Think of your favorite food.
Now imagine not being able to ask for it.
Well, if you’re making a trip to a Portuguese-speaking country anytime soon, you’d better brush up on your Portuguese food vocabulary or get ready to eat whatever’s offered to you—although that might be a fun experience, too.
Learning the basics of any language always involves studying the food vocabulary.
Food is an essential part of every culture. After all, we need it to survive!
Plus, once you’ve had Brazilian and Portuguese food, you’ll want to know how to ask for more. Or you might be inspired to look up an authentic recipe.
In either case, you’ll need to know your Portuguese food vocabulary!
But don’t worry: This post will get you started with the basics.
It’ll also introduce you to some mouthwatering traditional Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine and food culture, so make sure you have some napkins handy—by the time you finish reading, you’ll definitely be drooling.
Getting to Know Portuguese Food Vocabulary
If you live someplace that has a considerable number of Brazilians, you might have heard of a Brazilian steakhouse, which in Portuguese is called a churrascaria.
Unlike a regular steakhouse, a churrascaria doesn’t just bring you a lump of meat accompanied by some mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Instead, you’re given a little block that’s red on one side and green on the other. Your server will let you know that green means, “Keep the meat coming,” red means, “Stop” and placed on its side means, “I’m ready for dessert!”
As long as your cube is green side up, you’ll be brought various types of meat on a large skewer. If you want the meat, the server will cut off a piece (or however many you request) and you can eat all you want. There’s also a buffet-style area where you can get salads and other delicious side dishes.
Visiting a churrascaria in Brazil is a must, and you can only really get the full experience if you do it in Portuguese! Just make sure they have the rodízio de carne (rotation of meat).
If your destination is Portugal, especially if you’re traveling during the holidays, you’re sure to get some bacalhau (cured codfish). There are many, many ways to cook with this fish, which the Portuguese love, so you’ll always see multiple bachalhau dishes on the Christmas table.
And for dessert, your host will most likely bring out bolo rei (King’s cake), which is similar to fruitcake. It’s shaped like a bundt cake and made from a soft, white dough, filled with raisins, nuts and candied fruit. On top, it’s covered with more candied fruit and nuts as well as some sugary icing.
And if you like it, you’re in luck, because they keep on serving it until January 6th, on Dia de Reis (Day of Kings).
Now that you know what you have to look forward to in Brazil and Portugal, you understand why it’s important to know the vocabulary.
Without the vocab, all you can do is smile and nod when the waiter speaks to you. With the knowledge and vocabulary in this post, though, you’ll know to ask for the delicious picanhã (filet steak) or anything else your heart (or rather, stomach) desires.
When learning Portuguese food vocabulary, I suggest starting with the list of vocabulary below, then using additional resources like FluentU’s authentic videos to get you used to hearing the words spoken.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
A Portuguese learning program is currently in development, so stay tuned for an immersive, authentic way to learn Portuguese coming soon!
Why You Should Try Portuguese and Brazilian Food Before You Travel
You’ve heard the stories or maybe you’ve experienced it for yourself: people sometimes get sick from the food in foreign countries.
That’s why, in order to fully enjoy your experience with Portuguese or Brazilian food, try out some of the foods before you visit either country! Sure, it won’t be made with the exact same ingredients since there are some things you just can’t buy outside of the countries, but at least you’ll have some exposure.
When I visited Brazil, I thought everything I ate was amazing because I’d already had exposure to feijoada (a dish made with beans and various pig parts) and other Brazilian dishes people outside the culture might find weird.
So search for a local Brazilian or Portuguese restaurant and see what you can try right at home!
If you do visit Brazil or Portugal, you might notice that some restaurant menu items you take for granted are nowhere to be found. Then again, you’ll also see that these countries do their own takes on foods you already know.
For instance, one day in Brazil you’ll ask for a cachorro quente (hot dog) and get bread filled with tomato sauce and cut-up hot dogs with what look like tiny, crunchy french fries (trust me, it’s way better than regular hot dogs).
If you don’t know where to start or you want to see what kinds of food they have in Brazil or Portugal, do some window-shopping through a YouTube video or check out food bloggers like Dedo de Moça and Panela Terapia.
The great thing about food bloggers is that they’ll give you a good idea of the types of ingredients that are used in Brazilian and Portuguese food as well as give you a taste for what you might experience if you make the trip to either country.
Cooking in Brazil and Portugal
This post might inspire you to cook some dishes up! Before you do that, be prepared to rethink your usual methods of measuring ingredients.
Something that might seem weird at first is that instead of saying “1 tablespoon,” the recipes will say 1 colher (1 spoon).
And they literally mean a spoon’s worth. Any spoon.
So you grab a spoon that you’d use for soup and you add a spoon’s-worth of whatever ingredient the recipe calls for.
This extends to some other units of measurement, too. When a Brazilian recipe calls for 1 xícara (1 cup), for instance, it means that you should use a mug or cup to measure out your ingredient.
With Portuguese recipes, instead of xícara, you might see 1 chávena (1 teacup), meaning you should use a teacup’s-worth.
It might not be as precise as you might expect but the food somehow still turns out great, so whoever started using spoons and mugs and teacups to cook knew what they were doing.
There are also recipes that call for some ingredients measured out in milliliters or grams. Luckily, there are measuring cups for this purpose as well as small kitchen scales.
It’s also worth remembering that you’re using Celsius and not Fahrenheit for the oven temperatures.
If you’re confused about the conversions in cooking, don’t worry, I found a list for you.
As mentioned before, some of the ingredients might not be available in your area, so you may need to find close approximates to substitute. This means that cooking times as well as the final flavor may vary if you’re making Brazilian or Portuguese food somewhere other than in those two countries.
Don’t let any of this deter you, though: Cooking your own traditional cuisine is a rewarding and delicious experience! And with the food vocabulary below, you’ll know exactly what the recipe says.
Portuguese Food Vocabulary for Learners and Food Lovers
Now we’re getting to the good stuff: the actual vocabulary! Get ready to get hungry.
Phrases for the Grocery Store
One está o/a _____? — Where can I find the _____?
Quanta é _____? — How much does ______ cost?
Tem _____? — Do you have _____?
Phrases for the Restaurant
Quero _____. — I would like _____?
Tem um menu de sobremesa? — Can I see the dessert menu?
A conta, por favor. — Check, please!
Meal Words in Portuguese
café da manhã — breakfast
almoço — lunch
jantar — dinner
sobremesa — dessert
lanche — snack
pão — bread
macarrão, massa — pasta
arroz — rice
aveia — oats
farinha — flour
pipoca — popcorn
leite — milk
iogurte — yogurt
manteiga — butter
queijo — cheese
leite condensado — condensed milk
alface — lettuce
pepino — cucumber
tomate — tomato
cenoura — carrot
batata — potato
cebola — onion
brócolis — broccoli
abóbora — pumpkin
abacate — avocado
alho — garlic
salsinha — parsley
ervilha — peas
feijão — beans
açaí — acai berry
guaraná — guarana
caju — cashew
maracujá — passionfruit
uvas — grapes
laranja — orange
maçã — apple
abacaxi — pineapple
mamão — papaya
limão — lemon
pera — pear
morango — strawberry
melão — melon
tangerina, mexerica — tangerine
frango — chicken
bife — beef
carne de porco — pork
cachorro quente — hot dog
cordeiro — lamb
salsicha, linguiça — sausage
peixe — fish
camarão — shrimp
presunto — ham
bolo — cake
brigadeiro — chocolate ball
sorvete — ice cream
torta de bolacha — cookie cake
flan, torta doce — flan
pudim — rice pudding
chocolate — chocolate
biscoito — cookie
kibe — beef croquette
coxinha — chicken croquette
pão de queijo — cheese bread
bolinho de bacalhau — cod croquette
pastéis de nata — egg tart
línguas de gato — biscuit
água — water
refrigerante — soda
cerveja — beer
vinho — wine
tereré — cold mate
mate, chimarrão — hot mate
Popular Dishes in Portuguese-speaking Countries
Dishes to Try in Brazil
If you end up going to Brazil (or an authentic Brazilian restaurant), there are some foods you don’t want to miss out on.
Though you might have been scared off by my description of feijoada earlier in this post, I promise it’s really harmless. It’s a classic Brazilian dish in which you cook beans with pork parts, which makes the flavor really come out. Feijoada is eaten with rice and usually a salad.
Here are some other dishes to try:
Galinhada (rice with chicken): This dish is exactly what it sounds like, but it’s more amazing than you can imagine. The chicken is cooked in the rice with onion and garlic, and the final dish can be eaten with vinagrete (chopped tomatoes, onions and bell peppers mixed with olive oil and salt).
Moqueca: This is a tomato-based stew made with fish, onion, garlic and coriander that can include more seafood, such as prawns, swordfish and other boneless fish.
Pamonha: This is basically the Brazilian version of Mexican tamales. It’s a sweet corn paste boiled and wrapped in corn husks, served with coconut milk or something savory like cheese, sausage or peppers.
Farofa: This is more of a topping that you eat mixed with your rice and beans, but it’s so extremely delicious. It’s just toasted cassava flour mixed with spices and sometimes meat.
Pizza: This isn’t your regular pizza. It’s so much better. Brazilian pizza doesn’t have the tomato sauce base and comes in a variety of different flavors. (My favorite is pizza with bacon, heart of palm, corn and requeijão—a spreadable cheese you might not find in your area.)
Xis: This is basically a glorified hamburger because it’s larger and comes with more than your run-of-the-mill toppings. It’s served with delicious sauce, corn, tomatoes, lettuce, peas and an over-easy egg.
Dishes to Try in Portugal
The most famous dish in Portugal is bacalhau, which is dried and salted cod. Some people claim that there are over 1,000 ways to cook with it, too. They sure do love their bacalhau in Portugal. This is a must, and luckily it won’t be very hard to find.
Here are a few other delicious Portuguese meals that are a must to try:
Caldo verde: This is a Portuguese soup made with potatoes, collard greens, olive oil and salt. It sounds simple, but you can spice it up with garlic or onion and ham hock.
Polvo a lagareiro: This is a delicious octopus dish served with potatoes and herb-infused olive oil. And it sometimes involves bacalhau, too!
Cozido a Portuguesa: This is another stew made with vegetables, meat and smoked sausages. It’s considered part of Portuguese heritage.
Bonus: Try This Brigadeiro (Chocolate Ball) Recipe!
Once you learn the basic words and phrases, you can start building your Portuguese food vocabulary by trying out recipes, like this one for brigadeiro!
Brigadeiro is a must-have finger food at all Brazilian birthday parties—or at any party, for that matter. It’s super easy to make and will give you a great first impression of Brazilian cuisine.
- 1 lata de leite condensada (1 can of condensed milk)
- 6-8 colheres de Nescau ou chocolate em pó (6-8 tablespoons of chocolate powder drink or cocoa powder)
- 2 colheres de manteiga (2 tablespoons butter)
- granulados de chocolate (chocolate sprinkles)
- Colocar (put) a medium-size panela (pan) on low to medium heat and derreter (melt) the manteiga (butter).
- Once the manteiga is melted, add the leite condensado (condensed milk) and chocolate em pó (cocoa powder) and mexer (stir) with a wooden or sturdy plastic spoon.
- Stir regularly—making sure the mixture doesn’t queimar (burn)—until the mixture has a thick consistency that’s just about too difficult to mexer.
- Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.
- Coat your hands in manteiga and begin rolling the mixture into little bolas (balls).
- Rolar (roll) the bolas in the chocolate granulado (chocolate sprinkles), then set them on wax paper to harden.
- Coloque (put) them in little paper cups or just eat them right off the prato (plate)!
Congratulations! You’re now ready not only to speak about Portuguese and Brazilian food, but to even make your own.
Has this post made you hungry for a traditional dish or two? Then go out and experience some with your newly acquired Portuguese food vocabulary words!
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