Once upon a time, Portugal was the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world. Despite the lasting influence it has had on food in such far-away places as Macau and Goa, Portuguese cuisine is hugely underrepresented outside of Portugal. At its best, Portuguese food is simple and impeccably prepared. Based upon regional produce and emphasizing fish, meat, olive oil, tomatoes, and spices, the Portuguese repertoire features hearty soups, homemade bread, pastries and cheeses. Portuguese dishes also often feature unexpected combinations of meat and shellfish.
For a relatively small nation, Portugal has surprising gastronomic variety due largely to a long history of absorbing culinary traditions from other peoples. Two thirds of the world was discovered by the explorers and sailors of Portugal. In 1418, Prince Henry the Navigator started the first school for oceanic exploration. He ordered his explorers to bring back exotic spices, fruits, nuts and plants from the new lands, which soon became precious to Portuguese cooks. Cinnamon is perhaps the most beloved spice in Portugal today.
If there is one thing that typifies traditional Portuguese food, however, it is fish. By far the most popular fish in Portugal is bacalhau, dried salt cod. It is even said that there are at least 365 ways to prepare bacalhau, one for each day of the year. A close runner up is the sardine. Portuguese sardines are said to be the sweetest and fattest in the world. Another popular aspect to Portuguese cuisine is the churrasco or charcoal grill. Frango de churrasco, a young chicken grilled in a rotisserie basket and basted with a briny and slightly spicy piri-piri sauce, is arguably the best way to eat chicken.
The Portuguese love the full spectrum of meat as well and believe in using the whole animal. From espetadas (kebabs) to hearty chanfana (lamb or goat stew), meat is prepared in a variety of ways usually paired with a simple salad, rice or potatoes.
Bread is eaten with every meal in Portugal. Breakfast usually consists of toast and coffee. While for lunch and dinner, bread is not only used to soak up sauces and broths but sometimes it even serves as a plate. Broa, a crusty peasant corn bread, is unique to Portugal and is, for the most part, interchangeable with rustic wheat rolls at the table.
Dessert in Portugal is made up of a wide array of pastries and egg based custards. The most famous Portuguese pastry is the pastel de nata, a cinnamon scented custard baked in a puff pastry cup.