Top 20 Christmas Dishes in Portugal
Few countries rival Portugal when it comes to the sheer number of Christmas dishes, which is especially impressive given the size of the country. From north to south, kitchens are filled with delicious aromas and truly irresistible flavors, making Christmastime an amazing treat for the tastebuds.
So, what are the Christmas traditions of Portugal? Here we start on a journey that will travel through several regions, getting to know the most famous wintertime dishes, some of which are so simple, you will be able to effortlessly recreate a Portuguese Christmas dinner in your own home. Let’s get started!
1. Bacalhau com Broa
Bacalhau com Broa is an incredibly famous dish that is normally eaten at dinner on Christmas Eve. It is made with codfish and broa (a typical Portuguese bread made with wheat flour and corn that you can find at any bakery or grocery shop), layered with sliced onion and potatoes. This is a dish loaded with contrasts in flavor and texture.
The preparation is remarkably simple, and everything can be done in advance – a big help at Christmas, which is always a terribly busy time in the kitchen.
2. Polvo Assado com Migas
Tender and tasty, this roasted octopus is a simple dish, quick to prepare, and especially great to give a start to a Christmas Eve dinner.
The octopus is accompanied by migas, a traditional dish from the Alentejo region of Portugal, consisting of a bread porridge, and a typical accompaniment to meat or fish. It might not look very appetizing, but I promise it is worth giving it a chance!
Though extremely specific to the Alentejo region, it is beloved throughout the country and will be present in many Portuguese homes on Christmas day.
3. Borrego Assado de Natal
Roasted lamb is a dish that, like all good things, takes a little time. Since it is a type of meat with a very intense flavor, you should put it in a marinade for eight to ten hours, usually with rosemary and a pinch of salt and pepper. To make the meat browner, drizzle it with wine while roasting. You can also add a glass of brandy to the seasoning, to give it a special touch.
The result is tender and succulent meat, served with roasted potatoes and other vegetables. A definite winner at a Christmas table.
4. Bacalhau de Consoada
Served in slices, cooked with potatoes, eggs and cabbage, this dish of codfish is amazingly simple to prepare. As the bacalhau com couve de consoada is served at night and followed by many sweets and desserts, you can season the cod simply with olive oil and white wine vinegar.
Having a side dish of boiled Portuguese cabbage is a tradition, but those who prefer can accompany it with green beans, cauliflower, sprouts or any other vegetable that is more to your liking.
5. Perna de Peru de Natal
A well-seasoned turkey leg, with tender, juicy meat. In Portugal, this is the classic choice for lunch on the 25th of December.
The turkey leg is left to marinate overnight, then seasoned with ingredients found in all Portuguese kitchens: garlic, paprika, oregano, bay leaves, olive oil, white wine. After that it goes into the oven with sliced onions and some small potatoes until browned. It could not be easier!
6. Polvo Assado com Batatas Assadas
Roasted octopus with roasted potatoes is another winner. It takes a little work, but it is absolutely delicious. In the past, octopus was unaffordable for many, thus was only consumed during this incredibly special holiday. These days, however, it is something everyone can enjoy.
Found all over Northern Portugal, octopus is one of the most popular foods during the Christmas season.
7. Roupa Velha
A typical Christmas recipe, made with leftover codfish from Christmas Eve, it is traditional to eat roupa velha (which literally means “old clothes”) before serving the main dish – roast turkey or lamb.
The name comes from the distinctive appearance, in which the ingredients are cut into pieces and jumbled up in a mixture of colors and flavors, like… old clothes! If the appearance is distinctive, the flavor is unmistakable flavor in this simple and practical codfish recipe, deliciously drizzled with olive oil.
8. Rabanadas Natalícias
Rabanadas Natalícias, also called golden slices, are a typical Christmas Eve sweet in several countries, Portugal included. It dates back to the 15th century, the recipe passed down from generation to generation, with few alterations along the way.
The recipe usually includes milk, a stick of stale bread, milk, egg, sugar, lemon, and cinnamon. They are always present at a Christmas table, reminding us of our childhood and traditional holiday dinners.
9. Arroz Doce de Natal
Arroz doce de Natal is the Portuguese version of rice pudding, made with whole milk, sugar, citrus zest or vanilla and cinnamon. Some variations include almond milk, occasionally thickened with starch from rice. In the north of Portugal, rice pudding uses egg yolk, lending it a creamy texture.
Another way to make a creamier rice pudding, is to use risotto rice, which has a greater amount of starch.
A popular delicacy around the world, the Portuguese enjoy rice pudding at weddings, birthday parties, and at Christmas. It is also a popular Easter dish in Portugal.
10. Sonhos Fritos de Natal
Sonhos fritos de Natal are another mandatory dessert for the holiday season, when Portuguese families, especially those with small children, love to gather around a table shaping dough into spheres.
To make these delectable balls, we need flour, milk, lemon peel, salt, wheat flour, and eggs. Sonhos are then deep-fried until you achieve an orange outer hue, while the center remains soft and yellowish.
Crispy and sweet, they are ready to serve after being sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
11. Filhós de Natal
There is no Christmas without the famous filhós – golden, crunchy, and delicate. This traditional dessert is also known as Christmas fritters. They are sweet pastries, deep-fried in oil and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
Filhós are usually made with flour and eggs, sometimes also with pumpkin, carrots, and orange zest. They are popular throughout the country, but are originally from Beiras.
12. Tronco de Natal
One of the traditional dishes for Christmas is Tronco de Natal, which is made and decorated to look like a tree trunk. In English, it is often called “Yule log” or “Chocolate log.”
The recipe is sometimes frightening because it looks so difficult. In fact, anyone can make a great yule log, as long as they are organized. You can get creative with espresso or liqueur icings, or perhaps a Nutella filling. Naughty and very nice.
Aletria is a traditional Portuguese dessert often served at Christmas Eve dinner. Despite being remarkably simple, many Portuguese people only make it during the holiday.
Similar to rice pudding, it is made with noodles made from a very thin dough often referred to as angel’s hair. Again, as with rice pudding, there are many versions to pick from: with egg, without egg, a thick version (that you can cut with a knife), and a creamy version.
14. Bolo Rei
Bolo Rei has a place of honor at the Portuguese table during the Christmas season. Bakers roll up their sleeves in the days before the festivities to produce, literally, tons of this traditional delicacy. Very few families will make this cake at home, opting to head out and buy one. From the end of November until mid-January, you can buy a bolo Rei in all pastry shops, and most grocery stores.
This cake has a delicious dough, with a rich and intense flavor, mixed with candied fruits and dried fruits. The top is decorated with more fruit and embellished with powdered sugar. If you cannot finish it before it hardens, bolo Rei tastes great toasted, with a cup of warm milk or coffee.
15. Azevias de Natal
Here is another Christmas classic that looks lovely on the holiday table. These thin dough parcels are filled with chickpeas and almonds, then deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
You can substitute the chickpeas with sweet potatoes, add almonds, chopped walnuts to the filling, coconut, or pumpkin. They require some patience, but the taste is unique.
16. Broas de Mel
This small cookie, originally from Madeira, is immensely popular at Christmastime. The classic recipe uses sugar cane honey, which is prevalent in many Madeiran desserts. Broas de mel are made with flour, salt, yellow sugar, yeast, and cinnamon, mixed with warm oil and honey.
They are the perfect cookie to accompany a nice cup of coffee or tea on these chilly winter days. An almond is usually placed on top of each cake, but feel free to top yours with a walnut or other dried fruit, or simply go without a topping.
17. Mexidos de Natal
Though it might not be the most famous Portuguese dessert, mexidos de Natal (also known as formigos), finds its way to many Christmas tables. It is a kind of bread pudding that originated in Northern Portugal, where, in olden times, people didn’t have money to buy fancy desserts, so they came up with their own sweet creation.
It is a glorious mix of stale bread, honey, eggs, and lemon peel. Those who could afford to used to add dried fruits such as pine nuts, and a glass of Port wine. It’s especially delicious when warm, and the perfect way to round off your meal.
18. Argolinhas de Natal
Mix flour, salt, and butter, slightly softened. Pour in the sugar, add the eggs, and knead well, until you get a well-bonded dough. Add the orange zest and the brandy and knead some more. After letting the dough rest, just make ringlets and deep-fry them. It is that easy!
Argolinhas de Natal are always great to keep for a few days, provided they do not all “magically” disappear from the Christmas table!
19. Vinho Quente
Vinho quente is a mulled wine especially popular around Christmas time, and very popular in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, under the name glühwein. Traditionally, mulled wine is prepared with anise and orange, served with a cinnamon stick, and accompanied by ginger biscuits.
Drunk, as you would expect, during the coldest times of the year, this is undoubtedly a very cozy drink. Head to one of the many Christmas markets in Portugal and grab a nice warm glass.
20. Vinho do Porto
In Portugal, Christmas is always a good excuse to buy or give away a bottle of Vinho do Porto (Port Wine). This is a fortified wine, produced in the Douro Wine Region.
Port wines can be divided into distinct categories depending on the type of ageing; Ruby, Tawny, White, and Rosé. But when it comes to Port, you can’t really cannot go wrong. It is a lovely drink to have while enjoying a calm, winter night.
And with that, we come to the end of our gastronomic tour of Portugal. We hope you have spotted something along the way that you feel inspired to try out this Christmas. Feliz Natal everyone!
Related: Top 20 Portuguese Dishes