One of the hippest cities in Europe, Lisbon, offers traditional dishes, contemporary plates and legendary custard tarts. Having recently indulged in Lisbon’s thriving food scene, here are our top tips on where and what to eat when visiting Portugal’s capital.
Where to Eat in Lisbon
Time Out Market Lisboa
The Time Out Market food hall opened in Lisbon in May 2014, and is the first of several planned similar ventures for Time Out.
It’s brings together the best of the eateries in Lisbon, serving up regional specialities from the city’s most well-known chefs.
It was here that we had our most memorable meal of the trip – an octopus hot dog from renowned eatery Sea Me, a contemporary Portuguese/Japanese fusion restaurant.
In a soft bun served with salad and drizzled with a pimped-up tartare sauce, the octopus tentacle had the same bite and texture as a frankfurter, making this a combination that worked well together. The hotdog was something of a revelation, as was the sardine sushi piece we had on the side.
The dishes at the Time Out market were not only interesting and delicious but there were plenty of small dishes to sample and share. Other local delicacies we tried here included the local sheep’s cheese (deliciously sharp and salty), caldo verde, the Portuguese green soup (not outstanding) and Portuguese cod fish balls (definitely worth a try). You can easily visit the market more than once, as we did, on a trip to Lisbon as there’s so much to choose from.
We were also impressed with dishes from Cozinha da Felicidade, which serves food from talented chef Susana Felicidade (you can read more about her and find her octopus and sweet potato recipe here). We tried two dishes from her meat menu – a sirloin steak with fried egg and cured ham, and an Iberian pork cheek with sweet potato mash, both of which were divine.
Time Out Market Lisboa, Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodre
Custard tarts from Pasteis de Belem
A trip to Lisbon isn’t complete without a traditional Portuguese custard tart – Pastéis de Nata. The best tarts in the city are made from a secret, ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and are served at Pasteis de Belem, where they recreate the recipe every day by hand, using only traditional methods.
On approaching the bakery the first thing that struck us was the incredible queue, the recipe may be a secret but the bakery certainly isn’t. The queue is so large that there is a system for buying the tarts. One queue leads you to ordering and paying and then another queue is for collecting the tarts. We saw one man being evicted from the premises after a fight had broken out (that’s how good these tarts are) over the pastries. They cost EUR 1.10 each and you can buy a box of up to 48 of them to take away.
The tarts themselves are delicious, the flaky pastry is crisp, and the sweet eggy custard holds its form. They come with sachets of icing sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top and they can be enjoyed warm from the bakery or cold from the fridge (we had one for breakfast each morning that we were in Lisbon).
We’ve since found a lovely bakery in Hammersmith that serves traditional tarts, Cafe de Nata serves authentic Portuguese tarts for a sweet reminder of Lisbon back in the UK.
Pasteis de Belem, R. Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa
Cantina das Freiras (Nun’s canteen)
Had we not read about the Nun’s canteen before we arrived, we would never have stumbled across it. Tucked away on the third floor of an unmarked building, the Nun’s canteen serves cheap unpretentious food that can be eaten from a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the sea.
From the self-service counter that is reminiscent of school-dinner service, we chose a two-course meal for EUR 6.50. We opted for chicken and rice with a side of cod fritters and a custard-type dessert and a beer (they serve beer and sangria).
The food was basic and not particularly noteworthy but it was cheap, accompanied by a great view and it was an experience that we won’t forget. A word of warning if you do go – be wary of the pigeons. While we were there, an unsuspecting diner left her meal unattended to go back into the canteen and returned to find two pigeons wading through her rice.
Cantina das Freiras, Travessa do Ferragial n.1, 1200-184 Lisboa
Sol e Pesca – a tinned fish restaurant
Sol e Pesca, located on ‘Pink street’, is a restaurant dedicated to tinned fish. The venue was originally a fishing-tackle shop and the quirky interior has changed little since its evolution. The fishing-rod clad menu lists bread, an array of tinned fish choices and some side dishes for variety (the hummus is good, as is the sheep’s cheese).
Some of the options are simple – sardines served in olive oil, or flavoured with lemon – and some are for the more adventurous (tuna served with cinnamon and orange was a dish I’d like to forget but one that Tim claims was his favourite). It’s a perfect quirky lunch spot and it makes for a slightly different food experience.
There are also plenty of tinned fish shops across the capital if you want to take sardines back home with you and – as we happily discovered – you can fly up to 150 g tins back home with you in your hand luggage.
Sol e Pesca, R. Nova do Carvalho 44, 1200-014 Lisboa
Café de Brasilia
The Café A Brasileira (The Brazilian Lady Cafe) is one of the oldest and most famous cafés in the old quarter of Lisbon. The establishment was opened by Adrian Telles in the 19th century to import and sell Brazilian coffee, which was a rarity at the time in Portugal.
Today, the art deco interior and pavement tables offer a nice spot for coffee or breakfast and a chance to have your photo taken with the statue of poet Fernando Pessoa.
Café a Brasileira, R. Garrett 120, 1200 Lisboa
Bonjardim is famed for its legendary piri piri chicken and so we had to put it to the test and I can honestly say it’s the best piri piri chicken I’ve ever eaten. The spit-roast chicken is succulent and the accompanying hot piri piri sauce adds a delicious heat to the chicken.
I’m sure other restaurants in Lisbon do this dish justice as well, but if you eat here you won’t be disappointed. The side dishes are also good – their creamed spinach is renowned and we loved their green beans which were generously flavoured with garlic and olive oil.
Bonjardim, Tv. de Santo Antão 11, 1150-312 Lisboa
Red – we like it raw
Perfectly placed at the end of Tram 28 route for a post-tram ride lunch is Red – we like it raw. Here you can choose anything you want to eat, as long as it is a rare roast beef sandwich.
There are several varieties of roast beef sandwiches and the meat in all of them is served nice and pink. I ordered the Serra sandwich – with mushroom and Portuguese Serra cheese – and Tim opted for the bacon and egg sandwich.
Our sandwiches were melt in the mouth and served alongside beer in refrigerated metal cups that kept the beer nice and cold (think metal camping mugs), we both agreed that mine was the tastier of the two. Lunch at Red was the perfect reward for surviving the long queue for tram 28.
Red – we like it raw, Praça São João Bosco 554, 1350-295 Lisboa
There are a few typical Portuguese stew dishes that are worth looking out for in Lisbon, and these can often be available in smaller tapas-style dishes. They do a great feijoada – a paprika-spiced stew of beans, vegetables and cured meat (you can view our Brazilian feijoada recipe here if you want to try it at home), Favas a Portuguesa – with broad beans, morcela and chopped pork rib – and Caldeirada de peixe – a fish stew with potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.
Drinking in Lisbon
Pharmacia cocktail bar
If you’re looking for a great spot to sip cocktails, it’s the lawn on the grounds of the Pharmacy Museum near the top of the funicular, Elevador da Bica. The medicinal-themed drinks served here are unique and served in quirky glasses, the receipt even comes in a medical-sample tub to continue the theme.
I enjoyed a Morphina – with sparkling wine, vodka, triple sec and pineapple juice and Tim opted for the Omepraxol – with port ruby, benedictine, lemon, pear juice, cinnamon syrup and burnt thyme.
The cocktails were delicious, they looked the part and they certainly had a medicinal relaxing effect.
Whilst we didn’t try the food here we’ve heard good things about it. The sharing-style tapas dishes here are the creation of chef Susana Felicidade, who works here when she’s not showcasing her talents at the Time Out market.
Pharmacia, R. Mal. Saldanha 1, 1200-012 Lisboa
Cais do Sodré is an area that was once dominated by strip bars, however, it had a makeover a few years ago, which saw the Rua Nova do Carvalho being painted bright pink, earning its name “Pink Street”. Pink street comes alive at night and is home to many of Lisbon’s bars and clubs (it’s also where you’ll find the aforementioned tinned fish restaurant) and so it’s the place to head for evening drinks. Stumbling home afterwards you’ll often come across sandwich sellers selling late-night bocadillos from a basket for a late-night snack.
Ginja – Sour Cherry Liquor
Ginjinha or Ginja, is a Portuguese sour cherry liqueur that originated in Lisbon. You’ll see it on most menus, you can buy a bottle of it from many shops or visit A Ginjinha – a bar dedicated to the stuff – for a shot. We enjoyed it most on the side of a custard tart.
Have you eaten in Lisbon, what did you enjoy? Leave your comments in the box below.
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