If you're in to food, and trying all different kinds of things, Portugal needs to be next on your trip list.
While they hold tight to their traditional recipes—you can try cod a thousand different ways around the entire country—the locals sure know how to surprise taste buds with ingredients that have been used for ages.
On a recent trip to Portugal, we met up with André of Taste Porto Food Tours, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip. Not only did he know of all of the best restaurants that someone spending two days in the area would never know about, but he had stories and history lessons to share on every step of the tour. And, of course, he knew where the very best food could be found.
The tour itself took up an entire night—and it was 100 percent worth it. Here are many of the things we tried on the tour, plus a few other must-try dishes discovered during the rest of my trip.
Just consider this another reason to visit the 2016 Destination of the Year.
Pastèis de Nata
This bite-sized custard tart (pictured above) is known around the world as one of the best foods to come out of Portugal. While there are bakeries in many more countries than just Portugal offering this sweet treat, the tarts originated in the 19th century from a group of monks living in Belém.
They sold the pastries from a small general store attached to the property's sugar cane refinery as a way to survive the convents and monasteries being shut down during the liberal revolution in 1834.
You can now find these pastries in any Portuguese bakery.
Pastèis de Chaves
These flaky pastries come with a variety of fillings: veal, chocolate, chicken, tomato, egg, cod. The best place to get them may just be in Porto at a little shop call Loja dos Pastéis de Chaves.
The pastries come from a northern city in Portugal called Chaves, and this bakery uses the original recipe.
This sandwich takes 24 hours to prepare. It has roasted pork loin and smoked ham—the former of which is cured for 20 hours with a mix of wine, tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, and chili peppers. After the meats are roasted for hours, they come together in a double bun, where the remaining juices melt right into the bread.
Pair this sandwich—which you can get at a restaurant on a semi-hidden alley street called Flor dos Congregados—with sparking red wine for a culinary match made in heaven.
Coffee at Café Guarany
If you're looking for quirky art, great espresso, and a fancy setting, head to Café Guarany. Here, they call a short espresso a “cimbalino,” in homage to the first espresso machines introduced to Portugal by a brand called La Cimbali.
You can find great espresso in every city in Portugal, and it's a common way to end a meal.
Chocolate and Lemon Eclairs
If you couldn't tell, chocolate and pastries are a favorite for the Portuguese. Hop and any review website and you'll find travelers pining for the eclairs from Leitaria da Quinta do Paço in Porto.
We made a stop to give the chocolate and lemon eclairs a try. Pro tip: Order extra cream to eat with the pastries—and there's no shame in eating it with a spoon.
Cheese & Charcuterie Plates
Cheese and cured meats are always a good choice in Portugal. Each region has its own take on the plate, and you'll always get some bread and olives to go with your picks. Taberna do Largo is run by two friends, Sofia and Joana, who travel the world to find the best foods by local producers.
Don't miss out on trying Portugal's storied vinho verde (“green wine”) while you're here.
Portugal's access to the Atlantic Ocean makes it a great spot for fresh sushi. But head to Sushi Design at Farol Design Hotel in Cascais and you'll find much more than your basic spicy tuna or salmon avocado rolls.
Sushi Master Nuande Pekel mixes ingredients and presentation in a way that will redefine your expectations of the Japanese staple for years to come. Our favorite: a Hosomaki roll with breaded salmon, cream cheese, strawberry and katsuobushi with tare sauce.
Cecina de Vaca Maturada
Portugal really knows how to do smoked and cured meats. Of the entire trip, a plate of cecina de vaca maturada (aged cow steak) was the most memorable—not only for its vivid color and presentation, but becuase each bite was melt-in-your-mouth good.
If you want to try it yourself, head to RIB BEEF & Wine Restaurant at the Pestana Vintage in Porto.