While the concept of small, shareable plates might bring Spain’s beloved tapas to mind, Portugal has its own unique (and arguably better) culinary tradition: petiscos. Dive into the delicious world of Portuguese petiscos and discover the difference they bring to your table!

A Brief History of Petiscos

The word ‘petisco’ comes from the verb ‘petiscar,’ meaning ‘to snack’ or to nibble. Petiscos originated in traditional Portuguese ‘tascas’ – cozy taverns or cafes where friends and neighbours gathered for drinks and simple, flavourful dishes. Unlike the structured meals served in restaurants, petiscos were a casual, communal way to enjoy food with good company.

Petiscos vs. Tapas vs. Salgados: What’s the Difference?

  • Petiscos: Heartier and more diverse than tapas, petiscos often feature seafood, meat, or vegetable-based dishes cooked with flavorful Portuguese ingredients and a focus on freshness.
  • Tapas: Spanish tapas prioritize bite-sized snacks, often served cold or at room temperature. Think olives, cheeses, and cured meats.
  • Salgados These are the broader category of Portuguese savory snacks, encompassing smaller bites that could fall under either petiscos or the Spanish tapas definition.
A selection of typical Portuguese tapas with and of course cheese!

5 Essential Petiscos to Try in Portugal

  1. Pica-Pau: Tender beef (or you’ll often find Tuna also) cubes sautéed with garlic, pickles, and a piri-piri infused sauce – a classic!
  2. Bolinhos de Bacalhau: Salt cod fritters with a crispy exterior and fluffy fish-and-potato filling. Portugal’s beloved comfort food.
  3. Gambas al Ajillo: Succulent shrimp sizzling in garlic-infused olive oil, with a touch of chili for a kick.
  4. Salada de Polvo: A truly delicious and refreshing octopus salad with onions, peppers, and a bright, herby vinaigrette.
  5. Queijo com Marmelada: A simple yet delightful combination of sheep or goat’s milk cheese with quince marmalade or jam, offering sweet and savoury contrast.

Petiscos: More than Just Food

Petiscos are about savoiring life’s simple pleasures. It’s about ordering an array of dishes, sharing stories with good company, and discovering the heart of Portuguese cuisine in every bite. On your next trip to Portugal, ditch the formal dining and embrace the convivial atmosphere of a petisqueira (yes, that’s a restaurant specialising in petiscos).

Let the flavours flow, raise a glass of vinho verde, and experience the true essence of Portuguese hospitality.