Alentejo is one of the best regions to eat in Portugal. In this article, we will analyze the different typical dishes and explore what to eat in Alentejo.
Although the scarcity of resources has historically conditioned the Alentejo, it has a rich and varied cuisine. Due to Alentejo’s people’s creativity and talent, basic and standard ingredients are transformed into delicacies. Lamb and pork are the base of many dishes in the region. Though, it is the bread that is the predominant and essential element in all Alentejo gastronomy.
Typical dishes vary depending on the region and the resources available to their populations. On the Alentejo coast, fish and seafood are vastly used, while black pork, lamb, and olives are used and abused in the Alentejo interior. As you mentioned, bread is everywhere.
We have gathered a list of the most typical dishes to eat in Alentejo to help you enjoy the best of Alentejo cuisine.
What to Eat in Alentejo? Starters and Snacks
Going to Alentejo and not eating olives is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. Essentially all restaurants serve a small dish with green and black olives as an aperitif. Keep in mind that some olives can be a little bitter, far more so than most other regions. It all depends on the curing time.
In addition to the outstanding quality of the olives, the Alentejo produces excellent olive oil, being one of the biggest (and best) olive oil producers in the world. Several of the oil produced in Alentejo are classified as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), such as Moura oil, inland Alentejo oil, and North Alentejo oil. Used in the preparation and seasoning of food or sometimes to simply wet bread, olive oil is used and abused in Alentejo.
Sausages and smoked meats
The sausages and smoked meats from Alentejo are very popular and usually of excellent quality – especially the sausages from Estremoz and Borba. The best-known sausages are chorizo, farinheira, and paia. The chorizo is made with pork meat and fat, with garlic, pepper, and salt – the curing is done cold, in slow smoking. In contrast, the farinheira is made with pork fat and flour, seasoned with pepper paste, garlic, and salt, cured by tobacco. Finally, the paia is a typical Alentejo smoked meat made with whole pieces of pork.
One reason that distinguishes Alentejo sausages and makes them so good is that they are made with the Alentejo swine breed known as the black pig or Iberian pig. This breed is bred and preserved in the Alentejo region, being endemic to the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
Used as an aperitif before a meal, Alentejo cheeses are delicious. In fact, Alentejo has several kinds of cheese recognized worldwide. The best known with DOP classification are:
- Nisa cheese – made with sheep’s milk, it’s a cured semi-hard cheese and yellowish white color;
- Évora cheese – also made with sheep’s milk but with a slightly spicy flavor, it is a cured cheese, hard or semi-hard and yellowish in color;
- Serpa cheese – it’s sheep’s cheese with a long maturation period. It is cured, semi-soft, buttery;
The truth is that Alentejo cheeses are suitable for any occasion.
What to Eat in Alentejo? Soups
Açorda is one of the most iconic and typical dishes in Alentejo. This soup or better broth is made to use the remains of old and hard bread, requiring few ingredients to prepare it. In addition to being very simple to make, this broth is also full of flavor.
To make this bread soup, you have to crush garlic with salt and coriander or pennyroyal. Add boiled water to the crushed mixture. Finally, place slices of Alentejan bread in each bowl and add the broth and poached eggs on top.
This soup has Arab origins, dating back to when the Iberian Peninsula was under Moorish rule. It is a reference dish in Alentejo cuisine, with many variations. Each family has its own way of making Açorda.
There are also different types of Açorda: Cod, fish, purslane, etc. Finally, we must also mention that there are açordas with less broth and more bread, ceasing to be a soup and becoming the main dish, such as the shrimp açorda.
The dogfish soup is a fish soup, very typical of Alentejo. This soup resembles the açorda as it is made with bread, but it also includes dogfish, which is a small shark, and aromatic herbs such as coriander or pennyroyal.
Like the açorda, this soup has an Arab origin, and it is said that it was a soup that was formerly eaten by the lower classes, as the dogfish was a fish with a pungent smell or taste. It was necessary to marinate the fish before cooking it in water, vinegar, and salt, and today there is no need to do this. And it’s delicious, especially for those who like fish soup.
Gaspacho or Caspacho
Gaspacho or Caspacho is a cold soup typical of Alentejo and Algarve. It is made with small chunks of tomato, cucumber, pepper, and bread loaves. In the end, we had water with oil, vinegar, and salt. It is usually accompanied by ham and other smoked products, or mackerel and fried petingas (sardines),
This soup is also very famous in southern Spain in the Andalusian area, but in the Andalusian Gaspacho, the ingredients, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, and bread are all crushed. It is known as the Gaspacho à Andaluza.
Tomato soup is an Alentejo dish made with ripe tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, and, of course, Alentejo bread. The ingredients are cut into small pieces, not crushed. It is a hot soup, differing from Gaspacho. It is often accompanied by poached eggs cooked in the soup’s own broth.
Fish soup is a reference dish in all the coastal cities of Portugal, and, of course, the southwest coast of Alentejo is famous for its fish soups. The big difference between fish soup from Alentejo and the rest of the country is that in the Alentejo, more aromatic herbs such as coriander and pennyroyal are used.
If you are visiting the Rota Vicentina, you can’t forget to try some fish soup in a picturesque restaurant near the sea.
What to Eat in Alentejo? Fish
The Alentejo Coast is one of the best places to eat fresh grilled fish in Portugal. You can choose between various fishes, such as sea bream, sea bass, sardine, or skate. They are all delicious, but we always suggest you choose to eat the fish of the day. Some of our favorite places to eat fish are Porto Corvo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Azenhas do Mar, but you can find quality fish in almost any coastal town/village.
Be aware that if you want to eat really good fish, you should go to the Alentejo coast. As we have already mentioned, each region of Alentejo has its specialties that depend on its resources. So there’s nothing like eating fresh fish in the cities and towns of Southwest Alentejo on a terrace facing the sea.
Apart from fish, Costa Vicentina is also one of the best places to eat octopus in Portugal. This coastal area has a strong tradition of catching/fishing for octopuses. In the past, harvesting was done in holes or “fishmongers” placed in small ports. In recent years, there have been government restrictions on Polvo fishing in Alentejo.
Octopus is a very versatile ingredient, and it is cooked in different ways, all of which are very tasty. The best-known delicacies are Octopus Salad, Octopus Cataplana, Octopus Rice, Octopus with beans, and of course Octopus à lagareiro.
Meat Dishes from Alentejo Cuisine
Pézinhos de coentrada
Pezinhos de coentrada (which translates to coriander little feet) is one of the most typical dishes in Alentejo and can be served as a starter, appetizer, or main dish. The main ingredient in this recipe is the pig’s feet, which are transformed into something delicious with the help of garlic and coriander.
You need to cook the pig’s feet until tender to make this dish. Make a garlic paste with salt and sauté in oil. Add the little feet, coriander, and broth where the feet were cooked. Some recipes add an egg to the broth. They are served with lots of coriander.
It’s strangely delicious. Alentejo cuisine has this peculiarity of transforming simple and poor ingredients into delicacies.
Lamb Stew (ensopado de borrego)
Lamb stew is a traditional dish found throughout Alentejo. It’s made with stuffed lamb, boiled potatoes and served on slices of bread. It’s simply divine. The meat melts in the mouth and is accompanied by a delicious and aromatic broth and fine Alentejo bread.
This dish is relatively easy to cook. You have to sauté onion, garlic and fry the meat, add seasonings such as salt, bay leaf, pepper, pepper, and wine. Add water and let it cook. Finally, add the potatoes, and you’re done. This stew is served on top of Alentejo bread. There are slight variations on the recipe and personal touches. Some cooks use fried bread and sometimes add mint, for example.
Lamb stew is traditionally eaten at Easter.
Alentejano chickpeas stew (Cozido de Grão)
Cozido de grão is one of the most cherished dishes in Alentejo. It is a dish that tastes better in winter and is associated with country food. It is mainly traditional in Portalegre, in the Alentejo interior.
This dish is made with various vegetables, but it’s the chickpeas that stand out. It takes potatoes, carrots, green beans, pumpkin, onion, and garlic. Pork and sausages (farinheira and chorizo) cannot be missed, but some people include lamb. To make this dish, you need to cook the beans and meat – some cooks make them separately, others together. Then cook the vegetables in the broth of meats and sausages, and to add flavor, include a sprig of mint. It’s simply divine; it’s comfort food in Alentejo style.
Migas à Alentejana
Migas is the most common dish in Alentejo. It is a versatile dish that can be made in different ways and with various ingredients. It can be accompanied by a protein, such as migas with meat, or it can be the main dish on its own, as in the case of asparagus migas.
Migas are made with aged Alentejo bread softened in hot water and cooked in fat. For example, when accompanied with pork, spare ribs, or rojões – the fat from the meat is used to make Migas. They are fried until dry and with a golden crust. The most frequent migas are migas with pork ribs, migas with pork (rojões), migas with asparagus. There are also Migas made with potatoes instead of bread.
Migas are thought to have an Arab gastronomic origin, like so many southern Portugal dishes.
Alentejan Black Pig
Alentejan black pig or Iberian black pig is a pig native to the Alentejo and the central and southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. The Alentejan pig is thought to have the wild boar as its ancestry. Alentejo black pig has a dark, black, and hairless color, but what really distinguishes it is its food, as it is based on acorns and lives freely. This makes the black pig have very tasty and juicy meat.
Being an excellent quality and delicious meat, many typical Alentejo dishes are based on it. The most popular and specific dishes in Alentejo are black pig secrets, black pig feathers, black pig cheeks, black pig lizards, among others. These dishes are made with different parts and cuts of pork meat. Traditionally, in Portugal, all the pork meat is used – the legs, guts, and brains, as we have already seen in some examples above. Iberian pig is also used to make sausages, including pata negra ham, which is popular everywhere.
Keep in mind that the Iberian pig is not exclusive to the Alentejo; the southern part of Spain uses the black pig a lot, namely to make the famous Iberian Jamón.
When you go to the Alentejo, you have to take the opportunity to eat one of the many dishes that use Iberian pig- you will notice the difference in the meat, which is very tasty and tender.
Alentejan Pork with clams
Carne de Porco à Alentejana or Pork with Clams is one of the best-known and most eaten dishes in Portugal and especially in Alentejo. It is found on almost every restaurant menus.
Despite the name and the fact that it is widely eaten in Alentejo, it is believed that this dish has its origins in the Algarve (which is why we also included it in our Algarve food guide). They gave this name to the dish to indicate that they were using Alentejan pork. This dish is made with pork, clams, garlic, and diced french fries and seasoned with paprika, wine, bay leaf. The meat and potatoes are fried and mixed with the already cooked clams and sprinkled with coriander or parsley.
Traditional Alentejo dishes – Sweets and Desserts
Sericaia with Elva Plums
Sericaia with Elvas plums is one of the most iconic sweets in Alentejo. It is a convent sweet from Elvas, from the convent of Nossa Senhora da Conceição or Santa Clara. It is thought that the recipe was brought from the Indies by D. Constantino de Bragança, after the conquest of Malacca in 1510.
Sericaia is a moist sweet made with eggs, flour, milk and sugar, cinnamon, and lemon peel. It is traditionally cooked and served in clay dishes and accompanied with Elvas plum. Elvas plums are made with Queen Claudia green plums boiled in sugar syrup for hours; it is a laborious and complex process. Elvas plums alone are incredibly sweet but accompanied with sericaia, it is divine.
Fidalgo is a decadent conventual sweet with everything that convent sweets have to offer. It is not one of the best-known Alentejo sweets, but it is our favorite, and we want to spread this delight around the world.
Fidalgo is a sweet made with egg candy, simple yet complex. So now you know, if you see this candy for sale in Alentejo (or anywhere else), don’t miss the opportunity to try it. It’s a bomb!