Portugal is amazing, but, like any other country, there are lots of weird or quirky things you will notice when you first visit us. I’ve compiled a list of the things you should look out for when eating at a Portuguese restaurant. Here’s your guide so you can navigate Portuguese restaurants hassle free.
- You touch it, you pay for it
Imagine this, you just sat down at your table in a restaurant and, before even being handed the menu, someone is putting the most delicious bread, tuna patê, cheeses, and pastries in front of you. If you’re thinking “Wow, they sure know how to treat a customer here” as you reach for the bread, give yourself a hand slap. None of this will be free. Doesn’t matter if you only took a slice of bread and some cheese, everything you touch will be paid for at the end. It’s not free, repeat after me, NOT FREE.
2. Chips, crisps, french fries, they’re all the same here
When you look at a Portuguese menu, you’re going to see a lot of grilled meat with a side of chips. Most people would expect a side of french fries but let me warn you, 50% of the time when you read chips on the menu, they will usually mean crisps. If you don’t want to be disappointed when your meal arrives to your table make sure you ask what kind of chips they are bringing before making your order.
3. Parsley is massive here
They will add it to your rice, on your fish, on your meat, on your salad and I’ve even been served a Pad Thai with parsley sprinkled everywhere!
4. House wine is usually good and very cheap
Portuguese house wine tends to be good and the best of it all, it’s not expensive. If you’re looking for a bit of wine with your meal and you don’t want to spend too much money, ask for a “jarro de vinho tinto da casa” (a jar of red house wine).
5. Where’s the wine list?
If you ever happen to be off the beaten track and decide to have a nice meal at a more traditional restaurant, outside of Lisbon, there might be a chance, a big chance, that the restaurant doesn’t have a wine list. The best way to deal with this is to just overcome that first usual shyness and ask straight outright for the prices or tell the waiter your price range and work from there.
6. Beer is tiny
If you order a beer in Portugal you will probably be given an “imperial”, a 20cl beer served in a conical or cylindrical glass. If you tend to be more thirsty than this, I would suggest you order a “caneca” (50cl) or a “girafa” (1l). You’re welcome!
7. Salads only have three ingredients
If you like lettuce, tomato, and onion then you’re in for a treat with the typical Portuguese salad. It can be a bit difficult finding more original salad alternatives.
8. The bill comes slowly
One of the best things about Portugal is how slow the pace is here. You can really disconnect from the real world and appreciate life in its full glory when sitting at a cafe sipping a nice glass of wine. But on days when you’re on a bit of a hurry and you just want to pay and get a move on, that’s when waiting for the bill can become frustrating. If you’re in a rush, it’s totally OK to get up and pay directly at the counter. Or ask for the bill with your coffee.
8. The tips are not mandatory but they’re nice
The salaries are low and although big tips are not expected here, the waiters will be happy if you leave some change behind.
9. Tremoços or caracóis
Have you ever noticed people in cafes having a beer with what looks like some weird round yellow beans? Well, don’t diss it until you try it. In Portugal, it’s common to be served beer with lupini beans. They’re pickled, they’re salty and they’re delicious. In the summer, the Portuguese also enjoy caracóis, which are little snails, served with a very refreshing beer.
10. They might not accept card payments
In the big cities, you can pay with card in most places but when travelling to smaller cities in some places they might not accept card payments. Just be ready and have some money with you. Usually, there’s a sign at the entrance saying “No Multibanco” or “Cash Payments Only”.
11. Coffee is tiny and Portuguese love it
Visitors are always surprised with how tiny our coffees are. They’re intense, strong and they’re part of the Portuguese culture and routine. Portuguese tend to drink one coffee at breakfast, sometimes one during the morning break, usually one after lunch and if they’re brave, another at night. If you ever visit us and want a big coffee, you can try and order an americano, a café com leite (latte) or even a meia de leite (small stronger latte)