Learn how to order at a Portuguese “pastelaria”

A coffee and a pastel de nata to start your day / Flickr
A coffee and a pastel de nata to start your day / Flickr
19 March 2019, Marilia Poiares

If you really want to embrace a true Portuguese lifestyle, your days must start with a trip to the nearest pastelaria. This perfect mix between pastry shop, café and restaurant is a place where you can buy bread, pastries, have a cup of coffee or even eat something for lunch.

Since you can find pastelarias in almost any corner or street in Portugal, we are here to help you out so you can order with confidence and satisfy your sweet tooth.

First of all, let’s start with a few essentials:

  • When walking through the door you must say hello and make your order: “Bom dia/ Boa tarde/ Boa noite, queria pedir…” (Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening, I would like to have…”
  • To ask for the price: “Quanto é?” (How much is it?)
  • Or, if you prefer to ask for the bill: “A conta, por favor” (The bill, please)

Let’s just say it’s Sunday, you slept until quite late and you are not sure you can still have breakfast at your favourite place: “Ainda posso pedir pequeno-almoço?” (Can I still have breakfast?).

But don’t worry, except for places that have fixed breakfast menus, you can ask for toast, a sandwich or a pastry at any time of day.

When you want to say “thank you”, you have to say “Obrigado/Obrigada”, ending with an “o” if you are male and “a” if you are female.

Ordering coffee

The traditional "café" / Flickr
The traditional "café" / Flickr

If you want a mocha frapuccino with almond milk and two sugars, you might as well search for the nearest Starbucks because in pastelarias coffee is served the traditional way. The coffee in Portugal is rather simple yet delicious, prepared with espresso and various levels of milk or water depending on your taste. These are the varieties you can find:

  • Café: literally means “coffee” but this is the way to ask for a shot of espresso, the most popular way to drink coffee in Portugal
  • Meia de leite: half espresso and half milk
  • Galão: a shot of espresso with 2 to 3 parts milk
  • Abatanado: a full cup of black coffee, similar to an Americano
  • Um café cheio: this means you want your espresso cup to be filled to the very top

For breakfast meia de leite and galão are the most common drinks in Portugal.

Ordering breakfast

Try a "bolo de arroz" / Wikimedia Commons
Try a "bolo de arroz" / Wikimedia Commons

Like we said, pastelarias are a good place to sit down and ask for anything you might want for breakfast even if it isn’t breakfast time anymore. Ask for:

  • Uma torrada: buttered toast, made with thick bread slices, cut into three stripes
  • Sumo de laranja natural: freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • Croissant com manteiga: croissant with butter, usually toasted
  • Croissant misto: croissant with ham and cheese; you can ask for it to be toasted as well by adding the word “tostado”
  • Pastel de nata: this is the name for Portugal’s famous egg-cream pastry. Sweet and creamy, with a puff pastry case and cinnamon or powdered sugar on top.

Even though these are the typical breakfast selections, you can also order many other pastry specialities like:

  • Bolo de arroz: a rice-based muffin with sugar on top
  • Pão de deus: a delightful puffy, coconut topped sweet bun called God’s bread
  • Bola de berlim: the Portuguese version of the berliner
  • Pastel de feijão: a small, bean-based pastry perfect to have with your coffee
  • Queijada: a sweet pastry made with cheese and eggs. It’s especially popular in Sintra but you can find it in many different cities.

Ordering lunch

Have a "fino" with a "tosta mista" or a "prego" / Wikimedia Commons
Have a "fino" with a "tosta mista" or a "prego" / Wikimedia Commons

Many pastelarias serve sandwiches that are perfect for a quick lunch. You can always ask for the menu or have a waiter help you out, but these are a few lunch basics that you can find on almost every menu:

  • Tosta mista: a toasted ham and cheese sandwich
  • Prego: a steak sandwich
  • Um prego no prato: a small steak on a plate, served with french fries, rice, and sometimes a small salad. This isn’t always available.
  • Bifana: a pork steak sandwich
  • Prato do dia / Menu do dia:  the dish of the day / menu of the day. It usually consists of a soup and/or sandwich and a drink. Sometimes, coffee or even a dessert are included.

What about night time?

Again, you can visit a pastelaria and order you favourite sandwich or pastry at any time. And, just before dinner, many people gather at their local pastelaria to have one last drink, a sweet treat or to buy bread to take home.

If you want to ask for a drink, this is what you need to know:

  • “Uma imperial/Um fino, se faz favor”: “A small draft beer, please?”. Imperial is the word used for beer in Lisbon, the Algarve and many cities in central Portugal. Fino means the same but is more used in the North, in cities like Coimbra or Oporto, and in the Azores.
  • “Queria um copo de vinho tinto/branco da casa”: “I’d like a glass of the house red/white wine”

While ordering don’t be scared to ask for help, to point or even to try and explain yourself in English. People are usually very friendly, and they will help you out.

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