Easter is a holiday with a wide variety of traditions all over the world. In Portugal, its celebrations are filled with symbolism deeply connected with its Catholic heritage.
The highlight of these celebrations begins the week before Easter, called Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, which marks the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, religious processions are held from North to South, attracting both locals and tourists.
Another Portuguese Easter tradition is to offer godchildren gifts. Depending on the region of Portugal, godparents may offer money, "amendoas" (sugar almonds) or a traditional Easter cake known as "folar".
However, no Easter tradition is as eagerly awaited as the one that takes place at the Portuguese people's tables!
Traditional Easter food in Portugal
Although during Lent traditional Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays, Easter Sunday is celebrated with meat on the table as well as many other delicious treats!
As with many other holidays in Portugal, Easter is a moment for families to gather around the table, joining different generations and a genuine joy for creating memories where the aromas and flavours of traditional Portuguese cuisine are very much present.
One of Portugal's most popular Easter dishes is "cabrito assado" (roasted goat), normally eaten during Easter Sunday lunch. An ancient tradition inspired by the Old Testament, in which the goat represents the sacrifice during the Hebrew exodus from Egypt.
In the north of Portugal, the roasted goat is seasoned with garlic, white wine, and bay leaves, and then slowly baked in the oven for hours.
In smaller villages, older people still roast the goat in a traditional wood-burning oven. It is usually garnished with roasted potatoes and vegetables. If you have a chance to try "cabrito assado" roasted in this traditional manner, you will notice the difference in taste and texture!
Folar da Páscoa - Portugal's traditional Easter cake
Another traditional Portuguese Easter food that you can find on everyone's table is "Folar da Páscoa" (Portuguese Easter cake / Portuguese Easter bread).
The Folar represents the breaking of bread during the Last Supper and the crucifixion of Christ. However, Folar da Páscoa isn't the same across the country.
While in some regions of Portugal, Folar da Páscoa is a sweet bread, in others it's savoury. In Trás-os-Montes, for example, the Folar is filled with veal, chicken, "presunto" smoked ham and "salpicão", a traditional Portuguese sausage.
The shape of the folar also varies in different regions. In Mirandela and Bragança, it tends to be big and round. In Freixo de Espada à Cinta, the folar is flatter and smaller.
As you go south, the Folar turns sweet but also has different versions. For example, in the Beiras region, the folar is prepared with cinnamon and fennel and decorated with eggs, that can either be boiled or simply painted with colourful motifs. In the Algarve, the folar is made with cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and lemon.
Another traditional Portuguese cake that is also eaten during Easter, but not exclusively, is "Pão de Ló", an incredibly light sponge cake. While you can find many different Pão de Ló versions all over Portugal, the original recipes were passed down from century-old Convents where nuns made these cakes to finance their religious orders.
According to tradition, you shouldn't use a knife to grab a piece. Instead, you should only use your hands.
Amêndoas - Portugal's sugar-coated almonds
Another Portuguese tradition during Easter is to offer "amêndoas" (sugar-coated almonds). Godparents, grandparents and parents usually spoil children with almonds, but also with chocolate eggs and figurines such as the Easter Bunny, both symbols of rebirth and the fertility of Spring.
The tradition of offering "amêndoas" has also evolved throughout the centuries. Up until the Middle Ages, almonds were covered with honey. However, they are now covered with sugar or with chocolate.
According to legend, this tradition originated in the Algarve region of Portugal. When the Moors still ruled the Algarve, a Moorish prince married a beautiful Nordic princess. Although they were in love, the princess missed the mountains covered with snow. To make his wife happy, the prince planted thousands of almond trees so that during the Spring, the princess could see the white blooms and imagine seeing snow-covered mountains.
Although Easter culinary traditions in Portugal vary from region to region, one thing is common to them all: this holiday is more than just a religious celebration, it is a time to rejoice in the happiness of joining family and friends around the table...