Traditional Portuguese Christmas food

Get ready for the festive season with a traditional Portuguese Christmas celebration.

Turkey and lamb are firm Christmas favourites in Portugal / Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash
Turkey and lamb are firm Christmas favourites in Portugal / Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash
14 December 2020, Emma Donaldson

Every major holiday in Portugal has its own seasonal dishes and sweet treats, and Christmas is certainly no different. All over Portugal, there are a wide range of traditional Portuguese Christmas dinners, dishes and desserts. Christmas traditions in Portugal mean that it is a time for celebrating with an abundance of great food, and from mid-November onward, you can find the best of the typical Portuguese Christmas food offer in any bakery or supermarket. It's time to forget the mince pies and Christmas pudding and have a look at these 8 traditional Portuguese Christmas foods to indulge in if you want to celebrate Christmas like a local in 2020. 

Bacalhau

No Christmas feast in Portugal is complete without the star ingredient in Portugal, bacalhau or salt cod. Locally caught fish is usually eaten on Christmas Eve, when families enjoy a light meal known as “Consoada”. All that’s left for you to decide is how to cook your bacalhau. Some of the most common forms of serving this typical ingredient include pastéis de bacalhau, battered codfish fritters that make the perfect finger food, or bacalhau da Consoada, simple boiled cod with potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs with a drizzle of olive oil. Another common option, for those who are more adventurous, is Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá. In this festive dish, the salt cod is cooked with potatoes, and onions which are layered in a dish, topped with hard-boiled egg, baked in the oven and finished off with olives, chopped parsley, olive oil and a touch of garlic.

Cabrito assado no forno

Beyond Portugal’s iconic bacalhau, there are other dishes that are also very popular in Portugal during the Christmas holidays, especially in the inland regions. Many people celebrate Christmas and New Year dinners with “cabrito assado no forno”, which is basically juicy oven-roasted lamb and crispy roast potatoes. This is one of the most typical and traditional dishes in Portugal and is the perfect dish for those wanting to taste authentic Portuguese flavours. This hearty Christmas dinner is even better when served with a good glass of Douro red wine.

Peru recheado

For the dedicated Christmas turkey lovers, Portugal is the perfect destination for you as, surprisingly, the turkey trend extends beyond the USA and the UK. In Portuguese, the stuffed turkey is called “peru recheado” and isn’t all that different from turkey as we know it. The recipe for the turkey stuffing often differs from one household to another with lots of secret family recipes for making the perfect stuffing. Some use vegetables, others prefer to make the stuffing with meat, and while turkey isn’t enjoyed at Christmas in all of Portugal, it’s becoming more common as a cheaper option.

Rabanadas

Moving on to sweet treats, Rabanadas are a Portuguese favourite all over the country at Christmas time. They are very easy to find in bakeries across Portugal, but also very easy to make at home. Sometimes known as a Portuguese version of French toast (but arguably better), Rabanadas are made with slices of a white bread soaked in milk, wine or sugar syrup with lemon zest, then soaked in eggs, and fried in oil to give them a golden crust before being sprinkled with some cinnamon sugar. 

Lampreia de Ovos

Lampreia de Ovos may be one of Portugal’s most unusual Christmas desserts. This unique sweet treat is usually made with anything between 20 and 50 egg yolks, and is a replica of a terrifying, ancient sea monster; a blood-sucking fish called a lamprey. There are many stories and tales as to where this bizarre tradition came from and it is said to date back to the 16th century. However, don’t be alarmed, lampreia de ovos doesn’t actually require any parts of the lamprey. All you need to make your own lampreia de ovos this Chirtsmas 2020 is sugar syrup, almonds, and lots of eggs. They are also available in bakeries at Christmas and are often served in beautifully decorated boxes.

Filhós

Filhós is a festive pastry that is made almost uniquely during the Christmas and New Year season. In the past, it was traditional to prepare the dough for this sweet treat and leave it to rise while everyone went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and upon arriving home, all that was left to do was heat up some oil and fry the batter until crispy. While this Christmas pastry has its own form in different regions of Portugal, everyone agrees that once fried, it’s compulsory to cover the crispy pastry in some cinnamon and sugar.

Arroz doce

Arroz doce is the Portuguese version of rice pudding and is a Christmas staple throughout the country. Although rice pudding perhaps doesn’t sound like the most appetising or exciting dessert option for the most important celebrations of the year, bear with us, because the Portuguese have perfected their recipe. The soft, creamy rice has a hint of lemon, and usually the crowning touch of this common dessert is the meticulous decoration of powdered cinnamon which adorns its surface.

Bolo Rei

The traditional Christmas cake in Portugal is called “Bolo Rei”, which means “King Cake” and although it is enjoyed throughout the Christmas holidays, it is typically placed in the centre of the table on 6th January, as it is symbolic of the three kings. This cake, that looks like a wreath, has a bread-like consistency, and is traditionally filled with dried fruit, nuts and topped with candied fruit and icing sugar. There is also another version that is very similar to the Bolo Rei but without candied fruit, and this one is called the “Bolo Rainha” or the “Queen Cake”.

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