Breakfast in Portugal
Portugal doesn’t have quite the same association with breakfast food as many other nationalities across the world. There’s no quintessential ‘Portuguese Breakfast’ like for example an ‘English Breakfast’. That said, breakfast in Portugal does have a similar set of items that feature almost everywhere. Usually always a coffee and a sweet or savoury bread. However, the type of bread, whether it’s sweet or savoury, toasted or not, or served with ham, cheese or both, complicates things.
Where to find Breakfast in Portugal?
Although there’s a rising boom in ‘gastro cafés’ or breakfast bars, the most traditional place to find a simple Portuguese breakfast is in your local café or pastelaria. What’s a pastelaria? It’s a perfect mix of a coffee shop, pastry shop, restaurant and even a bar. Yes, they’ll serve beer, wine and maybe something stronger for breakfast too. These you will find in almost every town and village, and often in between the towns and villages as well! Usually they’ll stock a bewildering array of breads, pastries and everything in between. The most confusing thing for visitors, very rarely do they have an actual menu for you to order from. They might have a price list somewhere but finding it before you’ve been asked what you’d like is a skill I don’t have yet.
What do the Portuguese drink for breakfast?
It seems the only time of day the Portuguese have a longer coffee is at breakfast. Quite often a milky coffee like a galão, around 75% milk 25% coffee served in a tall glass. Or a meia de leite, 50% milk 50% coffee served in a small mug. Those looking for something without milk might opt for a traditional café, the Portuguese equivalent of an espresso. Or for something longer without milk an abatanado, a Portuguese semi-equivalent to an Americano but with less water.
Fresh juices are also very common. If you’re in the Algarve drinking a glass of fresh squeezed local orange juice is a given – Sumo de laranja natural. Others are often available, like apple – maçã. The important distinction here is to make sure you ask for natural. As another pretty popular drink is a variety of fruit juices that come pre-bottled and are somewhat less natural. The main brand being Compal. If fresh squeezed juice isn’t available and you ask for sumo then this is what you’ll get!
More popular with children is a form of sweetened chocolate milk. Ucal is the most popular variety and sold in glass bottles almost everywhere. It’s even available in Mcdonalds in powdered form for you to mix into your milk. But many other dairy brands (Vigor, Mimosa and Gresso), have their own varieties too. Our personal preference is to go for the Vigor variety, its one of the only ones marketed as being made with fresh milk and you do have to keep it in the fridge. Out of all of the others it has the least amount ‘UHT’ flavour to it.
Less common with the Portuguese, but more common with visitors is tea or chá. Chá preto is the closest to an English breakfast tea. However, rarely will you get a teapot, it will often be served in a single cup with a single tea bag. If you like yours with milk don’t forget to ask com leite – with milk.
What do the Portuguese eat for Breakfast?
So, you’ve made it into the pastelaria, and you’ve ordered a coffee, what do you order to eat? We’ll start with the simplest. A generously buttered slice of toast – to order it’s uma torrada. It’s a combination you’ll see in most cafés and is always the cheapest option. In many of the local cafés, you’ll often see people snacking on a plate of warm buttered toast and sipping on a café.
Next up is the sandes, – sandwiches. The most common items to have with them are de queijo just cheese, de fiambre just ham, and mista is for both. This selection will be available with all of the bread items you’ll be able to see. The most popular is often the papo-seco a small bread roll, or even a croissant. A croissant misto will be served sliced with ham and cheese in it. Toasted sandwiches – tosta – are also very popular, a tosta mista is the classic combination. To the English speakers that’s a cheese and ham toastie, and it will be served toasted with butter on the outside. The type of bread is often left up to you to choose. Usually pão caseiro (homemade/fresh baked), or pão de forma (think packaged supermarket bread). But you’ll often be asked if you want it in a bread roll or even a croissant.
Something surprising, you’ll see this same variation of the above with both sweet and savoury items. It is not uncommon to see a toasted brioche croissant filled with ham and cheese, or a warm pão de Deus with cheese and ham. Before judgement, we have to recommend you try these. Our favourite breakfast item is now a traditional croissant toasted with ham and cheese!
Breakfast at home in Portugal
Obviously the above applies to eating breakfast while out an in cafés. You’ll find that it’s just as much or even more common to eat breakfast at home. Cereals, oats, yoghurt, eggs, and fruit are more commonly consumed in the home than at cafés. In the supermarkets you’ll be able to find a much wider variety of breakfast items that are available in the typical pastelaria. Another popular favourite is toast with a variety of spreads that are more common abroad; like jams, chocolate spreads and peanut butter. These are available and usually easy to find in any supermarket. If you’re staying in accommodation that provides you with a kitchen, you’ll be able to find almost everything you’re used to in a supermarket for you to prepare at home. Similarly, if you’re in a hotel, the breakfast option will usually be more international and include everything above.
Frequently Asked Questions about Breakfast in Portugal:
Can I find an English breakfast in Portugal?
In many of the popular tourist spots, you will of course find a variety of cafés specialising in tourist food, in particular the English café. You will not have to walk far to find one in the Algarve, as seemingly every town has one. Quality varies dramatically, as does the price. Unless you end up in a upmarket café specialising in breakfast the biggest differences will often be in the bacon and the beans! For entertainment purposes, I recommend a quick read of Tripadvisor for any breakfast spots. You’ll usually always find a horrified Brit that’s shocked at the quality, the amount of bacon or the price.
What’s the equivalent of a filtered coffee (and Americano) in Portugal?
Ahh yes, a favourite of American travellers and even the British. A filtered coffee that’s served in a big jug that you can fill a bucket up with. This is actually one of the least common items you’ll find in cafés in Portugal, coffee will normally always be served in a small cup or mug. The closest coffee you’ll get is an abatanado, this is an espresso topped up with water but not nearly as much water as an Americano. Like the rest of Portuguese coffee, it’s strong, dark, and very rich, but lasts slightly longer than a café!
Can I have sweets and pastries for Breakfast?
If you’re anything like us, you’ll walk into the pastelaria or café and immediately be distracted by the wide variety of sweets and pastries on offer. It’s more common for the Portuguese to eat these later in the morning (around 11am), but you can of course order and eat these for breakfast earlier if you. If they’ve been made fresh they’re often irresistible.
Breakfast in Portugal is often quick and simple, but don’t be afraid of mixing things up! We’d love to hear from you and what your favourite items for breakfast in Portugal are!