Guide to Portuguese breads: Which one to choose?
If you’ve been travelling in Portugal, you probably know that three main can be found in any random village: a café, a pharmacy, and a padaria.
A padaria is a bakery, while a pastelaria is a pastry shop – not to be confused.
And if you stay long enough in one of these villages, you might even start recognizing the different delivery “soundscapes”. The gas man, the meat and fish man, and… the bread man!
Several times a week, the baker does his rounds. A honk (or two or three), and everybody knows that the bread man is on the main square of the village, waiting for anyone who needs a refill on bread.
Nowadays, it’s tough for local businesses to survive among big supermarket chains. Deliveries are an excellent solution for everyone: the bakeries stay alive, and the villagers just have to step out of their house to get their fresh bread.
Pão (the word for “bread” in Portuguese) is as essential for the locals as the baguette is for the French. Back in the days, each region of Portugal had its particular type of bread depending on available ingredients in the area.
But bread is widely known as a national obsession. From breakfast to lunch, snack time and dinner, bread is used and reused for soups, meat and fish dishes, as well as desserts.
Now, here is our take on the most memorable Portuguese bread types.
The Portuguese bread rolls: Bola de água, papo seco & carcaça
You will see these types of bread everywhere. The fluffy buns are the most common types of bread, probably due to their practicality. If you’re on the hunt for a sandwich, any café will serve you one of these crispy toasted rolls (tostas) with ham and cheese, or a torrada, the typical bread and butter toasts served for breakfast.
Depending on where you are, the rolls will be slightly different: some are made with wheat flour only, others are called bolas de mistura, which means they’re made from a mix of wheat and rye flour.
The Northern cornbread: Broa de milho
There is nothing like a fresh broa! Broa de milho is a rich and dense bread, a bit sweet, whose yellow colour comes from corn flour.
Traditionally made in the North of Portugal, this bread is a mix of wheat and cornflour, and then baked in a wood oven. Particularly filling compared to other types of bread, it has this unique sweet flavour when combined with butter or cheese: unbeatable!
The brown bread: Pão de centeio
When tired of sweet bread (yes, it happens), pão de centeio is definitely the other go-to choice: a delicious brown bread made of rye flour with a bit of wheat.
A typical loaf is light, relatively fluffy, with a crunchy crust.
The meaty bread: Pão com chouriço
Pão com chouriço is essentially like a British sausage roll, but Portuguese style. Here, they use chouriço instead: the local smoked pork sausage. The perfect takeaway snack! Filling and tasty.
The perfect loaf for a toast: Pão de forma
Remember the torrada we talked about? The iconic Portuguese bread and butter toast is commonly served with pão de forma, a very soft and brioche-like bread.
Some use it also to make the famous Francesinha, a typical sandwich from Porto composed of various meats piled on top of one another – with cheese and a secret sauce. It is as naughty as it sounds.
The rustic choice: Pão de Mafra
Tirelessly baked for centuries in the area of Mafra, North of Lisbon, this traditional Portuguese bread has finally been certified in 2012 to protect its ancient recipe and local artisans.
Made with wheat and rye flour, expect a fluffy and crispy loaf!
The Southern bread: Pão Alentejano
This fluffy white bread originates from the Alentejo region, in the South of Portugal.
While it doesn’t have any particular strong taste, it completes traditional Portuguese meals in which bread is an essential part. The Açorda Alentejana, for example, is a broth made with cilantro, garlic, poached eggs, topped with soaked slices of bread.
The dark bread: Broa de Avintes
If you’re fond of black bread, this one is the closest Portuguese version of it. Also from the North of the country, this bread is originally from Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto.
Made with corn and rye, with a touch of malt flour, a loaf cooks for no less than 5 hours. This rather long process gives this bread an added flavour and personality.
Similar in some ways to the broa de milho, it’s as rich, dense and compact, but slightly bitter instead of sweet.
Have you tried any traditional Portuguese bread? Which one would you go for? We’re always looking for more recipes to try out, so if you have any favourite bread recipes, don’t hesitate to share!