Sample Portuguese cuisine with petiscos

You can walk into a bar in Portugal and order tapas, and you’ll get something, but it’s not a tapa. You’ll likely get an eye roll from the wait staff and then you’ll order off the petisco menu. Both tapas and petiscos are smaller versions of what might be served as an entree, but get your tapas in Spain and your petiscos in Portugal. Get your travel plans in order with help from GetAway Travel! 

 What exactly are they? 

 Petiscos (pe-tea-sh-cos) are smaller plates of traditional dishes. They cost less than an entree and are made to be shared or “picked at” while you enjoy a beverage. They are small enough that you can have three or four before a meal and not feel stuffed. 

They let you try a variety of dishes at one setting. They differ by region which is also helpful when you are tasting your way across the country. You  will likely see more seafood options along the coast and petiscos in the central and east will likely be more meat and cheese oriented. 

Petisco bars are called petisqueiras. Their petiscos offerings can be widely different, from plain bread and olives to creative and tasty octopus salads. Bars, especially the bars in Porto, Portugal, have full menus of petisco options and they vary by establishment. Some of them are very rich, so a glass of beer or wine goes down easy! 

They are different then couverts, which are plates of bread, cheese, butter and pate automatically brought to your table. You will be charged for this so if you are planning on ordering petiscos, decline the couverts. 

 So many tasty options…. 

 Pastéis de bacalhau, or cod cakes, also sometimes called coqueta are salted cod in a sort of fritter or nugget and the fish is mixed with potatoes, eggs, parsley and onion. They have a finer texture than the cod cakes you have likely experienced in the United States. 

Pica-pau is marinated pork strips with a sauce of garlic, olive oil, chili pepper, bay leaves, paprika and mustard. The stir-fried dish is served with pickled vegetables. Sometimes they are fried in beer or wine or even brandy! Ask if bread is included. If bread is not, get it because you need something to dip in to the amazing sauce. 

Salagados is a general term for deep fried and it usually refers to cod cakes, but it can also be used to refer to rissóis, which are a sort of deep-fried turnover with a creamy shrimp filling, empanadas de frango, like mini chicken pies or folhados which is puff pastry with cheese or meat inside.  

Presunto is cured Iberian ham. Now, you may see the prices for this vary because not every pig is created equal. Ham from the Aleutejo pig which is fed a diet of rich acorns tastes different from regular pig ham and you’ll be charged accordingly.  

 Vegetarian petiscos! 

 Cenouras algarvia is carrots boiled until they are just soft and then marinated in vinegar, garlic, olive oil and herbs. Chamuças are like samosas, fried or baked dough with a savory filling and many times the filling is cauliflower, potatoes, peas and other vegetables along with spices. 

Peixinhos da horta, translated as “little fish” isn’t fish at all. They are tempura battered green beans with garlic and other seasonings. 

 Tinned meat, gizzards and snails 

 While you wouldn’t normally order tinned meats off of a menu we’re not talking cheap canned tuna here. Listed as “conserves” on the menu, this is tinned food that is likely quite expensive because they take their tinned meat very seriously in Portugal. You can get tinned tuna, cod, mussels, octopus or cod roe. Cod roe also shows up on menus as Oras de bacalhau, similar to caviar, it has more of a tinned meat texture and is usually slices and put in salads 

Gizzards are called moelas and they are sautéed with a spicy tomato sauce. 

Caracóis are snails. Popular throughout Portugal, you’ll likely see them more often on menus in the countryside. When bars get their snails in, they post a sign outside that says,”Há Caracóis” or “there are snails.” There’s usually a picture of a happy snail on the sign. 

 These are just a smattering of what you can find when you partake of the local cuisine. Petiscos give you a chance to try something you might not normally want to order a full serving of such as snails or gizzards or perhaps pork na banha which is pork cooked in lard. Ready to get away to Portugal! So are we — give us a call (262) 538-2140, e-mail: or 

Interested in Portugal?  We still have space on our 2023 Porto to Porto river cruise through the Douro Valley.

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