Portugal is one of the countries that I had the opportunity to visit the most, and as a vegetarian, I have to say that the first days of staying here were quite a challenge for me regarding the food. Being a vegetarian in a foreing country is never easy! Portugal iswell known for their very tasty traditional dishes which can be found everywhere and the local cuisine is a delight for the non-vegetarian people – especially with all the food and meat they eat.
But I have to say that I also found some vegetarian alternatives of their traditional meals and I’ll share with you some tips and tricks about what, how and where to find some tasty vegetarian dishes in one of the most beautiful countries of Europe, Portugal.
First of all I will start with the desserts, because no matter what, this will be always the “safest” thing to eat as a vegetarian because you know for sure that they won’t put meat in them. Also, it’s just fun to start with dessert!
If you are a vegetarian that loves custard, I have to tell that this country is heaven for you. Almost all of their cakes are made with a delicious egg cream. By far the most representative cakes from Portugal are the Pasteis de Nata (Cream Cake). You will find them everywhere (and I really mean it) but the best ones are actually in Belem – Lisbon; still, you can find excellent ones throughout the entire country. There’s only problem with the Pastel de Nata: you can never eat just one.
Other very interesting cakes are the Ovos Moles (soft eggs), which are really tasteful if you try them with some good Portuguese wine. You will find the best Ovos Moles in the city of Aveiro, but they also sell them in various supermarkets along the whole country. I personally think that you should really try to visit Aveiro in order to try them, it will be quite an experience ,but I also have to warn you that thes cookies have a lot of eggs you might want to be careful with them if you have problems with your liver.
Arroz doce is actually sweet rice with milk and cinnamon. Is a very simple and delicious dessert and you can also try it with some fresh fruits or jams if you want.
If you like cheese very much, you should really try the cakes from Sintra. Sintra is an amazing small town just half an hour away from Lisbon, where you can see some of the most amazing castles in the world. They also have a history in making cakes because hey, the lords had fine tastes! They are very tasty, traditional and come in many varieties. One of the most interesting cake is the Queijada de Sintra which is a very sweet cake with lots of good Portuguese cheese.
After so many sweets I think is time to talk about some real food!
In the northern part of the country, mostly Porto and Braga, people eat a lot of Francesinha. I have to warn you that the normal Francesinha has a lot of meat so before ordering some be sure that you’re trying the vegetarian version. The vegetarian Francesinha looks like a big Scooby-Doo sandwich – the one which you just stuff in your mouth. It has white bread slices with tofu, zucchini and soya cremwurst, which is all covered with some Flamengo Cheese and a fried egg. The most important part of this dish is the sauce, which is always kept a secret by the good chefs. The sauce is made usually with beer, garlic, onion and tomato sauce, and sometimes it can be very spicy. It is also usually served with French Fries.
What I liked the most in Portugal is the Sopa do Dia, which actually means soup of the day. This soup is always a very creamy soup only with vegetables. You can find very different kinds of this soup: cabbage soup, chickpeas soup, turnip soup, carrot soup, beans soup, etc. If you want to get more traditional, the most common soup in the northern part of Portugal is Caldo Verde which is made out of potatoes, Portuguese cabbage or collard greens, olive oil , onion, garlic and salt.
Another tasty and traditional vegetarian dish is Migas. This this is usually made with beans, portuguese cabbbage, olive oil, Portuguese corn bread crumbs and different spices like black pepper, garlic etc. Sometimes they mix this with their traditional fish Bacalhau, but you can also find it without any kind of meat.
Feijoada is another traditional Portuguese dish that is usually served with meat, but you’ll find the meatless version in some vegetarian restaurants. You should generally ask at restaurants. Feijoada is usually made out of beans from different kinds depending on the region, and vegetables like: carrots, red pepper and cabbage. It’s something more like a stew and usually the vegetarian version has soy sausages and it is best served with white rice.
I won’t end this without talking a little bit about the well known Portuguese wines. I think everybody heard about the Porto Wine, which I really recommend drinking it in one of the Porto’s winehouses (with moderation, of course). The Porto wine comes in three different versions, the white one the red one and the tawny one. It is usually sweet but you might want to be careful with that because is also very strong from all that Brandy that it contains. Just be sure to avoid the very touristic places, which are generally overpriced and quite crowded.
Another wine that I really felt in love with in Portugal is the Vinho Verde, which is actually a “fresh wine”. I think that this one is very good to drink in the summer because is lighter than the Porto wine and actually refreshing.
If you are not really into sweet wines I think you will like the Alentejo wines. The wine that is made in the southern part of Portugal, is usually dry and strong and I have to say that even the cheap bottles of wine that came from the Alentejo region, never disapointed me. You can usually get a good bottle of wine for even under $6.
I have to say that even though many of these wines work very good with the Portuguese traditional dishes, you might want to try them with Portuguese pastry. An old man from a small café in Leiria (a small city close to Lisbon) taught me that real good life is when you eat one of those sweet cookies with a very good wine. I have to say… he was right!
In their cuisine, Portuguese people use lots of vegetables like chickpeas, many different kinds of beans, cabbage, cauliflower etc., and you will also find markets full with delicious fresh fruits from bananas, pineapples and mangos, to cherries, nectarines and strawberries.
You can eat them raw to your heart’s delight, and I really recommend trying some of the melons they have here, they’re quite delicious. If you’re buying bananas, you should ask for Madeiran bananas, which even though are just a touch more expensive, have much more taste and flavor. Anonas are also interesting, different fruits which you can taste, just make sure to take fluffly ones, as the harder ones aren’t ripe yet.
There are also quite a few vegetarian restaurants, many of them in Lisbon, but you can also find some in the northern part of the country. However, aside from Lisbon, don’t expect more than a few vegetarian places per city – Portugal has fairly small cities, and it’s not exactly known for its vegetarian inhabitants. The key is to always ask.
Sometimes if you can’t find vegetarian restaurants you can just ask for a soup, which is almost exclusively vegetarian, and if they don’t have anything else, people are often so nice that if you ask for a vegetarian dish they will make something just for you without meat.
Portugal is a lovely country, with strong, flavored traditional cuisine. Most people eat meat, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have excellent vegetarian alternatives. Enjoy the food, and enjoy the country!