Bola de Lamego: the Portuguese Treat That’s Better Than it Looks

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Don’t judge based on first impressions. Bola de Lamego is tastier than you think. Here’s what you need to know.

Huge bola de Lomego for a special occasion sliced in half
Traditionally, Bola de Lamego was only served on special occasions

Introducing Bola de Lamego

Let’s be honest, when it comes to bola de Lamego, the initial description can leave you cold.

“A kind of a sweet bread with meat in it,” one of my Portuguese friends told me.

But after my trip along the Douro Valley with Avalon Waterways, I came home converted.

Now, the mere thought of it makes my mouth water with thoughts of pastry, the richness of the cured ham and the smoky depths of chouriço sausage. 

Allow me to introduce you to Bola de Lamego, a true culinary tradition hailing from the rolling hills of Portugal’s Douro region or Região do Douro. 

And all from humble ingredients: flour, yeast, a touch of olive oil, and your favourite savoury fillings. 

History and Origins of Bola de Lamego

The origins of Bola de Lamego can be traced back to the crowning of D. Afonso Henriques as the first King of Portugal in the 12th century. As as result, it is deeply intertwined with the Douro region’s rich culinary heritage.

For centuries, farmers here nurtured the land, their wheat, livestock, and olive groves providing the core ingredients for this dish. 

I love a good food legend, and this one starts with nuns at a convent in Lamego. I’ve heard that perhaps it was a way to hide that they were eating rich treats instead of simple bread but it could have just evolved from changing tastes and the availability of the ingredients. But where’s the fun in that?

Originally, Bola de Lamego was reserved for special occasions but these days, you can find it as part of everyday meals.

It even has its own celebration: the Feira da Bola de Lamego.

Bola de Lamego cut into squares with different fillings
Bola de Lamego can come with different fillings…

Meaning of the Name and Regional Variations

With variations as enjoyable as the Douro landscape itself, let’s unpack the name.

The word “Bola” translates to “ball” or “cake.” The “de Lamego” portion, of course, proudly links this culinary invention back to its birthplace, Cidade de Lamego.

Across the Douro region, Bola de Lamego, also known as Bola de Carne de Lamego, takes on subtle regional twists.

While cured meats like ham and chouriço remain classics, you might also discover versions stuffed with garlic-seasoned chicken or smoky, flaked cod. Coastal towns sometimes throw in seafood variations like sardines.

And this culinary diversity isn’t just about the fillings; the shapes can vary too. Some bakers prefer a rustic, rounded loaf, while others opt for more of an oblong shape. 

Yet, at its heart, Bola de Lamego stays faithful to a few essential elements: flaky, golden pastry, a generous and savoury filling, and an unmistakable high quality.

After talking with the Chef Rodrigo on the Avalon Alegria, I found this recipe.

Plateful of classical Bolas de Lomego cut into pieces

Your Bola de Lamego Recipe

Ready to bring the flavours of the Douro into your kitchen? The journey to a delicious Bola de Lamego begins with a few simple, yet high-quality ingredients.

Ingredients and Essential Tools


  • Flour: 500 grams (about 4 cups) of all-purpose wheat flour (farinha de trigo) provides the foundation for the pastry.
  • Yeast: Use 25 grams of fresh yeast (fermento de padeiro fresco) or 2 teaspoons (7 grams) of dried yeast.
  • Warm Water: 250 ml (about 1 cup) of warm water (águamorna) helps activate the yeast and create a smooth dough.
  • Olive Oil: 60 ml (1/4 cup) of good quality olive oil like Fio d’Azeite adds richness and a touch of Mediterranean flavour. The better the quality of olive oil, the better your Bola. It’s worth the investment.
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon of salt enhances the savoury notes of the dish.


Now for the fun part! Choose from: 

  • Cured ham, thinly sliced
  • Chouriço sausage, sliced
  • Shredded chicken, seasoned to your liking
  • Salted cod, soaked, desalinated, and flaked
  • Sardines

Essential Tools:

  • Large mixing bowl: For combining and kneading your dough.
  • Rolling pin: Essential for shaping the pastry.
  • Baking sheet: A sturdy baking sheet is key for even baking.
  • Pastry brush: For brushing the Bola with a golden egg wash (optional).

A Note on Fillings: The quantities of your chosen filling will depend on your preferences. Be generous but avoid overfilling to ensure the pastry cooks evenly.

Chef Rodrigo from Avalon Waterways slicing a Bola de Lamego

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Bola de Lamego

With our ingredients and tools ready, it’s time for the magic of making your own Bola de Lamego with this traditional Portuguese recipe or receita tradicional right from the chef. 

Let’s break it down into simple steps:

  1. Activate the Yeast: In a small bowl, combine a portion of your warm water, a pinch of sugar, and your yeast. Let it sit for a few minutes until bubbly and frothy. This tells you the yeast is alive and ready.
  2. Mix and Knead: In your large mixing bowl, combine the bread flour and salt. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the olive oil, the activated yeast mixture, and the remaining warm water. Gradually bring everything together, first with a spoon and then with your hands, until you form a smooth, elastic dough.
  3. Time for Rest: Lightly grease your bowl and place the dough inside, turning it to coat the surface. Cover it with a clean cloth and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in size (around 1-2 hours). Patience is key here!
  4. Prepare Your Filling: While your dough rises, get your filling ready. Slice your meats, shred your chicken, flake your cod – whatever you fancy.
  5. Shape and Fill: Punch down your risen dough and divide it into two equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one half into a large rectangle. Transfer it to your baking sheet and generously layer your filling on top, leaving a small border around the edges. Roll out the remaining dough and carefully drape it over your filling, sealing the edges tightly.
  6. Golden Glaze (Optional): For an extra-special touch, whisk an egg yolk and brush it over the pastry – this creates a beautiful shine in the oven.
  7. Preheat and Bake: Let your oven preheat to 190°C (375°F). Bake your Bola de Lamego for about 30-40 minutes or until temptingly golden brown and cooked through.
Bola de pizza slice with sign - a variation of Bola de Lamego

Serving Suggestions and Variations

Now that you’ve created this slice of Portuguese cuisine, how best to enjoy it? Whether you prefer a hearty snack or part of a larger meal, the Bola de Lamego is incredibly versatile.

Here are a few serving ideas or receitas for your bolas:

  • Simple and Satisfying – Enjoy warm slices as is, savouring the flaky pastry and the richness of your chosen filling.
  • Salad Pairing – Serve alongside a fresh green salad for a balanced and refreshing lunch or light dinner.
  • Paired with Main Dishes – Fresh fish, a bowl of pratos de peixe e marisco, you decide.
  • Traditional Touch – In Portugal, you might find Bola de Lamego sometimes served with a drizzle of good quality olive oil (azeite) – a delightfully simple way to enhance those Mediterranean flavours.

And we’re still not finished! Here are some creative variations on the classic:

  • Other meats: Experiment with different cured meats beyond ham and chouriço. Spanish chorizo, Italian salami, or even smoked bacon or roasted pork (carne de porco) could create new flavour combinations.
  • Seafood: If you enjoyed the cod version (Bola de Bacalhau de Lamego), why not try other seafood fillings? Sardines (Bola de Sardinha de Lamego), seasoned shrimp, or flaked tuna could all be delicious choices.
  • Vegetarian Variations: Shredded, seasoned vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms, and peppers make a fantastic vegetarian filling.

Here you have it: the maravilhosa Bala de Lamego!

The most important thing is to make it your own. Don’t be afraid to experiment and discover your favourite combinations. And if you visit Lamego, take my word and visit Pastelaria da Sé for a delicious piece right from the source.

Avalon Alegria: Is a Portugal Douro River Cruise for You?

Launched in 2024, the Avalon Alegria carries only 102 passengers on this 262 foot ship in a combination of 14 Staterooms, 37 Panorama Suites.

As you wind your way along the Douro River, you’ll see steep green slopes with terraced vineyards, historic quintas (estates) and picturesque villages with traditions galore.

It’s a place for lazing and sipping wine, lacing up boots and hiking or cycling, or standing in quiet contemplation on cobbled streets and sanctuaries, soaking up the architecture and living culture of Portugal’s past…all while enjoying the luxury of the Avalon Algeria.

You can book a river cruise with Avalon Waterways right here. If you mention the code INSIDETRAVELLAB you can get a discount of $100 per person for cruises in 2024 and 2025 

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