Lisbon food culture
Lisbon appears to be a picturesque sleepy town, however, in reality, it’s an incredibly cosmopolitan city buzzing with an emerging gourmet food scene. The locals are passionate about their food and take pride in sourcing the freshest ingredients to create unpretentious, hearty meals. Being so close to the ocean means all the seafood is of the freshest quality and in the hands of a passionate chef is nearly always cooked to perfection. As a bonus, the seafood is super cheap!
The cheeses, breads and cured meats are all fantastic in Portugal. The country has a strong farm to table philosophy, which is evident in all of the restaurants and eateries in the country. This philosophy also spills over to its alcoholic beverages, bartenders are very eager to discuss the regions where they source their Ginjinha, Port and wine from. Eating in Portugal is fantastic with simple, hearty meals that are made using the freshest produce!
Brunch, there is a bunch of new wave of eateries in Lisbon. Fabrica Lisboa and Pois Cafe in the Baixa neighbourhood are two great examples. At Fabrica Lisboa, the breads and croissants are baked fresh every morning – and they are seriously some of the best croissants we have ever had! Pois Cafe has some great locally sourced charcuterie meats and cheeses. These cafes are perfect venues for a relaxed meal and people watching.
Time Out Market has been lauded as an innovative way of experiencing the Lisbon food scene. The Time Out Portugal team have curated the meals on offer to represent the best dishes of the region. All the dishes and food items have been chosen and taste tested by the Portugal team. The Time Out market is also co-located with some of the city’s best known market vendors who sell vegetables, fruits, fish and flowers. A visit to the Time Out Lisbon market is an ultimate foodie experience to soak in the flavours and culinary traditions of the region.
The market exemplifies the best of the city, most of the dishes on offer are modern interpretations of Portuguese dishes or the best of the international food options available within the city. This means that you will be able to try Lisbon’s best burger, or steak or even sushi. If you’re interested in trying traditional food then you would be better off going to a traditional Portuguese restaurant called a cozinha. However, if you’re a solo traveller, or are wanting a quick bite to eat, or you simply want to check out the market, then head over to the bar tables at the side counter stalls. You can see all the food being prepared as you wait!
Bars, Lisbon is also full of trendy watering holes that help to give the city it’s uber-hip vibe. Park Bar, in Bairro Alto is a prime example of one of these. It is situated on the rooftop level of a parking lot that has been turned into an elevated garden terrace. The views of Lisbon are stunning and the flowing bar provides the perfect opportunity to try one of Portugals native drinks, Ginjinha, Port or Vinho Verde.
By the Wine, is a speciality wine bar in the Chiado neighbourhood. The bar is designed to provide the ambience of a wine cellar. The walls of the bar are filled with rows and rows of Portuguese wines, discrete table settings in the back of the venue allow couples privacy, whilst larger groups can also be accommodated. The bar prides itself on serving share plates of Portuguese gastronomy that pairs well with their selection of local wines. There is a large selection of local and Spanish cured meats and cheeses on the menu! It is definitely worth a visit if wine is your drink of choice.
Pastéis de Nata, one cannot leave Portugal without eating this ubiquitous dessert pastry. The Pastil de Nata is a custard tart made from egg yolks baked into a flaky pastry. Some of the best Pastil de Nata can be found at the pastelaria Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis. Eating here is akin to a thriving Italian espresso bar, where jockeying for space at the standing room only counter for your pastry and coffee is the norm. The nata pastries at this pastelaria were delicately crunchy, sweet and creamy from the egg custard filling. We didn’t realise until after we had finished, that sprinkling some cinnamon and icing sugar on the fresh tart is the best way to enjoy them with a cup of fresh black coffee.
Tinned Seafood, The Portuguese have perfected the art of canning fish since 1853. a recent renaissance in the production and consumption of this speciality has heralded the rise of boutique brands producing tins of high quality seafood. We visited the Conserveria de Lisboa, a grocery shop specialising in tinned seafood in the Baixa neighbourhood. At this speciality shop, the selection of tinned seafood ranges from salmon to mackerel, eel, tuna and octopus all preserved in various sauces and oils. Although the seafood preserved in olive oil is regarded as the best option. The cans of seafood are wrapped in beautifully decorated paper and tied-off with string, they make a great souvenir gift or a cheap lunch!
Cozinha, A traditional Portuguese restaurant is referred to as a cozinha. The cuisine at these restaurants is traditional Portuguese food and can involve lots of seafood, rice, bread, pork dishes and of course salted cod – bacalhua. There are lots of family run cozinhas in Lisbon, the Foursquare restaurant review app has a big fellowship in Lisbon so you can’t go too wrong with the top choices found on the app. We took the recommendation of our AirBnB host and visited a restaurant close to our apartment in Baixa and tried some of the famous Bacalhua. The dish was tasty, although a little too salty for me!
We learnt some very important truths about Portuguese food during our visit:
- English is a language many of the locals understand in Lisbon. So getting around and ordering food is super easy
- The Portuguese love their salted cod (bacalhua) and its often said that there are more than 365 ways to cook the cod. That’s a new recipe every day of the year!
- Portuguese style chicken doesn’t actually exist in Portugal it originated from the Portuguese colonies in South Africa.
- If Bacalhua is Portugal’s national dinner then the Prego (steak sandwich) and Bifina (pork steak sandwich) is its lunch equivalent!
- It is common practice for restaurants to place some appetisers on your table at the beginning of the meal, this could include: bowl of olives; bread. You are charged a cover charge if you choose to eat these.
- The food in Lisbon is always fresh and of very high quality – but also quite cheap compared to other Western European countries. Expect to pay less than half of what you might pay for a similar quality meal in Spain.