The Soups of Portugal

Besides enjoying Portugal’s enchanting landscape, fine wines, sandy beaches and warm year-round sunshine, the best moments for many visitors are served up in the country’s eateries, with the dining experience further enhanced by the choice of soups and other starters available.

When you sit down for a meal in Portugal, you’ll normally be presented with a broad selection of enticing appetisers (aperitivos) such as quejinhos (small cheeses made with sheep or goats’ milk), presunto (smoked ham), a mild paté (often made with sardines), azeitonas (olives) and some fresh, locally-baked bread served in a small basket.

Featured on most restaurant menus both at lunch and dinnertime is soup, which remains extraordinarily inexpensive and usually made on the premises. Based on locally-grown ingredients, Portuguese soup is solid and very nourishing, with the flavours varying widely according to which part of the country you happen to be visiting.

For instance, you can expect generous portions of hearty broths in the woodsmoke-scented villages of the country’s hinterland and northern provinces, but when visiting southern Portugal (especially on a hot summer’s day) you might want to try the local gaspacho, a cold, slightly spicy soup seasoned with garlic and vinegar with added tomato, onions, cucumbers and croutons.

Such local variations extend to other parts of the country, whether the soup is made of chick peas and spinach (such as in the glorious Alentejo region), tomatoes and eggs (a speciality of the Atlantic island of Madeira) or pumpkins and onions (a delicacy found in northern Portugal’s wild and remote Trás-os-Montes region).

The verdant Minho province of the north is the true home of the jade-green caldo verde, the most abundant and distinctive of Portugal’s many soups. This simple composition of fine-shredded kale (cabbage), onion and potato purée is slightly spiced with the addition of a slice (sometimes more) of chouriço sausage to produce one of the world’s most famous culinary creations.

Food in Portugal

Equally ubiquitous is canja, a refined soup made with chicken, rice and sometimes pasta, while other more local variations include sopa da Beira of central Portugal, which is thickened with maize and made with ham hock, turnip tops and cabbage.

Other tasty soups to look out for on your gastronomic tour of Portugal include the ever-popular sopa de grão (chick pea soup), sopa de feijão (bean soup) and the irresistible sopa (or creme) de marisco (shellfish soup) which is mostly served on the islands of Madeira (indicated on the Google map below) and the Azores and all along the mainland’s long, sandy coastline.

Fish soup in Portugal also has its variations, most notably sopa de cação, a regional offering from the country’s sun-drenched Alentejo region  featuring a thick portion of dogfish that’s traditionally served over sliced bread. And look out for sopa de cozido, a rich meat-based broth made with cabbage and sometimes macaroni based on one of the country’s mainstay dishes – cozido à portuguesa.

Travellers passing through the Ribatejo region of central Portugal (to the north-east of Lisbon) are urged to try the sopa da pedra (stone soup) which contains pulses, potatoes, garlic, coriander, ham, sausage and a real stone. Its origins stem from the old tale of a roaming priest who, when refused a meal, simply lit a fire, filled a pot with water, placed a stone in the bottom and asked the local villagers to add any ingredients they could spare!

Bom apetite!

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