Portuguese Food – Q&A with Portuguese Food Blogger Maria Dias

We spent December and the majority of January moving quickly through Europe and spending 2 – 3 nights in each city. Exhausted, we decided to head to Lisbon, Portugal to warm up and slow down. We were very excited to get away from the heavy cuisine of central Europe and immediately fell in love with the abundant seafood, fresh fruits and veggies and, of course, the nata. To learn a little more about the local cuisine and “must try” dishes we reached out to Maria Dias from Portugesediner.com and Tia Maria’s Foodie Blog.


Maria Dias was born in Portugal and migrated to the United States as a young girl. She is a self-taught Cook/Blogger with over 25 years of experience in the food industry. Currently, she writes and prepares recipes for Tia Maria’s Blog and writes for Portuguesediner.com. Her 100 Portuguese recipes from Tia Maria’s Blog are currently available in Microsoft’s Food & Drink App for PC and Mobile devices.

She has appeared on a local television station WWLP TV, cooking her recipes and has been featured in various media outlets both in the United States and in Portugal. She has also written food articles in Western Mass Women’s Magazine and has also presented an online seminar “How to Start Your Own Food Blog” via the United States State Department in Brasilia Brazil.

Lisa Dias, Maria’s daughter, creates recipes, maintains the website, and is the Illustrator/Photographer for Tia Maria’s Blog and Portuguesediner.com

How do you define Portuguese food? What characteristics differentiate it from similar foods in the region? How has it influenced and been influenced by its neighbors?

Portuguese cuisine is a simple and healthy Mediterranean style diet which consists of fresh fish and seafood harvested from the Atlantic seacoast, fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, cheese, wine, olive oil, and egg rich desserts. Portugal’s Mediterranean Diet was nominated World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage – UNESCO in 2013!

The seafaring nation with its border along the Atlantic Ocean has a well-developed fishing industry. It has Europe’s highest fish consumption per capita and is among the top four in the world. Portuguese cuisine varies from region to region, but fresh fish and shellfish are found on virtually every menu. The national dish is “bacalhau,” dried, salted cod. The Portuguese have been obsessed with it since the early 16th century, when their fishing boats reached Newfoundland. The sailors salted and sun-dried their catch to make it last the long journey home, and today there’s a saying in Portugal; “There are 365 recipes for bacalhau, one for each day of the year.”

The flavors of traditional Portuguese cuisine have evolved through the centuries with the influences from the Romans as well as the Moors who inhabited the region for many centuries. Through the centuries the cuisine continued to evolve with the country’s colonization of many countries in the Far East and Africa. Spices such as paprika, coriander, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, curry, saffron and spicy red pepper sauces have enhanced the flavor of the food.

The country of Portugal however, deserves recognition and culinary notoriety as having influenced the cuisine of many nations around the world. Since the Portuguese explorers sailed the seas in the 15th century in quest of an ocean route to the East in search of spices, their journey introduced the world to many spices and wines, citrus fruits, potatoes, corn, chili and even coffee to the Americas and Brazil.

If you love Shrimp Tempura, you can thank the explorers that introduced the frying technique to Japan. Chili was first created in India due to the Portuguese long red peppers being brought to the land of Goa. The traditional “Tea Time” in England became popular due to King Charles II marring the Portuguese Princess Catherine de Braganza whose dowry included Far East tea trading routes.

Portuguese immigrants who settled in many nations all around the world have also inspired the cuisine of their host nations. The flavors and tastes of Portugal can be found in countries from as far away as Macau, to Australia, and to the United States and Canada.

In the New England coastal ports where Portuguese fisherman settled to work in the whaling industry, to the State of California you’ll find Portuguese cuisine on many restaurant menus. Hawaiian cuisine has also been influenced by the immigrants that settled there to work in the sugar cane industry. Their famous Malasadas donuts and sweet breads are sold in many bakeries and even McDonald’s restaurants feature a chouriço and egg breakfast sandwich on their menu. These are only a few examples of the many culinary influences in many countries around the world by the Portuguese.

Through the years, the classic dishes in Portuguese cuisine may have evolved into a more modernistic form with the talents of world renowned Portuguese chefs, but the true flavors of the ingredients used in the dishes remain.

I predict that eventually the cuisine will be finally recognized and achieve much notoriety in the culinary world that it deserves because the food of Portugal is uniquely appealing, and memorable to anyone who tastes Portugal for the first time.

We were told about a festival in Alfama that celebrated the start of sardine season. Can you tell us a little about this festival or any other food related festivals in Portugal?

Sardines season in Portugal is from the month of May to October. This sustainable food is extremely popular and is very healthy because the sardines are loaded with calcium, vitamin E, protein and contain good fish oil.

Portuguese sardines have the Blue Label awarded by the Marine Stewardship Council, which means fishing of sardines in Portugal takes account the sustainability of the sea resources. Sardine catches happen all along the Portuguese Coastline but the most favored sardines come from Algarve. Portimão in the Algarve, is where you eat the best fresh grilled sardines, especially at the Sardine Festival during the first 10 days of August. Most festivals and picnics in Portuguese communities feature sardines. The festivals for the Saints; John, Peter and Anthony feature grilled sardines and often sold by the dozen at these festivals along with Portuguese rolls; Papo Secos or other crusty breads.

When served as a main dish, they are accompanied by the humble boiled potatoes, grilled onions and peppers and a simple salad with olive oil vinaigrette.

What are some of your favorite traditional dishes? What are a few “can’t miss” dishes to try?

My favorite foods are Caldo Verde (Collard Green Soup) the most famous soup in Portugal, “Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa” (Baked Salt Cod and Potato bake) and Spicy Shrimp (Camarao a Mozambique).


Can you tell us a little more about the famous custard tarts? They seem to be everywhere and a staple in the local cuisine. Do the locals eat them everyday or are they more of a special treat? (I know I could eat them everyday!)

Portuguese Egg Custard Tarts, famously known as Pastéis de Belém are famous in many countries all over the world. The original Pastéis de Belem, were first created by nuns who lived at the Monastery of Jeronimos in Belem, Lisbon in 1837.

Café Pastéis de Belém is located in the town of Belem in Lisbon, Portugal. The official name of the town is “Santa Maria de Belem” but it’s referred to as “Belem”. The name “Belem” originated from the Portuguese word for “Bethlehem”.

Many bakeries have tried to replicate the recipe to no avail. The equally famous; “Pastéis de Nata” its copycat version, has become a famous substitute for the original at every Portuguese bakery throughout Portugal and many other countries around the world. The famous recipe is kept a secret. “The secret can only be memorized, it can’t be written down”, says the pastry chef who was carefully selected among 80 co-workers.

Café Pastéis de Belém sells approximately 20,000 pastéis per day! Wow!

The pastry’s name was trademarked in 1911, which means the company is the only one that can call the famous sweets by that name.  Visit this dessert site; desserteater.com for more on the history of one of the world’s most popular desserts!

In, December 2011, Pastéis de Belém was listed by Lonely Planet # 2 of 583 things to do in Lisbon, #5 of 12718 restaurants in Europe and # 42 of 382 restaurants in Portugal. (desserteater.com)

(Our note: We visited Pastéis de Belém and wow! it sure lives up to the hype. We must confess though, that we traitorously preferred the copycat pastéis de nata at a different place. Check out our Lisbon Food Guide to learn which nata was our favorite and read other recommendations)

pasteis de nata

As a dietitian, I am very interested with the nutrition aspect of a culture. Lisbon seems to focus heavy on fresh seafood but other than that what kind of role do fruits, vegetables and whole grains play in Portugal?

Portugal’s cuisine is farm to table style cooking which focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farms which is sold at outdoor markets and small grocery stores in each region of the country. The cuisine features all varieties of green vegetables such as; collard greens, kale, cabbage and potatoes. Beans are often used in it’s recipes such as; red, white, chickpeas, fava beans, and black eyed beans.

Olive oil from the regions of; Alentejo, Tras os Montes, Ribatejo, Beira, and Mouro is used in cooking, as marinades, and sauces and dressings.

Wine from the northern regions of the Douro, Dão and Bairrada, and the central and southern regions of the Alentejo, Ribatejo and Estremadura produce some of the best wines in the world.

Your site and blog are both great resources for Portuguese food and we have spent a good amount of time on them in the last few days! How long have you been working on them and what made you decide to get started?

I began my blog 5 years ago. What began for me and my daughter Lisa as a challenging labor of love by simply sharing recipes on Tia Maria’s Blog, has now transformed into a commitment of preserving the rich Portuguese food culture, promoting the nation’s cuisine, and inspiring people to learn how to cook these recipes so they can pass them on to the next generation.

Any cookbook recommendations if I want to try my hand at Portuguese cooking?

I recommend my new cookbook which I just published last month: It is available on Amazon in US, UK, Canada, AU, Europe, and other countries.

Taste Portugal, 101 easy Portuguese recipes from Tia Maria’s Portuguese Food Blog by Food Blogger Maria Dias and her daughter Lisa Dias will bring you a taste of classic Portuguese cuisine into your home. The recipes contained in this cook book are easy for the everyday home cook to prepare, they’re made with simple ingredients, and they require basic equipment that most home cooks have in their kitchen.

Portuguese cuisine is a simple and healthy Mediterranean style diet which consists of fresh fish and seafood, fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, cheese, wine, olive oil, and egg rich desserts. In Portuguese culture, food has always been a central part of hosting social gatherings creating a welcoming atmosphere which makes even a stranger feel like family. These recipes will let you create your own special moments and fond memories with your family and friends.

Taste Portugal | 101 easy Portuguese recipes

Thanks, Maria, we loved reading about the amazing foods of Portugal!For more on Portuguese food check out our Lisbon Food Guide!

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