Portugal is a beautiful country with many different cities and towns, each with their own history and breathtaking views. From the stunning tiles on buildings and the hilly streets of Lisbon, to the wine port of Porto and the historic small towns, Portugal offers so much for travelers to explore. It is a large distributor of not only wine, but it is also a leading source of cork, with the largest cork forest in the world being found within the country’s borders.
There’s no doubt that embarking on a Portuguese adventure and planning a trip to Lisbon would be remarkable, but what if you have food allergies? In this blog post, you’ll learn how to best navigate traveling in Portugal with food allergies so you can make the most of your trip and feel more confident about your options.
Portugal With Food Allergies
Since Portugal sits with its major cities like Lisbon and Porto on the ocean, you are going to find a lot of shellfish and fish in the local cuisine. For those dealing with food allergies, this can be a bit stressful, as they are also big on using almonds and egg in their dishes, among other allergens. However, Portugal is one of the largest producers of olive oil in the world, which means they mainly cook with olive oil instead of other oils like peanut oil. This is good news for those of you with peanut allergies!
Food Labeling Laws in Portugal
The food labeling laws in Portugal are the same as other European countries, such as Spain, France, etc. Many travelers plan trips to visit both Spain and Portugal, so it is good to know that the laws for food labeling fall under the same EU regulation 1169/2011. This requires the 14 major food allergens to be labeled if they are present in any pre-packaged foods. They must be clearly identified on the ingredient list with a clear reference to the allergen present, such as milk, wheat, egg, peanuts, etc.
This law makes it easier for those traveling to Portugal with food allergies to make informed and confident decisions about what they consume and which establishments they visit. However, I recommend you still double-check all food labels when buying packaged foods, pre-made meals, or snacks during your trip to Portugal.
Is Portugal Good With Food Allergies?
When you are traveling in Portugal with food allergies, it’s important to know that the restaurants can’t change the fact that their dishes contain certain allergens and that they are present in the kitchens. However, it is more about how they handle protocols to prevent cross-contamination.
During my own travels in Portugal, I found the people to be exceptionally kind, especially with my food allergy chef card. Always trust your gut and ask all the questions you need to feel confident because not every restaurant can work with your allergies.
My Experience When Traveling to Portugal
Portugal’s authentic cuisine contains simple, fresh ingredients. When I was in Portugal, I wanted to explore some really small towns, but after talking with the tour guide, it did not look like the included lunch would be plausible for me and my allergies. The tour was still worth it to me for the experience, so I packed a snack and small lunch.
When we arrived at the included lunch, the family-owned restaurant providing it was absolutely so kind. While they did not feel comfortable giving me the lunch, and I reassured them that it was okay, they still provided what they felt was safe for my allergens. This included rice, steamed veggies, and a chocolate mousse-type dessert. While this wasn’t a full, amazing meal, their kindness was unmatched and something I will always remember fondly.
Importation Guidelines for Traveling to Portugal
What Can You NOT Bring Into Portugal?
Since Portugal follows the same laws as other European Union countries, it has certain restrictions and protocols on what food items you can and can’t bring into the country. The most highly monitored and restricted items are meat products, fish, and seafood products from certain countries. Live animals and animal products, unpasteurized dairy products, and products containing GMSs are also prohibited.
Meat products, certain types of fish, and dairy products in limited quantities also have certain import restrictions.
If you are planning on traveling to Portugal with food allergies, it’s important to check on the most up-to-date import guidelines before packing food to bring into the country.
What You CAN Bring Into Portugal Legally
When you are traveling to Portugal with food allergies, you may want to bring some of your own ingredients and snacks for meals and to have with you during the day. Luckily, there are many food items that you are legally allowed to bring into Portugal, such as pest and disease-free fruits and vegetables, packaged, non-perishable snacks and food items, and most baked goods, chocolate, and candy, as long as they are free of meat or dairy products.
You never know what the options will be like when visiting Portuguese grocery stores, so while you can shop for some items upon arrival, it’s best to bring items and snacks that you definitely want to have, especially if they are a bit more specialty and harder to find.
Exploring the Local Cuisine of Portugal
Before embarking on your trip to Portugal, it is important to look at the ingredients in local dishes to know where you may run into your allergens and what your safe meal is based on what ingredients are commonly available. This is where restaurant research comes into play and is so important in the planning phase of your trip.
Regional dishes across the country have a big emphasis on seafood, shellfish, meat, olive oil, bread, tomato, herbs, and spices.
Here are some of Portugal’s most iconic dishes and key things to keep in mind when considering your allergens:
- Bacalhau – This is a codfish dish that can be prepared in a variety of ways, including grilled, baked, canned, fried, etc. This dish can be made very simple or with a combination of ingredients like Bacalhau a bras with egg scramble, potatoes, onions, garlic, and onions.
- Bolinhos de Bacalhau – This dish is a combination of codfish, mashed potatoes, onions, eggs, and parsley, all mixed together, shaped into balls, and deep-fried.
- Bifanas – This is a traditional sandwich in Portugal made with marinated pork, bread, and a variety of toppings like egg, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and bacon. The marinade typically includes white wine along with spices such as paprika and garlic, but you’ll find everyone makes the marinade in their own way.
- Francesinha – This sandwich is made with bread, ham, sausage, and steak, covered with melted cheese and an egg on top! It is often served with a dipping sauce that contains tomato and beer.
- Arroz de Pato – This dish contains shredded duck, chourico, onions, wine, and rice. This can also be made in a seafood version.
- Pastel de Nata – This iconic Portuguese pastry is made of flour, butter, eggs, cinnamon, and sugar.
- Conventual Desserts – These desserts originate from the history of convents and monasteries in Portugal. Egg whites were used to starch the priests’ and nuns’ clothes, leaving a lot of leftover egg yolk. Conventual desserts contain a lot of egg yolks and sugar, but other items often used are cinnamon and almonds.
Navigating Portugal With Food Allergies
As you take a look at local dishes in Portugal and Lisbon, you’ll see that those with shellfish, fish, egg, and dairy allergies will have a bit harder time, as these ingredients are more commonly used in local dishes. This doesn’t mean it is impossible to travel to Portugal and enjoy your time, but booking accommodation with a kitchen will give you extra reassurance.
Peanut and soy products are not as commonly used in Portugal. Certain tree nuts are used in Portuguese cooking and baking, especially in sauces and desserts, which can contain almonds. There are still limited nut or nut-free kitchens that can be found throughout Portugal.
For those with Celiac disease or a wheat/gluten allergy, there are options for gluten-free items at both restaurants and bakeries.
All in all, Portugal is a stunning destination to travel to, and with proper planning, you can savor its diverse cuisine with the proper choices and substitutions. Again, the people of Portugal are so kind and willing to work with you to ensure you have the best experience possible. As always, it’s important to make sure the commonly used ingredients match what you can have with your safe food items.
Are you ready to mark Portugal off your travel bucket list? Visit my contact page to book a consultation with me or inquire about my full-service travel planning, where I help you plan your trip from start to finish with your food allergies in mind every step of the way!