on a grill, Some generic brown sauce poured over and served with a side of boiled vegetables and possibly a salad and topped with fried potato. The fried potato is not a French fry nor a wafer but something rather weird. It is a thickish wafer which sometimes is crisp and often soggy. Very disappointing food.

Portuguese Steak. Note fried egg and fried potato.

Grey green overcooked Broccoli 

Pork, Veal & Chorizo skewers - with fried potato

Sausage [non pork] with fried potato and fried egg

Another Portuguese Steak by a different name. Egg & Potato

Rabbit stewed with vegetables

Now it is possible that you may argue that we simply went to the wrong restaurants. But, I have to point out that we were staying in two very good and expensive hotels. The restaurants were recommended by the Concierges. The kind of food on offer at these recommended restaurants was almost exactly the kind of food served at other restaurants which appealed to us. So, if all typical Portuguese restaurants were similar, including those suggested by Concierges as being examples of good Portuguese food, it seems to me that Portuguese food is rather mediocre.

An odd dish was decent. Like an Octopus at a nondescript cafe in Alfeme. A Shrimps with Garlic and Clams with Garlic were decent too.

Octopus Grilled

 Prawns with Garlic

 Clams with Garlic

Fried Mackerel

UFO - Unidentified Fried Objects

Yes the food was cheap but at the end of the day it was a waste of money. As I have written previously, the food was like Club food. When you are on holiday this is really not something you want as an example of local food. The point I am making is we had no intention of eating fast food or Pizza or Indian food. It was Portuguese food we wanted. Cheap has nothing to do with quality of food. Just by way of example, the food at Gajaali or Delhi Durbar or Khyber or Trishna, Apoorva or Thakkars or Friends Union Joshi and so on, is also relatively cheap. The food served at these Indian restaurants also happens to be an excellent example of great Indian food. None of the meals, and I mean none, excited us. Do have a look at the photos and tell me if I am wrong when I say Club food.

There was some very drinkable wine. This was served in a restaurant at 10 Euro a bottle which is Rs 700/-. This wine beat the living daylights of anything served in India, Indian or Imported. So, yes, wine was cheap and very good. No, it did not make up for the food.

One meal that we had in Lisbon was at a restaurant called Pateo by a highly regarded Portuguese Chef named Jose Allivez. He holds 2 stars in Michelin, thought the restaurant we went to does not have any stars. The restaurant was attractive, the vibe positive but the food was probably the worst we have had in a long time. A shellfish soup tasted like a fishy sweet tomato sauce. Strange. Both dishes, their interpretation of the clichéd all pervasive Bacalhau a Bras and a prawn dish called Prawn Açorda described as “A Must-Try Portuguese Dish: Shrimp, Bread, Garlic, Cilantro, Red Chilli And An Egg Yolk Cooked At Low Temperature” were positively disgusting. This was baby food, all mush, devoid of any texture and of the consistency of “Khichadi”. I must point out that on the table alongside us were two local girls, who, after much discussion, ordered the Bacalhau a Bras. It was hilarious watching them struggle to eat the mush. They spent their time making neat squares of the food, then rectangles, then dividing the rectangles into squares. They tried dousing the slop with Olive oil. Our plight was tragicomic, watching them made us smile, having to attempt to eat the paste and eventually waste it, was tragic. Truly horrible food.

Cheese and Ham served at Pateo. Good.

Octopus Salad with a Kim Chee Dressing

Fishy Sweet Tomato Sauce - Seafood Soup

Mushy Bacalhau a Bras

Mushy Prawns Arcoda

On the last night in Porto we decided to eat at the very swish and highly rated restaurant “Book” that was located in our hotel. This decision went against our grain but we were really so disappointed with mediocre food we were desperate for a decent meal. As you probably know if you have been reading my blog regularly, our policy is normally to eat local. In France, Italy, Germany, Spain and many other places eating local means really good food. Here in Portugal that was not true. Anyway, the food at Book was better, presented with much flair and in the end a rather good meal.

Fried Cheese

A "Millefeuille" of Cod, Spinach & Corn Bread or Broa

Duck Breast with Pomme Dauphinoise

One of the specialties or local dishes in Porto is called Francesinha. This is a sandwich with steak, cured sausage, fresh sausage & Mortadella plus whatever other meat the establishment thinks fit. The sandwich is toasted the covered with cheese, grilled and served doused in a spicy sauce and French Fries. Oh, did I forget to mention, topped with a fried egg. This is formidable, so we requested our Francesinha to be split into two. The most highly rated Francesinha are served at 3 places, Café Santiago where we went being one of them. Francesinha was fairly nice but overrated. It came nowhere near a good Club Sandwich or Croque Monsieur or even a proper ham sandwich!! .

A few final points on food and drink in Portugal. The beer is excellent, really exceptional. The local brands Sagres and Super Bock served on tap were top notch. Drank plenty of beer. Ice Cream is very popular. You have several parlors all over often multiple parlors on a single street. Hamburgers are even more popular and there are several hamburger bars dotting the landscape. No, we did not eat any. Lastly, Portuguese Charcuterie is of good quality with excellent dried, smoked and cured Pork products. The famous Goa Sausage had its origins here. The cheese is also of good quality as is the Olive Oil. Please do remember that none of this i.e the Beer, Ice Cream Olive Oil, Cheese or Charcuterie is cooked in a restaurant. It is sourced, bought out and sliced or served. So, thankfully, the restaurant cant do much to fuck it up. Tells you something does it not?

A Portuguese Chorizo cooked on the table. Decent 

To conclude, food and drink in Portugal is cheap, probably the cheapest we have experienced. However, the quality of food and skill needed to prepare the food is very mediocre. If, you want to go to visit Portugal and are happy eating at the generic chains or eating generic quasi Italian food like pasta and pizza, then you should not have a problem. Otherwise, remember what I have started with. You do not have Portuguese Restaurants for a reason. Their food is unfortunately no good.    


  1. The Alu Bhaja (round and thick wafers like) which is often soggy is a favourite with the Bengalies as an accompaniment with Khichuri.

  2. Informative post! The pictures in your blog have stimulated my desire to visit Portugal. Luckily, I have received my Portugal Visa last week.

  3. You may not be a fast food happy consumer to know how to appreciate homemade food, and you also may look for the best places, not the tourist places! The best must be kept secret!
    Portuguese food not fast food, can't compare with chain food, pizzas and hamburgers, and once your used to fast and commercial food, you simply can't understand other food...
    I'm sorry for you!

  4. You've written a very useful article. This article provided me with some useful knowledge. Thank you for providing this information. Keep up the good work. Online Food Ordering Platform

  5. None of the dishes you showed here (appart from francesinha and the octopus) are typically portuguese cuisine... Just so you know that you fell in the touristic trap. Next time make sure you know where to go or try at least to get in contact with some local or you'll have many disappointments in your life... it's very funny to see how uninformed this opinion is

  6. An excellent brief and ACCURATE run down of Portuguese . Ive been coming to Pgal for 30 years and have never had a decent memorable meal. Its country slop, or at best resembling UK school dinners. I certain there are good classable restaurants nor even chefs. A village cook can produce everything the portuguese eat . if you want to eat in Pgal it would be necessary to find a restaurant not serving national dishes. Try Hotel FAROL Cascais. Chef properly trained in many of Europes finest kitchens and it shows. Steak houses serving simple food are safe and satisfying. 5 Sentidos Cascais is excellent again no Pgses dishes.

  7. "Please do not tell me about Goan food being Portuguese. Vindaloos"

    Huh... you do know that India copied the Portuguese recipe, right? That Vindaloo was originally Portuguese and india adapted it to their tastes?

    the word "Vindaloo" stems from the Portuguese recipe called "vinha d'alho"

    What's next? "Please don't tell me about Lasagna being italian?"

    1. He discusses this above. He's saying that the Indians transformed the dish so much it's not really Portuguese - the Indians added flavor and made it taste good.

  8. Just came back from Porto. Food was dreadful.

  9. Pastel de Nata not Patas Negras!!!!! I'm offended, like what?? what are you saying? Talk to international chefs an listen to them talking about Portuguese cuisine, educate yourself, read! You might learn something about the beauty of simplicity in portuguese cuisine. We let the ingredients shine and don't overwhelm it with spices. BTW portuguese cuisine influence is all over the world. Even the so famous tempura is originally portuguese! The best seafood in the world is eaten here! Someone please shove some palate on your taste buds

    1. I dunno, I agree with the commentator. I've traveled all around the world and I'm writing this from Porto because I'm surprised at how awful the food is. Every single place I think, "maybe I just went to the wrong restaurant". Then after awhile, I realized that Portuguese food is just a combination of the same ingredients one finds everywhere but with the flavor and enjoyment sucked out of it. The worst food I have ever had in my life.

  10. Reading all this in 2023, lol. As someone who has spent a lot of time living and traveling in India, I found your comparisons hilarious and spot on. And imagine, I'm a vegetarian. I have traveled all over the world and Portugal is the absolute worst for vegetarians. It's like, how about french fries? No? Okay, about some potatoes? No? How about french fries? No? Would you like some potatoes, then? Okay, what if we throw a fried egg on it? Oh, but we make this amazing dish called caldo verde! Which basically makes me feel like I'm a poor farmhand. Then a vegetarian in Portugal discovers that some places do mushroom risotto. But after about five mushroom risottos, you've had enough. The only things I can eat in Portugal include: veggie burgers, Italian, Indian, and the rare Thai restaurant. So, not Portuguese food.

    1. The best thing that happened to me in Portugal is someone left some tabasco sauce in my airbnb so I sneak into the restaurants to add a little flavor to what is always the blandest food I've ever had.