Portuguese food, particularly in the Algarve region, has evolved to include a blend of cultural influences. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Moors occupied this southernmost port at various times during its 3,000-year history. These communities each established trading posts, mined for salt, cultivated spices, fished and introduced a variety of agriculture. As a result, a definitive set of regional dishes emerged, all stemming from a variety of native roots.
While staying at Vilar do Golf, a Diamond Resorts property located 30 minutes from Faro (an essential town to visit during your Algarve vacation), you can find these must-sample items mere steps from your suite.
Below, we dig into the specialties you can look forward to enjoying in this vibrant region.
The Moors, who occupied the Algarve most recently, probably had the largest and longest-lasting impact on the area. Like the Romans who brought olives and grapes, they planted crops that flourish to this day: almonds, figs and oranges. You can see the far-reaching effects on desserts like the Queijo de Figo, a round, compact cake formed from ground figs and almonds. These highly textured, fragrant cakes are both unmistakable and irresistible.
Dom Rodrigos, most commonly found in Tariva in the eastern Algarve, is another cake that utilizes almonds. Also comprised of eggs, sugar and cinnamon, this sweet is a cross between a cake and a pudding and looks like it’s made of soft yarn. The sticky and gooey treat comes wrapped up in a small bag, like a gift. And a very sweet gift it is.
Also very sweet, Doces finos do Algarve are everywhere in the region. Shaped into vegetables, fruits and animals, these adorable and delicious pieces of marzipan are brightly hued and beckon the eye. Nestled into frilly paper cups, they’re ideal for the Instagram feed as well as the palate. Many of them are quite elaborate and artistic, and shops try to outdo each other with their designs.
Portuguese food is shaped by its renowned aquaculture, which makes sense given the country’s coastline geography. Restaurants typically serve a multitude of popular fish from the Atlantic: pargo, orata and dorada (bream); garoupoa (grouper); tamboril (monkfish) and robala (sea bass). But sardinhas, or sardines, are a particular delicacy in the Algarve. Usually served grilled, these small, pungent fish are especially noteworthy in Portimão in the western part of the region. Every August, a festival devoted to sardinhas sets up near the waterfront. Dozens of booths allow locals and visitors alike to sample this regional treat.
While not everyone loves sardines, at least most everyone has heard of them. But this may not be so with percebes (sometimes spelled perceves) — goose barnacles. Divers sever them in clusters from underwater rocks, and they look like bony hands from a horror movie. Don’t let that deter you. Pulled from its tubing and perhaps dipped in butter or just consumed with a squeeze of fresh citrus, the flesh tastes like a cross between a clam and lobster. Funny enough, percebes also means “Do you understand?” in Portuguese, and many diners don’t get that goose barnacles are delicious until they actually try them. Percebes are freshest in the western and southern Algarve.
Oysters, of course, are far more familiar to most visitors. But as oyster lovers know, each one takes on the characteristics of the environment in which it grows. The Pacific variety harvested from Moínho dos Ilhéus, located in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, is so good that it’s served in the finest restaurants. From September to June, you can book an oyster tasting tour to see the farming process and taste these oysters in their natural habitat.
Other Algarve food Specialties
One of the staples of Algarve local cuisine is cataplana — a name for both a stew and the dish in which the stew cooks. Descended from the Moorish tagine, the traditional vessel is round and opens into two flat sides joined by a hinge, much like a large clam shell. (Some more modern versions offer different designs.) The cataplana allows the chef to first sauté and simmer, then it close up to steam food. The most well-known cataplana — referring to the stew — is made with clams (amêijoas na cataplana), tomatoes and peppers, but other ingredients might include prawns, oysters, monkfish, cod, octopus and chouriço sausages.
That sausage, variously called chouriço, chouriças and enchidos, is a specialty of the inner Algarve. A holdover from Roman times, the chopped pork and pork fat is liberally spiced with paprika and garlic and then stuffed into casings — which may be natural, made from intestines or artificial. The sausage is then fermented, dried and smoked. Chouriças are spicy or dulce (sweet), but they’re indispensable in Portuguese cuisine either way, used as a main ingredient or as a flavoring agent.
Speaking of spice, piri-piri chicken is a sought-after item in the port town on Guia. This dish is also renowned in African countries such as Mozambique, where Portuguese sailors brought the bird pepper. Piri-piri chicken drips with hot sauce as it barbecues until the poultry falls off the bones. Completely addictive, it’s just the right way to satiate a growling stomach after a day spent in the salty sea air.
Of course, nationally heralded Portuguese food specialties like Bacalhau (salt cod) and Pasteis de Nata (egg custard), are also available throughout the Algarve. In fact, you’ll encounter them wherever you go during your Algarve vacation. Staying nearby at Vilar Do Golf brings you into the heart of this incredible region, where you can eat to your heart’s content. You may just plan your entire vacation around the activity.
Diamond Resorts International Marketing, Inc., its parents, sister companies, and subsidiaries, make no warranty, express or implied, as to the condition, capacity, performance or any other aspect of the activities, events, or service providers listed herein. No inquiry has been made into the activities or events, or the qualifications or the quality of services offered by the providers. Do not consider this an endorsement of or recommendation for any of the activities, events, or providers.