Food and drink, Porto tónico - a Portuguese alternative to gin and tonic

Porto tónico – a Portuguese alternative to gin and tonic

Portonic (134)At cocktail hour there is a Portuguese alternative to the traditional gin and tonic. It is called porto tónico (also known as portónic) and is essentially white port poured over ice and topped up with tonic water. A ratio of one-quarter port and three-quarters tonic makes a very refreshing drink, but you can change the ratios to make a stronger drink if you prefer. Add a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, as in the porto tónicos served at the Quiosque Lisboa in Praça Luís de Camões, Lisbon.


Kiosk Lisboa (139)

Bola de Berlim, Food and drink

Bola de Berlim

Bola de Berlim2

The Bola de Berlim (Berlin Ball) may look like an ordinary doughnut, but it is uniquely Portuguese. The recipe is based on that of a German doughnut (Berliner Pfannkuchen), which was reportedly brought over to Portugal by Jewish refugees during the Second World War. However, it has been given a Portuguese identity by adding a filling of creme pasteleiro (a type of egg custard similar to crème pâtissière) instead of jam. As well as the traditional egg custard creme, there are also other flavours on offer, such as chocolate or strawberry, and there is even an option to have a Bola de Berlim without any filling (sem creme). Who would have thought that ordering a doughnut could be so complicated! As with all sweet snacks in Portugal it is delicious but very calorific, which makes it ironic that it is also one of the most popular snacks sold on Portuguese beaches! 

Food and drink, Francesinha - a sandwich Porto style

Francesinha – a sandwich Porto style

Porto (0309)

The francesinha (which translates to something like ‘little French thing’) is a typical sandwich found in Porto and it is best described as comfort food. It comprises bread filled with various meats, including ham and sausage, and covered with melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce. It is served with a plate of chips. The quality of the francesinha can vary from café to café, depending on the type and quality of meat that is used. If possible, ask a local to recommend their favourite francesinha café.

Food and drink, Ovos moles de Aveiro

Ovos moles de Aveiro


Ovos moles are sweets associated with the city of Aveiro and must be tried at least once, although they are an acquired taste. The name ovos moles means ‘soft eggs’ and like many of the sweets and desserts in Portugal the origins can be traced back to the nuns who had to find a use for all the egg yolks left over after they had used the egg whites to starch their habits. The centre of the ovos moles is a very sweet creamy mixture of egg yolk and sugar and it is coated with a soft wafer made of flour and water (reminiscent of communion wafer). Traditionally the sweets bear the shape of fish or barrels, both of which are symbols of Aveiro’s past when the main industries were fishing and the collection of seaweed. There are shops and kiosks all around the centre of Aveiro selling ovos moles in wooden barrel-shaped containers, which are beautifully decorated with paintings of the distinctive barcos moliceiro (seaweed-collecting boats), for which Aveiro is famous.

Algarvian sweets, Food and drink

Algarvian sweets


Doces finos do Algarve (Marzipan sweets)


Estrelas de figo e amêndoa (Fig and almond stars)

The warm temperate Mediterranean climate of the Algarve combined with the Moorish legacy has resulted in an abundance of fresh fruit, including the iconic almond, with its beautiful blossom which can be seen everywhere in late winter, and the fig, both of which are used to make traditional sweets, which look as lovely as they taste. Doces finos do Algarve are marzipan sweets beautifully crafted to look like miniature fruit, vegetables or even animals. They have a surprise of shredded candied egg yolk in the middle. Estrelas de figo e amêndoa are star-shaped (or flower-shaped) sweets made from figs and almonds.

They make wonderful presents to take home, but almost look too good to eat.


Food and drink, Meia Dúzia, Porto

Meia Dúzia, Porto


We were seduced into the stylish Meia Dúzia by the beautifully packaged display of jams, which are a stylistic blend of oil paint tubes and designer cosmetics in appearance. This was our choice for breakfast on our last day in Porto. Having feasted on pastéis de nata, bolos de Berlim and bolos de arroz on other mornings we were tempted by something simpler: toast and jam. However, the jams in Meia Dúzia are anything but simple. They are delightful combinations of Portuguese fruits, herbs and liquors, such as strawberry with port and chilli, pear with vanilla, orange with madeira, blackberry with lavender and cherry with lime, and making a choice wasn’t easy. Eventually I opted for blueberry with port and vanilla and Neil chose fig and orange with port. The jam was squeezed onto a slice of fresh toasted bread, as if it were oil paint squeezed by an artist onto their palette. It tasted as good as the description had promised, with a strong fruity flavour, not too sweet, which blended well with the other flavours. The toast and jam was accompanied by a good strong café com leite; it made a great start to the dayWe couldn’t leave the shop without buying some tubes of jam, initially as presents for friends and family, but which ended up being presents for us. What a wonderful and original souvenir to bring back from Porto.


Meia Dúzia, Rua das Flores, Porto. Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday: 10am-8pm; Friday and Saturday: 10am-10pm. 

Food and drink, Pastéis de Belém – tracing the origins of the pastel de nata

Pastéis de Belém – tracing the origins of the pastel de nata


With a wonderfully crisp and flaky pastry shell filled with a thick, creamy, sweet custard slightly burnt on the top, the pastel de nata (custard tart) is one of Portugal’s most popular pastries, but its origins can be traced back to one shop, the Pastéis de Belém shop and café in the Belém district of Lisbon. The shop is very near the famous Manueline-style Jeronimos Monastery and in the fifteenth-century the monks created a tart which would use up the large number of egg yolks they had left over after using the egg whites as laundry starch. At this time sugar from the Americas and cinnamon from the East Indies were introduced into Portugal and the pastel de nata was born. In 1837, after a 1820 revolution which suppressed religious order and forced the monastery to close, the recipe was given to the shop next door to the monastery so that the pastel de nata would continue. The recipe has remained secret since then and there is only one genuine pastel de nata recipe, which is called pastel de Belém to distinguish it from all other pastéis de nata. All other recipes are attempts (albeit often very good attempts) to recreate the pastel de Belém recipe.

You can’t miss the shop on Rua de Belém as there is always a queue for the freshly baked pastéis de Belém, which are still made by hand using the original recipe.

You can buy the tarts to take away, along with a sachet of cinnamon and a sachet of icing sugar to sprinkle on according to taste, or better still get a table in the café at the back of the shop and enjoy your pastel de Belém with a cup of coffee, while enjoying the azulejos-decorated surroundings.

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Don’t worry if you can’t get to Belém, as every pastelaria (cafés selling pastries and cakes) in every village, town and city in Portugal sells pastéis de nata, which are usually as good as the real thing in my opinion. If you try to make your own I have found that they are not the easiest tart to bake, as it can be a challenge getting the pastry shells the right texture and the custard filling can be a bit fiddly. That’s why I always over-indulge in them when I am in Portugal!0001-495


Pastéis de Belém, Rua Belém, Lisbon. Open every day: 1st Oct-30th June 8am-11pm; 1st July-30th Sept 8am-midnight.