Here's our recipe for Portugal’s favourite spicy bar snack, pica pau, a small plate of thinly-cut pork, topped with beer-infused gravy.

What is it?

What’s that? Pica pau means fried woodpecker?! Thankfully, this dish of Portuguese meat-magic might have a misleading name, but cooking up this dish of gravy-laden pork loin is certainly no mistake. 

Ingredients (serves 4)

500g (1lb) pork loin 
Salt and pepper to taste 
Olive oil 
2 tbs of butter 
½ onion, peeled and sliced 
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced 
Paprika and chillies to taste 
2 cups (500ml) beer (or white wine) 
Sliced pickles 
Bread to serve

How to cook

Step 1: Cut the meat into thin strips; season with salt and pepper.
Step 2: Heat the oil and butter, then add the onion and garlic and saute until soft.
Step 3: Add the paprika, chillies, more salt and pepper and meat  and saute for 10 minutes.
Step 4: Add the beer (or wine). Bring to a boil then simmer for 45 minutes.
Step 5: Stir in the pickles.
Step 6: Serve with bread for dipping.

Top tip: Not all recipes contain chillies – the spiciness levels are up to you. Be warned: if you use Portuguese piri-piri chillies, these are hot, hot, hot!

A panoramic view of the old city centre of Porto in Portugal, with scenic old buildings lining the river.
You can find pica pau in bars and restaurants throughout Portugal, including beautiful Porto © Rsphotograph / Shutterstock

Tasting notes

You can find pica pau on fancy menus, but really, there’s no need. Find a spit-n-sawdust tasca, with FC Porto vs Sporting Lisbon blaring on the TV, and you’re good to go. Order a large pica pau and some beers and get ready to peck; essential tools are a toothpick to spear the meat, fresh bread to soak up the gravy and a stack of serviettes. A connoisseur might be looking for the right balance of olive oil, pickles and acidity, and a spiciness to make your lips tingle but not enflame. Hungry football fans won’t care a fudge – to them, the tender pork, oozy sauce, cold beer, banter and beautiful game are a match made in heaven.

Other recipes in this series:
Sri Lankan kothu roti
Middle Eastern hummus
Italian tagliatelle al ragu

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Spicy Food.

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