Portuguese bread (and a little rant)

“Travel is not reward for working, it’s education for living.” Anthony Bourdain

Some days ago I ranted a bit on social media because of the insane amount of tourists today who are worried, mostly, with collecting stamps on their passports and taking selfies for the (insta)gram – you know what I mean. Years ago I stopped reading travel blogs (except for a select few) because of how most of them just seemed to have a checklist of places to visit but apparently didn’t really reap any real, life-enriching benefit from all that travelling. As someone who, especially as a kid, has travelled a lot in my own country I felt this view was shallow, to say the least. 

Recently, on a Facebook travel group, there was a guy advising readers not to drink Port wine because it “is not tasty” (his own words) and saying that people in Portugal can’t make a proper cappucino. I almost went postal. Not because he was making “negative” comments but because of how his comments showed that, to him, his experience of the world was the right one. Mind you, I don’t even know where he was from.

It’s ok if you don’t like Port, but saying it isn’t good, when so many people love it, when it sells so much and to so many countries? I’m Portuguese and I don’t like sardines, that doesn’t mean I’ll tell other people “It sucks! Don’t eat it!”. 
I remember when I arrived in Hamburg, years ago, and my host asked me if I wanted a coffee. I thought that having an espresso would be lovely and quickly said yes. When he brought me a big cup of coffee I had a “duh!” moment: being Portuguese I naturally assumed it would be an espresso but that’s not the kind of coffee Germans usually drink. See my point? 
Oh, and the cappucino… well, Portuguese usually drink either a bica/cimbalino (espresso coffee) or that much coffe with hot milk (called meia de leite if it’s in a cup or galão if it’s in a glass). Cappucino is something that started showing up only a few years ago because of tourists. In some places they don’t even know how to prepare it because (you guessed it), nobody drinks it! 

This whole thing happened around the date when Anthony Bourdain would have celebrated another birthday. The stars were aligned, it seemed, and I swear I could almost see his ghost giving me a smile and a thumbs up. It was the final push I needed.

For today’s post I’ll be focusing on something that is very dear to the hearts and stomachs of the Portuguese: bread, of course. We love bread and we have many different types of bread.

A little something I created for a Portuguese inspired Valentine’s Day post, some time ago.

Our traditional breads usually have a bit of a rough crust and the inside can vary from compact to relatively fluffy with lots of air pockets.

Here’s a list of Portuguese bread celebrities: 
Broa – this kind of bread is very compact and although the most famous version of it is made with a mix of corn and wheat (broa de milho) there are other variants: wheat and rye or wheat, corn and rye are the most common. Broa de Avintes is another famous and typical kind of broa that is made with rye and corn, baking for a total of 5 to 6 hours. You’ll often find a slice of broa on the side of a bowl of piping hot caldo verde or under a grilled sardine.

Broa de Avintes
(Source: tradicional.dgadr_.gov_.pt)

Pão alentejano – This bread is usually big, with a characteristic sort of “C” shape and a thick crust. But don’t let it fool you: inside there’s dense aromatic bread just waiting for the butter. Hardcore fans will eat it with nothing else but an underlying sense of shame. If you ever see on a café menu tostas /torradas de pão alentejano it means that place makes toasties / toasts using Alentejo bread and that means… big a** toasties!

Pão de Mafra – this is a certified kind of bread (like Broa de Avintes, for example). It’s made with wheat and rye flours from small mills in the Mafra region and uses no artificial additives. This bread has a crispy crust and a fluffy inside with plenty of air pockets. Pão saloio is, basically, the modernised and not certified version of the pão de Mafra. If you see either type of bread on a toast/toastie menu it means, again, that you’re in for a big a** slice of bread. 

Papo seco, carcaça, viana/vianinha, bola/bolinha/bola de água – these are the most common types of bread rolls you’re likely to find in bakeries, cafés and restaurants. They’re fluffy with a slightly crispy crust and some air pockets inside. This is usually the kind of bread used for bifanas or any other type of sandwich you get in your local festivals. Although they’re all similar, papo seco has the crispiest crust and the inside with most air pockets, while bola is probably the most chewy bread in this group. You’ll also often find pão de mistura or bola de mistura: they’re essentially the same thing, wheat flour with a bit of rye flour, the end result being similar to the other types of bread from this group but with fewer air pockets.

Pão de centeio – rye bread, usually with a little wheat flour mixed in. Firm crust and dense slightly chewy inside. This is my favourite for toast!

Pão com chouriço – similar to a bola but with a slightly rougher crust, shaped like a roll and filled with slices of chouriço (Portuguese smoked sausage). Some bakeries sell it and they’re a classic in fairs and festivals.

Bolo do caco – this is a unique kind of bread from Madeira. It’s made with a mix of wheat flour and sweet potato and is baked on a hot clay slate. It’s fluffy, with a round shape and a slightly sweet taste.

(Source: visitmadeira.pt)

Pão de leite – fluffy type of bread roll. A little bit sweet, the dough includes milk (from which it gets the name “milk bread”). It’s a very popular choice with children.

Bolo lêvedo – straight from the beautiful islands of the Azores this traditional bread is something in between bread and cake. The batter is made with wheat flour, eggs, milk, sugar and butter – quite rich for a bread! Traditionally, they’re baked in clay pots. Bolo lêvedo has a round shape, with a soft texture both on the crust and inside and a slightly sweet flavour.

(Source: taconsolando.blogspot.pt)

Pão de Deus – another mix of bread and cake. It’s a round shaped fluffy sweet bread with a topping made of dessicated coconut, sugar and eggs. You can eat it simple, although some people enjoy it with a generous pat of butter and/or misto, i.e., with sliced ham and cheese.

Where can you buy bread in Portugal? Besides the most obvious choice, the bakery (padaria), you can also buy bread in some cafés and in supermarkets, with the bigger shops usually having a large selection to choose from. If, however, you have a bakery near you I strongly suggest you buy your bread there (being a regular customer in a Portuguese bakery is something of an experience in itself).

Back in the day when everyone in towns and cities went to their local padaria everyday, people always took their saco do pão, a.k.a, taleigo or talego, a cloth bag. I’m showing you two examples of such bags: a fancy crocheted one and a simpler cotton printed bag.

Do you like Portuguese bread? And if so, do you have a favourite? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Note: This blog post was featured on the “Good Morning Portugal” radio show, which you can listen to here. Have fun!



  1. Uau… 👏👏👏👏 let me tell you my view. There are travellers and tourists. Travellers embark on a knowledge and experience seeking trip, tourists… well… enough said really, they want stickers, completion badges and the world changing for them. Unfortunately. I raise a glass to travellers 🍻

  2. OMG I’m in shock regarding your comment about not liking sardines 🙂 Though couldn’t agree more about sum up of most travel blogs. E.g. “Lets see as many countries in 10 days”, couldn’t think of anything worse!! P.S. love bread!

  3. Ok, I’ll give you my custard and you give me your sardines, and we will both be happier! I know it’s not supposed to be healthy, but if I could get away with eating bread for every meal, I’d probably try it. After reading this my mouth is watering. I’ve never tried any of them and to me it’s an interesting idea to have national traditional bread. I guess the US must have something traditional, but I’m guessing all our great breads came to us from our rich history of immigrants bringing their cooking traditions. I’ve never heard anyone say, “This is an American bread.” I make a lot of my own bread, and it’s always the same shape: either the shape of the pan, or a round loaf. And I have no idea how to control air pockets inside. And if I want the crust to be hard, I just forget that I have bread in the oven, and pull it out late – that usually does the trick! 🙂

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