Portuguese food: What to try on a river cruise

Portugal is a foodie paradise of fresh, hearty dishes influenced by a range of Mediterranean cuisines. From seafood to sweets, here are some of the dishes we think you absolutely must try on a Douro river cruise.

Salt cod

A pile of Portuguese salt cod, or bacalhau

Salt cod, or ‘bacalhau’, has been a staple part of the Portuguese diet since the arrival of the Vikings. In fact, the country is thought to be the world’s largest consumer of this fish, serving it in a myriad ways: with scrambled eggs, olives and fries; as fish cakes alongside black-eyed-peas; or boiled with cabbage and carrots and then drizzled with olive oil.

Different Portuguese regions differ in their consumption of salt cod. Locals in Coimbra like eating it topped with crumbled cornbread; in Porto, they like bacalhau baked under mayonnaise; and in Lisbon, it is commonly found in a salad with chickpeas and onions.

Serra da Estrela

A stack of wheels of artisan cheese from Portugal

Portugal’s cheeses are rich and absolutely delicious. The best is, undoubtedly, Serra da Estrela, a creamy cheese made with milk from ewes raised in Portugal’s highest mountain range of the same name. Amarelo da Beira Baixa is also a must-taste: a herby goat-and-sheep cheese that was voted the ‘World’s Greatest’ by Vanity Fair.

However, no matter which cheese you choose to sample during a Douro river cruise, all pair perfectly with red wine or a glass of port.

Traditional honey cake

Chocolate being sifted on top of traditional Madeira honey cake

Stepping off your ship and heading straight to pick up a pastel de nata is the first thing many people do during Douro river cruises, but don’t discount Portugal’s lesser-known sweet treat.

Honey cake is a sticky staple that has satisfied locals on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira for hundreds of years. Buckwheat flour, almonds, citrus zest, pork fat, and raw cane sugar honey (or molasses) combine with delicate spices to create a rich cake that is traditionally enjoyed at Christmas. But in our opinion, there is always time for honey cake!

Cozido

A helping of cozido in a takeaway box with vegetables in Portugal

David Stanley / Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Portuguese dishes tend to vary in style between regions, but one unites the whole country: cozido. This meaty, flavour-packed dish is commonly enjoyed as a big family lunch, but we think it is the perfect thing to sample during a stroll around your Portuguese port.

Beef, pork, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and turnips are thrown into a pot with an array of sausages commonly including paprika-spiced chourico and cumin-flavoured blood pudding. Some restaurants add chicken, while regional variations include chickpeas and mint (the Algarve), lamb and pumpkin (the Alentejo) and sweet potatoes (Madeira).

For a really unique dining experience, try cozido in the Azores, where it is slow-cooked by volcanic underground pits.

Porco preto

Thinly sliced porco preto on bread in Portugal

Susana Fernandez / Flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

Porco preto is a flavoursome ham from the native Iberian black pig, which is always kept free-range. The pigs gorge on acorns, lending the smoky meat a characteristic nutty flavour.

Porco preto is most commonly eaten in sausage form, but Portuguese locals also love bringing out its flavour by roasting a joint or grilling the chops, pairing the meat with an intense garlic sauce made with Marsala wine and whole milk.

Weird and wonderful specialities

A pile of blood red goose barnacles in Portugal

Goose barnacles

Every country has its own regional specialities, and Portugal certainly doesn’t shy away from weird and wonderful local delicacies.

Lamprey – an ancient blood-sucking, snake-shaped fish with a razor-sharp mouth – is a seasonal delicacy, while goose barnacles – otherworldly-looking crustaceans – are boiled with salt, garlic and bay leaves.

Other acquired tastes include cod tongues, pig’s heads and fried chicken gizzards, and if you are still feeling adventurous come dessert, morcela doce: sugared blood sausage.

There is no end to the culinary possibilities in Portugal. Have you tried any of these signature dishes during a Douro river cruise, or sampled something we have missed off our list? Let us know in the comment box below.

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