The Algarve is a Portuguese region blessed by a warm Mediterranean climate. Known and sought after for its beaches and spectacular cliffs, it is a popular holiday destination. Being synonymous with a good life, relaxing on the beach, terraces, and summer vibes.
Although not well known for its cuisine, the Algarve has a lot to offer in this regard. Much more than the credit you receive. It is the ideal place to eat fresh fish, delicious fruit, especially oranges, and has a wide variety of sweets. Not to mention the terrace culture, where it is ideal for snacking and drinking a cold drink.
We have gathered here everything you must eat in the Algarve to guide you and enjoy the best of Algarve cuisine.
What to Eat in the Algarve? Starters and Snacks
Algarvian Carrots (Cenouras à Algarvia)
This starter is something you should definitely try; it may sound trite or nothing extraordinary, but it’s delicious. Algarvian Carrots is a starter or sometimes a side dish consisting of boiled carrots, chopped garlic, chopped coriander, and finally seasoned with vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. It needs to be marinated in the fridge for a few hours but ideally, a day or two. It’s a winning combination of flavors.
Conquilha à Algarvia
Conquilhas or Cadelinhas are typical bivalve molluscs from the Algarve. They are similar to clams but smaller and live close to the shore, buried a few centimeters deep in the sand.
Conquilhas are a great starter or snack and symbolize Algarve, the summer, and ultimately having a nice time. They are made with garlic and coriander and washed down with a little lemon at the end. When you go to the Algarve, it’s a dish you have to try, and you’ll probably want to repeat it.
Besides being used as an appetizer or a snack, conquilhas are an important ingredient in Algarve cuisine; there are several typical dishes in the Algarve whose main focus is the conquilhas: Xerém of conquilhas, cataplana of conquilhas, or clam soup.
An interesting piece of information is that in Lagos, the Conquilhas are called Condelipas. According to history, the name of this bivalve comes from Count Luppi in the 18th century, who was very fond of Conquilhas. Portugal hired general Luppi to reorganize the troops, and the count is said to have loved the Conquilhas de Lagos; the mollusks became known as the Count d’Lippe, and with time Condelipas. So you already know when you go to Lagos and want to eat conquilha you have to look for Condelipas.
If you like Oysters, the Algarve is one of the best places to try them in Portugal. As one of the largest Oyster producers in the country, one can find deliciously fresh Oysters. The main Oyster production areas in the Algarve are the Ria do Alvor and the Ria Formosa.
You can find this delicacy in most fish and seafood restaurants in the Algarve. In Cancela Velha, between Tavira and Monte Gordo is reputed to have delicious and cheap oysters.
When you’re in the Algarve, you have to take the opportunity to eat an abundance of seafood and fish. The Algarve has a strong connection with the sea, with its abundant coastline, all coastal cities had fishing as their main activity.
Is there anything better than sitting on a terrace enjoying the Algarve sun and snacking on the various seafood offerings the Algarve has to offer? It is mandatory to eat barnacles, cockles, razor clams, lobster, crab, and shrimp. You will find these delicacies in almost any fish and seafood restaurant.
What to Eat in the Algarve? Fish
Algarvian Tuna (Atum à Algarvia)
Tuna is one of the main fishes consumed in the Algarve. Atlantic red tuna was one of the most caught fish in the Algarve. This migratory fish travels long distances to spawn in the Mediterranean, and passing along the coast of the Algarve is mandatory. In the 19th century, Portugal was one of the leading tuna fishers.
Given the history of tuna fishing, it is expected that this muscular fish is of great importance in the cuisine of the Algarve. Tuna is known as the steak of the sea, being ideal for grilling or even drying and salting – the so-called muxama, traditional in Olhão.
One of the most traditional tuna dishes in the Algarve is the Algarvian Tuna (Atum à Algarvia). This dish is made with tomato, red pepper, white wine, and tuna marinated with lemon juice. The tuna is served with potatoes and covered in parsley. It’s a very comforting dish.
Cataplana is the most iconic dish in the Algarve, with several cataplanas, with meat, seafood, and fish. The most popular cataplanas are seafood cataplanas, fish cataplanas, clams in the cataplana, and even the pork and clams cataplana.
Cataplana not only refers to the dish but is also the name of the container used in its preparation. It is a copper container of Arab origin, formed by two concave parts connected by a hinge that closes with the help of two side clasps. The cataplana steams slowly, which allows it to retain the flavor and aroma of the ingredients. In addition to producing delicious food, the cataplanas are beautiful.
Cataplana is a must-have dish when you go to the Algarve, as well as being delicious; it is a unique experience to eat this very traditional dish.
Swordfish is a fish similar to tuna and is also known as the steak of the seas. It is fished in the open sea at great depths. And it’s a fish with very juicy white meat.
Swordfish is widely used in Algarve cuisine; it is usually grilled over the coals but is also often cooked with onions, known as onion swordfish. The traditional way of cooking is swordfish fried with onions and garlic.
Algarvian fried cuttlefish
Algarvian fried cuttlefish is a very popular dish eaten in the Algarve and is ideal for eating in the summer on a terrace with a cool drink.
Fried cuttlefish is a dish made with small or medium cuttlefish fried in olive oil with garlic and chilies. Add white wine and let it cook until they are soft. Serve with boiled or fried potatoes and cilantro. Some make this dish with small cuttlefish with paint.
Don’t confuse this dish with fried cuttlefish, which is a typical dish of many coastal cities in southern Portugal, such as Setúbal, Lisbon, and Porto Covo, which is also delicious.
Eating grilled fish is almost mandatory as in other coastal areas of Portugal. In addition to fish in Portugal being delicious and fresh, it is one of the cheapest countries to eat fish. Though in the Algarve, prices may be slightly higher than in the rest of the country due to the large amount of tourism.
The best way to eat fish is grilled over coal, and the most common species in restaurants are sea bream, sardines, sea bass, and sole.
Octopus of Santa Luzia
Octopus is one of the most coveted and appreciated dishes in the Algarve, being especially famous in Tavira and Santa Luzia, the Capital of Octopus. It is a dish that can be prepared in different ways but is always delicious. We can have octopus stewed in wine, breaded, grilled, with rice, or baked in the oven with olive oil and potatoes on the wall.
Try octopus cooked in every way you can, especially at the Santa Luzia restaurants, which have specialized in cooking one of the best ingredients in Portugal.
Meat Dishes from the Algarve Cuisine
Frango da guia – Piri piri chicken
Frango da Guia is the Algarve dish best known by foreign tourists, the famous “Piri Piri Chicken. Frango da Guia is barbecue chicken made in the parish of Guia in Albufeira. The first restaurant to cook it and make it well known was Ramires Restaurant in 1964 by José Carlos Ramires. Mr. Ramires used a recipe originating from the Portuguese African Colonies, making this dish known as Frango da Guia.
Nowadays, many places cook barbecue chicken similar to Mr. Ramires’, but Guia’s chicken has always been famous. Many connoisseurs claim that the best Frango da guia comes from Ramires and Tiodosio restaurants in Guia parish.
Although this dish has no roots in the Algarve or Portugal, it is cherished by everyone. It is a fast food dish from Portugal that you can eat in a restaurant or take with you and eat anywhere without frills.
Alentejan pork meat (Carne de porco à Alentejana)
Alentejan Pork meat is a signature dish in the Algarve that is served in almost all restaurants in the region. This dish is made with pork from the Alentejo (hence the dish’s name), clams, and diced french fries. The dish is seasoned with garlic, paprika, wine, bay leaf, and coriander.
Despite being a traditional dish from the Algarve, it can be found in other country regions, such as Alentejo and Lisbon. It’s a delicious dish that brings together the best of both worlds, seafood and meat.
Xarém or Xerém is a traditional dish from the Algarve that is not well known and, unfortunately, is not one of the easiest to find in restaurants. The dish consists of porridge made with cornflour and is accompanied by different ingredients such as chorizo, ham, bacon, greaves, pork, or clams.
It is thought that Xarém has its origins in an old Arab dish, as the name means chickpea porridge. It is a particularly traditional dish in Olhão.
Traditional Algarve dishes – Sweets and Desserts
Doces Finos (which translates to fine candies) are a typical sweet of the Algarve and are very cute and fluffy, not to mention delicious. It is a sweet made with almond paste and sugar, known as marzipan, and can be filled with egg threads. They are molded into different animal or fruit shapes and can be decorated with chocolate or dyes.
It is very easy to find these sweets, which are very original and preserved for a long time, making them ideal for gifts. In our opinion, they are not the tastiest sweets in Portugal, especially if you are not fond of marzipan.
Dom Rodrigo is a conventual sweet, meaning it was created in a convent. It is traditional in the Algarve and Lagos, in particular. It is made with egg threads, almond kernels, sugar in the syrup, and egg jam. Yes, it is a bomb of sweetness and sweet eggs, as is characteristic of convent sweets, but it is so good.
The candy came from the Nossa Senhora da Carmo Convent and was created to honor the captain-general of the Algarve, D. Rodrigo de Menezes, hence the candy’s name.
As seen in the picture, it is usually wrapped in tin foil-colored candy but can also be consumed in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.
Three delicacies from the Algarve Pie
Three delicacies from the Algarve Pie use three prevalent and traditional Algarve ingredients – fig, almond, and carob. The combination of these ingredients creates this surprisingly delicious pie.
The pie base is made with figs, Maria biscuits, and almonds. The filling is made with eggs, almonds, sweet pepper, carob, and wheat flour. Bake for 10 minutes, and finally, sprinkle a little carob flour on top of the pie. It may seem like a strange combination, especially because the carob is bitter, but in this recipe, the ingredients match very well; the contrast of the carob with the sweetness of the figs and the sweetness of the gila works well.
Morgado and Morgadinho
The Morgado is a typical Algarve cake made with almonds and stuffed with sweet gila and soft eggs. The cake has the shape and appearance of a cheese and is covered with fondant or soft eggs. It is often decorated with marzipan (almond paste) flowers to imitate almond blossoms.
Traditionally it was a cake for parties such as baptisms and weddings, although nowadays, it is eaten on all occasions. It is a very different cake from other typical Portuguese desserts but also beautiful.
As for Morgadinhos, they are smaller versions of the Morgado cake. They are round, in individual portions, and there is a simple version and covered with fondant.
Berliners (Bola de Berlim)
Berliners do not originate in the Algarve (or Portugal), but they have become a cult food on the beaches of the Algarve. Who has never heard the famous chant on the beaches of the Algarve “OOOLHA A BOLA DE BERLIMMM……”. Well, if you haven’t heard, you’ll now learn about one of the wonders of the beaches of the Algarve and beyond.
Several beaches in the Algarve have street (hmm… beach) vendors selling Berliners, who walk around the beaches with a small container and sell these delicious Berliners. There’s nothing better than eating a berliner after taking a dip in the sea. The Portuguese Bola de Berlin /berliner is a fried cake filled with egg cream and covered with sugar. It’s the best beach food ever.
This Algarve tradition has expanded to many other beaches in Portugal, and it is currently possible to find these sellers from North to South.
Orange from the Algarve
The Algarve excels in its sweets and fish, but one of the best things to eat in the Algarve is the local fruit, especially oranges. The Algarve orange is the best in Portugal, which means a lot since Portugal is well-known for its oranges. In fact, the word orange in many countries is Portugal.
Algarve oranges are juicy, sweet, and have thin skin. The best time to eat oranges in the Algarve is in December-January or June-July, as these are the two picking seasons.
But in addition to oranges, you should try peaches, apricots, raspberries, and watermelon. The warm Mediterranean climate allows the fruit to be sweet and very tasty.
Although the Algarve is not usually considered a culinary destination, there are undoubtedly several typical dishes that you have to try. From fish, and seafood to various sweets, not to mention the wonderful orange of the Algarve. There is a lot to enjoy during your stay in the Algarve.
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