Can’t Afford a Trip to Portugal? Here Are 7 Alternatives Around Asia

Olá! Como vai você?

Quick: what comes to mind when you think of Portugal? We bet you thought of Cristiano Ronaldo, right? But if you’re familiar with our History books back in high school, you might still remember names such as Vasco de Gama and Afonso de Albuquerque. 

Yes, they were the famous explorers who trod through treacherous waters before stumbling upon Malaya. Today, you can still see and experience traces of their influences in Melaka such as the Kampung Portugis, the Eurasian community, the Kristang language, the Rooster of Barcelos, the cultural Jingkli Nona song and Branyo dance, the A’Famosa…the list goes on.

Some very adorable Kristang children.

Most importantly, they brought their mouthwatering flavours including peri-peri chili peppers, ginger, curry and the famous belacan to Malaysia! Their influence is so strong that until today they keep inspiring us.

So, it makes complete sense if going to Portugal would be one item on our bucket list, right? Whether you are a Eurasian wanting to rediscover your roots, or a wanderluster seeking to discover that rich cultural part of Europe, or a football fan tracing Ronaldo’s footprints (note: he doesn’t live there anymore, though), there are plenty of reasons to go. 

Unfortunately…our bank account and wallets don’t permit this.

Image: PNGKey

Fortunately, thanks to Vasco and Afonso’s extensive travels, we don’t need to go to their kampung to recreate that same ambience and influence in culture, food and music! Here are other alternatives around Asia (which you can fly to after seconds of booking!):

1. Goa, India

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa, India.

The Portuguese established their colony in Goa in 1510, so you’d definitely be catching quite a number of churches and influences of European culture if you make a trip here. Other noticeable influences are the Portuguese fado genre (a form of music characterised by mournful music and lyrics, often about the sea or the poor), and an abundance of potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples and cashews in Goan cuisines. 

On another note, the Portuguese used to practise afternoon siestas (or naps), which are still observed by modern Goans, who call it the susegad lifestyle. This word was derived from the Portuguese word sossegado, which means a state of tranquility, peace and tolerance. 

Indian food lovers would also be happy to learn that the famous Goan vindaloo got its roots from the Portugese carne de vinha d’alhos!

Before vindaloo, there was the de vinha d’alhos!

2. Macao

Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macao.

Macao, previously known as Portuguese Macao from 1557 to 1999, was the first and last European holding in China, and served as a commercial port. Over 450 years later, you’ll still find heavy traces of the European colonialism here such as…you guessed it, the casinos (Macao is the only place in China where gambling is legal).

Feelin’ lucky? Image: Wikimedia Commons

Other things to note are the pastel-coloured neoclassical architecture of historical landmarks (such as the Historic Centre of Macao that was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List), and the Portuguese pastel de nata (egg tarts) and wines. 

To get a bigger picture of Portugal’s influence, head to Senado Square, where you’ll see this:

Image: Macao Government Tourist Office

Be sure to watch out for the street signs too, which still retain their original Portuguese names.

Image: Macao Government Tourist Office

3. The Maldives

One of the most beautiful islands in the world.

Although the Portuguese never colonised or settled in the Maldives, there is evidence of their existence for a short period, between 1558 and 1573. The Portuguese expressed their interest in Maldives because of ambergris and cowry, which were important ingredients in perfume-making. Plus, the Portuguese were sought out by the formerly expelled Sultan Hassan IX in a bid to reclaim his throne. Fast forward through many years of religious wars, the Portuguese eventually were ousted.

Though there were no true influences of the Portuguese here, apart from being inscribed in its history, who would resist a trip to the Maldives to enjoy sights such as these anyway:

Heaven on earth.

4. Nagasaki, Japan

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Portuguese Nagasaki or Ecclesiastical Nagasaki was a remote fishing village before the Portuguese arrived in 1571 for trading and missionary work. Strangely, during the following two decades, the Portuguese exerted a powerful influence on Japan, most notably by introducing guns and revolutionising the style of Japanese warfare.

Screens depicting Japanese contact with the Portuguese. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Portuguese first introduced tempura and refined sugar to Japan, and other favourite confectionaries such as konpeito (confeito in Portuguese, and confit in English) and kasutera (castela), the famous sweet sponge cake; the bakers in Nagasaki learned how to bake from the Portuguese.

Architecture wise, Nagasaki was not built on a grid inspired by the Chinese model, but was built around a centre where the most important buildings were located (such as the church, the Misericórdia charity and town halls). Also, houses were painted white, as in Portuguese fashion.

Castela Cake. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Food for thought: many people have thought that the word ‘arigato’ originated from ‘obrigado’, but this has been proven wrong. But, if you’d like to learn some Portuguese-influenced Japanese words, feel free to check them out here

5. Maluku Islands, Indonesia

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Formerly known as ‘Spice Islands’, it’s not hard to see why the Portuguese set foot here — although not for long. Driven by their ambition to dominate the Asian trade, their influence on modern Indonesian culture is minor, such as keroncong guitar ballads. A large number of Indonesian words are also ‘borrowed’ from the Portuguese, even family names like Dias, de Fretes, Gonsalves and da Costa. 

A drawing of the islands by a presumably Dutch artist. Inset shows Saint John Baptist, a Portuguese-built fort on the island. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The islands, however, were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves that were originally and exclusively found there.

6. Melaka, Malaysia

The famous red church in Melaka.

You knew this would definitely be part of the list! It’s partially what inspired this article in the first place…we’ll get to the main inspiration later. But yes, look no further than our very own Melaka when it comes to getting the Portuguese feels. You’ve got the beautiful architecture, the Eurasian people, the Portuguese settlement, A’Famosa, more egg tarts, Kristang cuisine and so much more. 

A’Famosa, Melaka.

Plus, remember that a local trip would definitely be way cheaper!

And…any McDonald’s near you!

Image: McDonald’s Malaysia

With Portugal serving as this year’s McDonald’s ‘Discover The World’ campaign muse, a special menu is available as a tribute to Portugal, calling out to all Malaysians who are looking for a taste of adventure through their new McDonald’s Portuguese Chicken Burger

It is made with juicy fried chicken patty, dipped in a special spicy and savoury Portuguese sauce, served with a bed of mixed vegetables and a whole leaf lettuce all wedged between a chili flake bun!

Image: McDonald’s Malaysia


Head over to your nearest McDonald’s to immerse yourself in the Portuguese way of life: a life of adventure, colour, dance and one that is deeply rooted in their love of spice. 

Watch the film here:

Image: McDonald’s Malaysia

Still here?

Are you up for a little taste adventure (aside from trying out the new burger)? Give the NoNando campaign a go, and you can even stand a chance to win 100,000 BIG Points!