Describing Food

Being the food lovers that we are, we use lots of different expressions in Portuguese to describe the food we eat or how we feel about eating it.

Hunger and Satisfaction

For starters, in Portugal we start thinking about food when we have hunger or when we are with hunger. In Portuguese, this translates to ter fome feeling hungry, or estar com fome being hungry.
If you’re really feeling quite peckish, you can say estou esfomeado I'm famished., or even estou a morrer de fome I’m dying to eat. (we take our hunger very seriously).
Tenho fome. O que há para comer? I'm hungry. What's there to eat?
Vamos depressa, eu estou a morrer de fome! Let’s go quickly, I’m dying to eat!
Once we’re full, we say Estou cheio I'm full or the more elegant alternatives Estou satisfeito I'm satisfied and the rare Estou saciado I'm satiated.
estou cheio, não consigo comer mais. I'm already full, I can't eat anymore.
Bear in mind that, because it is an adjective, cheio must agree in both the gender and number with the object it refers to. The feminine for cheio is cheia, and the plural forms are, respectively, cheios and cheias.
Não consigo comer mais nada hoje, sinto-me demasiado cheia. I can’t eat anything else today, I feel too full. female speaking
Há bolo para sobremesa, mas eles já estão cheios. There is cake for dessert, but they’re already full.

Meal Names and Structures

In Portuguese, the main refeições meals of the day go like this:

Meal in Portuguese English Term
Pequeno-almoço Breakfast
Almoço Lunch
Lanche* Afternoon snack*
Jantar Dinner
Ceia Supper

Lanche is usually an odd one for English speakers. It roughly corresponds to the British afternoon tea, that is to say, a light meal or snack eaten in the middle of the afternoon, between lunch and dinner.
The big meals, almoço and jantar, can be broken down like this, especially at restaurants:

  • Entradas – Appetizers/Entrées/Starters
  • Prato principal – Main dish
  • Acompanhamento – Side dish
  • Bebidas – Drinks/Beverages
  • Sobremesa – Dessert

Food and Flavour

When talking about food, we might want to highlight certain aspects of it, like its flavor. Here are some common adjectives for talking about food in Portuguese:

English Adjective Portuguese Term
hot, warm quente
fresh fresco(a)
cold frio(a)
rotten podre
tasty saboroso(a)
bland, insipid insosso(a)*
sweet doce
delicious delicioso(a)
salty salgado(a)
seasoned condimentado(a), temperado(a)
  • The correct technical term for describing something as bland is insípido(a), which is equivalent to “insipid”.  Insosso refers specifically to food lacking salt. The majority of Portuguese speakers will nonetheless use insosso(a) when describing something bland or tasteless. Alternatively, you could say “não sabe a nada“, which means “it doesn’t taste like anything”.

Remember, since all of these are adjectives, they must always agree in both gender and number with the object they’re referring to.
Este bife está muito salgado.This steak is very salty.
A sopa está muito quente. Vou juntar água fria. The soup is too hot. I'll add cold water to it.
Este frango é delicioso, mas o arroz não sabe a nada. This chicken is delicious, but the rice is bland.
A salada está bem temperada! The salad is well seasoned!


  • How do the Portuguese define or differentiate “jantar” and “ceia”? In English, we tend to use these interchangeably, I think: we can refer to the evening meal as “supper” or “dinner.”

    • Olá, David. For us, “jantar” is the main evening meal (it would correspond to our lunch, if it were daytime). “Ceia” is a smaller meal post-dinner, before going to bed. It’s more of a snack, really, not a proper meal.

  • In this sentence: ‘Não consigo comer mais nada hoje, sinto-me demasiado cheia’ shouldn’t it be ‘demasiada’ for feminine?

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