Portugal's delicious culinary hits?from seafood-studded soupy rice to sweet and flaky egg tarts?can be enjoyed at Michelin-starred dining rooms, rustic taverns, and sidewalk charcoal grills. Don't miss these pinnacles of Portuguese food. Portuguese food is heavily influenced by the Age of Discovery?when explorers like Vasco de Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral set sail for the New World at the encouragement of 15th-century Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator?as well as by its own 1,115 miles of Atlantic coastline. As a result, seafood rules Portuguese kitchens, but inland, pork holds its own. The hearty regional cuisine of the Alentejo, for example, is based around slow-cooked porco preto (Iberian black pig), lamb, and bread, all of which are served numerous ways.
Pastel de nata (custard tart)
Even if you know next to nothing about the cuisine of Portugal, you're likely familiar with the country's most famous dessert, a tiny and decadent Portuguese egg tart that some might say is the most satisfying wallop of sweet, sweet wow you'll ever get for €1.15. Known generically around the world as pastel de nata, it's protected as pastel de Belém at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, where it is said to have originated in the Lisbon suburbs in 1837. The original recipe is under lockdown, passed on by the monks at the UNESCO-listed Jerónimos Monastery nearby, but the secret is in the textural yin-and-yang between the creamy egg custard filling and the flaky pastry shell. Powdered sugar and/or cinnamon is sprinkled over the top according to taste.
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Polvo à Lagareiro (octopus with olive oil and potatoes)
One of the most ubiquitous dishes across the country and one nearly guaranteed to be locally sourced, polvo à Lagareiro is said to have originated in the central Portuguese region known as the Beiras. Its beauty is in its simplicity: A meaty piece of octopus?tentacles and all?is roasted, heavily doused in key ingredients of Mediterranean cooking (olive oil and garlic), and served alongside slow-baked potatoes. One of Portugal's finest examples is the version at Páteo (Bairro do Avillez), one of the more casual kitchens belonging to the culinary empire of Michelin-starred chef José Avillez. The country's most famous chef nearly single-handedly jump-started Portugal's gastronomic revival with the success of his fine-dining jewel Belcanto, so it would be remiss not to try his take on this delicious homeland classic with the addition of a rapini and onion sauce.
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Porco preto (Iberian black pork)
Iberian-native black pigs (porco preto) are descendants of pigs originally brought to the peninsula by the Phoenicians, who interbred their swine with wild boars to produce the unique breed that exists today in Portugal and Spain. Their meat is enjoyed numerous ways by the Portuguese, running from charcuterie (presunto ibérico) to grilled secretos (a fattier, pork belly-like cut) to enchidos (pork sausages), but nothing touches the absolutely astonishing, slow-cooked version at Évora's Taberna Típica Quarta Feira in the interior region of Alentejo?the heart of pork country. This succulent, acorn-fed pork is cooked for hours in its own juices (think carnitas, if you are familiar with the Mexican delicacy) and served all-you-can-eat style in this simple, family-run tavern (clear your schedule?you're done for the day!).
Arroz de pato (duck rice)
Pork aside, duck rice is one of Portugal's finest meat moments, a perfect marriage of succulent duck, boiled and shredded, then nestled into a bed of Carolino rice (made with duck stock, onions, and garlic), baked a bit, then garnished with spicy chouriço sausage and served alongside orange slices. As with so many of Portugal's heartier dishes, it hails from Alentejo but was quickly adopted across the country. About 25 miles east of Porto in the small town of Louredo, you can dig into this delicacy inside the 17th-century farmhouse of Teresa Ruão, the chef behind the award-winning Cozinha da Terra. It's like eating at your grandma's house.
Sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines)
The Portuguese summer may bring sun and blue skies, but good weather is never a guarantee. You can, however, count on the irresistible scent of grilling sardines, which fills the air among traditional neighborhoods throughout Lisbon (and elsewhere) during the summer festive season. Kicking off with the June celebrations of one of Portugal's most beloved saints, Santo António, freshly grilled sardines are readily available from June to October, when they are at their plumpest and tastiest (outside of that period, they are likely to have been frozen). As usual with the best foods, the preparation is simple: Coarsely salted sardines slapped on grills over hot coals, then eaten with a piece of broa (corn bread) or, in restaurants, served alongside traditional sides of bell pepper salad and boiled potatoes (though they're always best eaten in the street beside a neighborhood grill). In Lisbon, head to O Pitéu in Graça, a gastronomic reference point for traditional Portuguese cuisine for over 30 years.