10 Most Popular Easter Foods in Portugal
In Portugal, as in many parts of the world, Easter traditions are marked by processions, theatrical performances, a bountiful table, and a lot of faith. But the customs that identify the rebirth of Jesus Christ also bring curiosities and unique traditions to Lusitanian lands, since the country is one of the most religious countries in Europe.
Easter is probably the second largest religious celebration that takes place in Portugal – the first being Christmas, of course. The Easter season begins 40 days before Easter day with the start of Lent, a period of fasting and praying, when observers abstain from meat and other foods.
When the Holy Week (Semana Santa) arrives, various traditional events and customs are followed in Portugal. To some extent, they vary from one part of the country to another, but there is also much in common between them. The traditions are stronger in the inland areas, but the metropolitan areas also have their religious and cultural celebrations, processions, and events
The most important days during this time of year are without doubt Good Friday (Sexta-feira Santa) and Easter Sunday (Páscoa), both national holidays in Portugal, and the most important days of the festivities.
One thing that certainly contributes greatly to the preservation and celebration of these traditions is the food. Here are some of the most famous Portuguese Easter dishes and desserts:
1. Roasted Goat or Lamb (Cabrito Assado)
After strict reflection during Lent – 40 days without meat – Easter Sunday is when Catholics celebrate Christ’s resurrection and meat is again a feature of the table. Lamb is symbolically linked to Jesus’ sacrifice but goat has also become a traditional dish at this time of year.
From a symbolic and historical perspective, eating lamb or goat at this time of year makes perfect sense. But there is also a more practical reason. Winters were often a true sacrifice, and lamb or goat were the first fresh meats available.
2. Suckling Pig (Leitão)
The tradition of enjoying suckling pig at Easter is so old that it is impossible to know for sure where and when it started. It is generally thought to have begun in the inland region of Portugal. Who knows.
But over time, the tradition of serving this dish at Easter spread into the urban regions and along the coast.
Editor’s Note: Suckling pig is a treasured holiday dish on the entire Iberian Peninsula. It is the most popular Christmas dish in Spain.
3. Cod (Bacalhau)
In the Middle Ages, Christians abstained from “hot” meats on fasting days. Cod was a “cold” food and its consumption was encouraged by traders when meat was off the menu. Thus, it became strongly identified with the religiosity and culture of the Portuguese people.
The strict calendar of fasting has gradually relaxed, but the tradition of bacalhau remains strong in Portuguese-speaking countries up to today, especially at Easter, but cod is a popular Portuguese Christmas food as well.
4. Ham and Cheese (Presento e Queijo)
Easter is a special time, highlighting the end of Lent. And what better way to celebrate the return of meat to the table than with ham combined with Portuguese cheese.
The quality of Portuguese smoked sausage is well known throughout the country and Europe. Its dairy products have a similar reputation, so it makes sense to put them together in this most famous of Easter entrées.
5. Savory Bread (Folar Salgado)
Folar is the traditional Easter bread in Portugal, made from water, salt, eggs, and wheat flour. In Valpaços in the northeast of the Trás-os-Montes region, folar de Valpaços is made. This is a soft, fluffy bread dough filled with pork, smoked ham, pepperoni, and sausage, among other ingredients, such as lard, and olive oil.
6. Sponge Cake (Pão-de-ló)
Believe it or not, the origin of the sponge cake (pão-de-ló) is linked to Easter bread (folar de Páscoa). Over time, for some reason, Easter bread was replaced by the more typical sponge cake. In some regions in the Portuguese countryside, however, the tradition remains unchanged.
Pão-de-ló is a dessert made with flour, eggs and sugar, of varying amounts depending on the local recipe. It was traditionally given by godparents to their godchildren on Easter Sunday (Domingo de Páscoa) in celebration of friendship and reconciliation.
7. Chocolate Salami (Salame de Chocolate)
Easter brings age-old traditions for celebration and to make life that little bit sweeter. Which is why this sweet is so famous, not only during Easter but throughout the year.
The recipe, of unknown origin, is very popular in Portugal, especially with children. The chocolate salami is a Portuguese recipe made with chocolate, biscuits/cookies, sugar (optional), butter, and eggs.
8. Easter Bread (Folar da Páscoa)
The traditional Easter bread is called “folar”. It is the pastry of this season as it is so rich in eggs, which represents fertility and renewed hope.
Folar is made with eggs, sugar, flour, milk, and butter, and may have hints of fennel and anise. In the northern part of the country, folar is usually savory and includes sausage and other meats; as you move down to the center and south of the country, it becomes sweeter and sweeter. Quite often, it is given an animal shape and decorated with boiled eggs.
On Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos), godchildren usually bring a bouquet of violets to their godmother, and on Easter Sunday, the godmother offers folar in return.
9. Chocolate Almonds (Amêndoas de Chocolate)
Easter almonds are an icon of fertility and renewal, a tradition found in many parts of the world. Representing birth and life, they are a symbol of Jesus’ Resurrection.
In Portugal, an Easter tradition is for godfathers to exchange chocolate almonds with their godchildren. Nowadays, chocolate almonds are always present in the home and anyone can exchange them with anyone else.
10. Rice Pudding (Arroz Doce)
This is one of the most traditional and oldest Portuguese desserts, whose recipe has remained virtually the same over the centuries. It is most likely that the recipe originated in Persia, where the rice cooked in milk was sweetened with honey and flavored with spices. From there, it was taken to the Iberian Peninsula.
Others claim the dessert originated in India and other Asian countries, where it was prepared not with animal milk but with milk extracted from coconuts. No festivity, celebration or pilgrimage is complete without rice pudding. There is no doubt that it is one of the most favorite desserts when it comes to celebrating Easter.
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