Travelling to Portugal? Restaurants and food

A few words in Portuguese to help you order… Take heed, ye easy traveller!

No, bife is not beef. 

False friends in linguistics refer to pairs of words in two languages (or in two dialects of the same language) that look and/or sound the same but have different meanings.  These deceptive words are the most annoying source of misunderstanding when you come to grip with a new language… and bife is one of them.  You’ll read this word on virtually all “ementas“, or menus, in Portugal, and “um bom bife” is a good steak, but not necessarily a beef steak. So if you wish to have a good beef steak you’d better ask for “um bom bife de vaca”.

What about lunch? Well, “lanche” is a snack, but if it’s lunch time, then you might want a proper “almoço“, that’s the word for lunch, and as you walk into a restaurant if you read “puxe” on the door, remember to pull the door, while if it says “empurre” then you have to push the door.

On the other hand, one thing you will not find on the menu is pasta, that’s because “massa” or “macarrão“, Portuguese for pasta, is a side dish and not a common one around here, whereas rice, “arroz“, and potatoes are ubiquitous, but if you wish to have some vegetables don’t hesitate to ask for “legumes“.

My fettuccine ai frutti di mare

If it’s time for coffee, well, there are a dozen ways to ask for a cup of espresso: “café“, and “bica” around Lisbon, or “cimbalino” as I heard once in Porto (this word comes from the name of La Cimbali espresso machine) but also “pingado” or “pingo“, your cup with some foamed milk, this is not a capuccino, as the milk is steamed, but not frothy.  I think the closest you can get to an American coffee is an “abatanado” (made of 2 cups of coffee with some water added to it) whereas a “galão” is more a caffè latte. 

However, to end your dinner you would normally ask for “um café com chierinho” a coffee with brandy or “aguardente” , firewater.   In Portugal the coffee roasting is lighter than the Italian one so your cup tastes smoother.  Did I get used to it? No, not yet, I still miss my “caffè” and its unique aroma and most of all “un capuccino con cornetto al cioccolato”.

Time to ask for “a conta“, the bill? For a 3-course meal in a good seafood restaurant, the price ranges between 25 and 50€ (and over, in Lisbon) per person, I know you have heard or read stories about lunch for 2 for 20€… yes, if you are after a tourist menu there are places in Europe where you can buy food for that amount, but I call it stomach filler not lunch, and would never recommend the place.  

An example: “bitoque”. This is a beef steak served with a fried egg on top and lots of fries on the side, excellent stomach filler but not a foodie delight, nor a memorable meal you may miss.  Of course it all depends on your concept of cuisine.  Food for memories? “Bacalhau imperial“, cod fish baked with potatoes, tomato sauce and coconut milk, “bacalhau com natas” cod fish cooked in milk with cream and cheese (creamy cod bake) or “caldo verde” one of those creamy soups that you’ll want to cook as soon as you’re back home.

Almost forgot: unless you are a TV-news-addict, skip the places where one or more TV sets set the ambiance of the place, that is if décor means anything to you; I normally stay away from these places, I guess because watching TV makes me miserable so I can’t enjoy what’s on my plate.

After all, food is for eating but good food with good wine are pleasures to be enjoyed in good company.

Bom apetite!