• 2023.03.01
  • Traditional Portuguese cuisine
I recently came across a top-100 ranking of the Best Traditional Food in the World (https://www.tasteatlas.com/best) that a cooking site called Taste Atlas posted for 2022.

The number-one food was… Japanese curry? Hardly traditional, and though I have several issues with that choice, let’s ignore them and move on to second and third place, which were Brazilian picanha and a Portuguese dish.

The Portuguese dish in third place was amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, a light appetizer made by tossing steamed littleneck clams in olive oil and garlic (and sometimes a dash of white wine), squeezing lemon over them, and finishing with a sprinkling of herbs. Tearing off a piece of bread and soaking it in the à Bulhão Pato sauce is delicious—so good it will bring a smile to your face. The broth from the clams mixes in with the olive oil spiced with garlic, and it’s so good that you just want to move the clams (supposedly the star of the dish) out of the way so you can get more of the juice on your bread. You of course end up ordering more bread to go with it, washing it down with beer, and before you know it you’re completely full.
The name comes from a nineteenth-century poet named Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato. He didn’t come up with the dish—it was actually the head chef at a hotel in Lisbon who was the first to cook with littleneck clams. But the chef was such a huge fan of Bulhão Pato that he named his creation after him to show his admiration. The poet was known as a lover of fine food, and he apparently mentioned the chef in one of his books.

Source: Wikipedia

The 25th dish on the list was carne de porco à Alentejana, a local dish from the Alentejo region of Portugal that is made by cooking marinated pork and littleneck clams together and simmering them in wine. Some say it’s a traditional specialty of Algarve in southern Portugal, but Alentejo, an area famous for Iberian pork, may have gotten the recipe from Algarve.
The dish has a fascinating history that dates back to the days when the Jews were being persecuted in Portugal. The story goes that pork was added to what was originally a clam dish to out Jews who were living in secret—but the dish eventually became popular with everyone. Another story related to Jews in Portugal is that Jewish families would hang farinheira, a sausage made with flour and paprika instead of pork, to dry under their eaves to conceal their identity. I find these links between food and history so interesting.

Moving down the list, I found two more Portuguese dishes: frango assado com piri piri (spicy roasted chicken) in the 34th place, and leitão de Bairrada (roasted suckling pig from Bairrada). The former is chicken that is butterflied and marinated in a combination of olive oil, spices, and a spicy piri-piri sauce before being roasted over a charcoal fire. It is related to an African dish known as peri-peri chicken. It is believed that Portuguese expats living in countries like Angola and Mozambique brought it back with them when they returned home, along with African spices.
The dish in 89th place, leitão de Bairrada, is made by roasting suckling pigs raised primarily on acorns in a eucalyptus-fueled oven after rubbing the meat in lard, garlic, salt, and pepper. The pigs are roasted on long spits and chopped into bite-sized pieces after they are cooked. The pork is served with fried potatoes, orange slices, and salad. The skin is crispy and the meat is so tender that it has an almost creamy texture. Leitão de Bairrada comes with a black pepper dipping sauce that is so delicious it will have you smacking your lips in delight. Espumante, or sparkling wine, goes great with roasted piglet. The best pairings are red wine with meat, white wine with fish, Portuguese green wine with seafood, and sparkling wine with suckling pig. Most people serve the whole piglet, which can be a little hard to take when you see the orange stuck in its mouth.

It’s impressive that Portugal had four dishes in the global top 100, but the country has many dishes that are far more delicious than those. I guess it’s easy to have incredible food in a country blessed with fertile land, beautiful oceans, and warm sunshine.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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