The Portuguese are known for their love of food and eating and gastronomic tourism is becoming an important reason for travelling to Portugal.
Portugal is also getting more famous for it’s culinary traditions and it’s large amount of restaurants, taverns and cafeteria’s. For me culinary Portugal is characterized by the large choice of dishes, the lengthy famous lunches, it’s largely undiscovered excellent wine industry and love of the petisco (Portuguese tapas) .
The Portuguese have rich tradition in eating out and most people will do it at least once a week!
In every town and village you will find many eateries of various types. This article is to explain what you can expect, what is available and some common traditions in restaurants that you may not be familiar with.
For one you could be a bit surprised with the décor of most local, traditional lower priced restaurants. Food is what Portugal is about not ambiance! and a restaurant is generally not considered a restaurant if there is not a television screen at least in one corner to loudly accompany your meal. Lights are not dimmed and you wont find candles or flowers on the tables, in most places go a little bit more expensive and you’ll be amazed how nice things can be! In modern Portugal you will find more and more restaurants that are paying a lot of attention to creating a more pleasurable dining experience though the television set seems to be the hardest thing to let go off! note that this is how the society is and a restaurant is considered mostly a place that is about good food and pleasurable socializing!
In an earlier article we wrote about the Petisco Petiscos though sometimes the same portion as a meal are generally not considered meals but snacks that can sometimes replace a meal but are mostly eaten in the late afternoon or at night accompanied by wine or beer.
The ‘real’ Meals in Portugal are at least 3 courses and are traditionally eaten at lunch between 12.00 and 15.00 meals are standard accompanied by wine, olives and bread.
Traditionally meals start with soups – are followed by a main course accompanied with potato, rice or pasta and a simple salad and finished with dessert and an espresso coffee called Bica or just coffee.
Restaurants come in various types called simply restaurante or lesser known names as Casa do Pasto (house of pasture), Snackbar, Marisquiera (sea food restaurant). grelhados (grill restaurant) or pastelaria – snackbar which is a pastry shop that sometimes also offers Warm lunches. The names tell the Portuguese roughly what they are and how expensive they will be.
Here some definitions that can help you make your choice.
– A standard restaurant as in the rest of the world – Will have a menu and sometimes also diarias or diarios (see further down)
an older term used less and less often Casa do Pasto offers cheap budget lunches and sometimes dinners, very typical and very Portuguese
unlike it’s English and Northern European counterparts offers full meals that are generally cheap, sometimes also take away and snacks and you can also go to a snack-bar for coffees or drinks
offers sea food, shrimps, lobster, grilled charcoal fish although often they will also have grilled meats on the menu. Marisqueira are specialized and generally more expensive than a normal restaurant.
a Specialzed grill restaurant generally for grilled charcoal fish and meats. Generally also a bit higher prized than the average restaurant.
A tasca is very typical small restaurant – generally very typical wine jugs, beers and regional meals and petiscos.
mostly the cheapest place to have lunch. Will generally offer Diarias or Diarios at very cheap prices but without restaurant or the dining out ambiance you might expect. they offer Daily changing dishes.
Restaurants and even snackbars will mostly have at least a few wines to choose from and most restaurant will have a relatively cheap house wine from the region and an extended wine menu.
are daily changing menu’s at very low prices that have become very popular since the crisis and depending on where and which restaurant prices can be as low as 5 euro including drinks and on average 6 to 10 euro including drinks, couvert, dessert and soup. How good they are depends very much where you are and which restaurant. The concept is quite good as the restaurant owner or cook will generally visit the markets early in the morning and buy in large quantities what is on offer which guarantees fresh, seasonal food that can be offered at low prices. Make sure you inform yourself well about what is included in the price as things ordered out of the inclusion can be relatively expensive!
in every restaurant you will be welcomed with bread, olives and other dishes – These are generally not included in the price and can sometimes be ridiculously high priced – This is standard in Portugal if you don’t eat them you wont pay for them if in doubt inform first. We’ve even experienced in very expensive restaurants being offered a taste of something special and than unexpectedly finding it on our bill. As said this is normal practise in Portugal and a Portuguese will not be surprised at this but as a visitor you could feel slightly ripped off!
Lunch in Portugal is extended and out of the main cities people still have generally 2 hours of lunch break. Most of this time is spent eating, socializing and drinking. Dinner can be just as long and big but very often consist of a Petisco or snack. Breakfast is generally not more than coffee and some sweet cake or croissant.
The cities are growing and becoming more and more modern offering lot’s of choice, vegetarian options, sandwich, salads and light lunches as well as the traditional choices however in the country you will have to abide by traditional habits. Note that most restaurants are closed out of the standard eating hours from 12 – 15 pm and after 19 pm
Restaurant prices are possibly the lowest in Europe!
Are you a vegetarian travelling to Portugal, read our article on eating vegetarian food in Portugal!
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