Eating hot, freshly baked pastéis de nata is one of the best reasons to visit Portugal – and you should do it without an ounce of shame. But if you limit your sugar intake to the famous egg tarts found on every street corner, you’ll miss out.
There is a diverse tradition of Portuguese desserts spanning centuries of history and thousands of creations, including decadent biscuit cakes, shredded chicken breast puddings and more. Fortunately, even regional specialties can be found in stores in major cities such as Lisbon and Porto.
Portuguese sugar production – first in the island region of Madeira, then in the former colony of Brazil – generated so much wealth that it has been called “white gold”.
This abundance led to the creation of many confectioneries with broad influences, including monks, Catholic nuns and artisan bakers who adopted ingredients such as almonds, pumpkin, cinnamon and even rabbit meat. As a child in the northern region of Trás-os-Montes, food writer Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes remembers hearing the phrase: “Leaving the table without eating dessert is leaving the table with a bad mouth.”
The following five treats represent some of the most popular that visitors should try – besides pastéis de nata.