Every culture has them: Foods that only a local could love. In case you’re brave and curious enough to try new things, or prefer to be informed of what can be avoided, here are the ten strangest foods in Portugal.
“ARROZ DE CABIDELA“
Recently, a tourist reported an experience at a restaurant in a hotel, where a waiter explained what the “arroz de cabidela” listed on the menu was like. He correctly described it as “rice soaked in chicken’s blood,” and the facial expression of the tourists reacting to that description must have surprised him because he quickly added “with chicken!,” as if that made it sound any better. Yes, it’s a bloody good delicacy if you’re familiar with it, but for anyone hearing about it for the first time, it’s understandably disgusting. And the cooking process is even more disturbing: after the chicken is killed, it hangs upside-down for the blood to be drained out. It’s then added to the meat as it’s cooking, giving the dish a brownish color.
“ARROZ DE SARRABULHO“
If “arroz de cabidela” sounds good to you, perhaps you’ll also want to try “arroz de sarrabulho.” Instead of chicken, the meat is now pork, but it’s also soaked in its own blood. It’s a specialty from the north of Portugal, and the blood also gives the rice a greyish-brown color. You may be surprised to know that it was one of the 21 finalists in the vote for the “7 gastronomic wonders of Portugal.”
At this point you’re probably thinking there’s something vampirish about Portuguese cuisine, but here’s one more bloody food: Morcela, a sausage made with blood! This type of sausage actually exists in several cultures in almost every continent, and the Portuguese version is mostly meat-free. It varies from region to region, but is always filled with rice and pig’s blood. In some cases, pieces of pork are added.
The French call them escargots and have turned them into haute cuisine. In Portugal, they’re “caracois,” also meaning snails, and are eaten mostly in the south of the country. For whatever reason, the people in the north are not fans, but it’s a favorite dish on a sunny summer afternoon in Lisbon’s cafés and restaurants. In reality, what its devotees really like is the stew they’re cooked in, and not exactly the tiny wormy shelled mollusks that you can barely taste.
“COELHO À CAÇADOR“
There are some who say that a rabbit’s flesh is the closest to that of a human. Many may agree and may wish to avoid eating what in some cultures is a beloved family pet. In other countries it’s a wonderful meal, including in Portugal. It was made popular by hunters, and is most often accompanied by rice or potatoes in a dark sauce.
Quail is definitely not unique to Portuguese cuisine but it’s another favorite of Portuguese hunters. While mostly served at home, you can find them listed on menus of restaurants in the interior of the country. They’re usually cooked and served whole, leaving the job of cutting the wings and legs for you on the plate.
“TRIPAS À MODA DO PORTO“
It’s one of Portugal’s most historic dishes, but also one of its least appetizing. When Prince Henry the Navigator asked the people of the city of Porto to provide food for the men going into the sea, they gave all their meat and ended up with only the animals’ stomachs. Out of necessity, they had to create meals out of them, and so “Porto-style tripe” was born. Tripe is also present in French, Italian and Eastern European cuisines, and Portugal’s version includes pieces of sausage and beans.
This cholesterol-filling delicacy is made of pig skin and fat. It’s cut into small pieces and fried until it becomes crunchy. The Portuguese took this tradition to Brazil, becoming quite popular in the northeast of that country, often served with beans.
“COZIDO À PORTUGUESA“
At the risk of receiving hate mail from the most patriotic Portuguese, we’re going to include one of the most emblematic dishes of the country on this list. This national specialty mixes a variety of vegetables, sausages and meats, and it’s the choices of meats that may be a problem for some. It seems that no single part of a pig goes to waste in Portugal, and this dish often includes a nice crunchy ear with tiny hairs. If there’s no ear, you just may find a foot.
The Portuguese don’t eat snakes but they do enjoy the snakelike eels. Popular in the coastal areas of the north of the country, they are often bought alive. No matter how many spices or delicious condiments may be added, the very sight of them will make many people lose their appetite.