Food in Central Portugal is as diverse as its landscape from roast suckling pig to a rich choice of seafood, and comforting stews. Serra da Estrela mountain range is home to Portugal’s most famous cheese, queijo da serra and in Aveiro you will find one of the country’s best loved sweets, Ovos moles de Aveiro. The following dishes and sweets represent the most popular food in central Portugal that visitors should try.
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Pão de ló de Ovar
This has been and perhaps will always be, one of the best loved cakes. A yellow sponge cake made from sugar, egg yolks and flour. There are various recipes of Pão de ló from all over the country, but the best known is Pão do ló from Ovar. In this variation the amount of flour is several times smaller than the amount of sugar which makes the dough so light it doesn’t bake fully in the middle, creating a velvety cream to eat with a spoon.
This is a favourite Portuguese sweet. In Aveiro you can buy moles in little wooden barrels and eat it by the spoonful. You can also buy them as a filling in white shell-like cases. Ovos moles are used for all kinds of confectionary: as a topping, and/or filling for sponge cakes and tarts.
Pastel de Tentúgal
This is one of the most distinguished specialities of Portuguese convent sweets. The delicacy dates back to the 16th century and comes from a convent, in the small village of Tentúgal about 20km from Coimbra. To fully appreciate Pastel de Tentúgal you must first understand something about its intricate preparation. With fabrics on the floor pastry chefs gently stretch pieces of dough until it fills the size of the room ( yes you read it right!) testing the elasticity of the gluten to the max. The dough gradually transforms into transparent sheets that will form a rectangular package around a creamy filling made of eggs and sugar.
Fatias de Tomar
A glamorous dessert from Tomar, a medieval town closely linked to the Knights Templar. Tomar is an inland city 137km north east of Lisbon. This dessert is made from granulated sugar and egg yolks. In Tomar they bake it in a special oval mould. But if you think of trying it at home any pudding mould will do.
Leitão à Barriada
Central Portugal’s most famous dish is arguably leitão, roast suckling pig, accompanied by red sparkling wine. Scores of restaurants in the region specialize solely in it. The best known being in the village of Mealhada. Suckling pig is a mouthwatering delicacy and those who have not tried it before surrender to the fine taste and succulence of its meat and to the characteristic crackling texture of its skin.
Visitors to Central Portugal should try chanfana, a thick casserole of kid or lamb meat seasoned with paprika, bay leaf, garlic and stewed in red wine. Chanfana is slow cooked for hours until the meat becomes tender and the sauce thickens.
Caldeirada de Peixe de Nazaré
The coastal town of Nazaré is notable for its hearty fish stew known locally as caldeirada da Nazaré. There are many variations in the making of this chowder type stew depending on the region. The idea with caldeirada is to serve more fish than potato. In this variation the stew has the originality of having a touch of vinegar added at the end.
Queijo de Serra
The Serra da Estrela mountains are home to Portugal’s most famous cheese, queijo da serra. A rich sheep’s cheese with a distinctive buttery flavour. It is customary to carve off the top and scope out the cheese with a spoon.