Although we love living as American expats in Portugal, there are certain American food favorites that we can’t easily find. Read on to discover the foods we miss most.
Moving to Portugal is a dream for many and a reality for us. The country is the total package with its mild climate, stunning beaches and affordable prices. We have zero regrets about our January 2019 move to Lisbon and we’ve been happily living and working as expats since then.
However, as much as we enjoy living in Lisbon, there are certain things that we miss about the American lifestyle. Additionally, since we’re professional eaters (yes, that’s a thing), we miss certain foods from our US homeland that we just can’t easily find here.
We’re not complaining. We’ve found great food at Lisbon’s markets and restaurants.
While the majority of Lisbon restaurants serve traditional Portuguese food, we’re literally within two blocks of eateries that serve Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Spanish food as well as many of Lisbon’s best pastel de nata bakeries.
Stores are even more varied. In addition to sourcing fresh produce and meat at local markets and shops, we can also buy Nutella hazelnut spread and world class cheeses from France, Italy and Greece. Some stores specifically cater to expats and offer a wide range of imported candies and hot sauces.
While we never found cilantro when we lived in Zagreb in two months, and not for lack of trying, we can easily buy that herb in Lisbon as well as basil, dill and tarragon depending on our mood. We can also buy ripe cherries and plums in the summer and wonderful peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers eight months of the year. As for seafood, we enjoy fresh sardines in June and wonderful prawns and clams year round.
But some foods either aren’t available in Portugal or don’t meet our culinary standards. We appreciate that this is a first world problem, but there are certain American foods that are part of our culinary DNA. Life isn’t the same without them and we always seek them out whenever we visit the USA.
These are the foods we miss the most:
Bagels have been part of lives as far back as we can remember. We separately grew up topping the dense, doughy orbs with cream cheese and lox years before we met. Mindi’s first job was at an Atlanta bagel shop and we bonded over New York bagels the night we met.
While we’ve had no problem finding good bagels in disparate cities like Cape Town, Shanghai and Budapest, we haven’t had similar luck in Lisbon. We’ve had some false alarms and came close with a pop-up bagel shop that came and went as quickly as it takes us to go through a baker’s dozen.
What We Eat When We Crave Bagels in Portugal
Although we have yet to find good bagels in Lisbon, we have no problem sourcing excellent sourdough bread at independent bakeries like Monka and Isca as well as at chains like Copenhagen Coffee Lab and Gleba.
2. Mexican Food
Ask a group of American expats in Europe which food they miss and most will say Mexican food without thinking or blinking. It’s not that Mexican food isn’t available in the continent; instead, it’s typically overpriced and/or mediocre. Not an ideal situation to say the least.
Lisbon is no exception to this situation. While the city has several Mexican restaurants, none holds a candle to Mexican food in America which, in turn, don’t hold a candle to Mexican food in Mexico. At least we found a source for Serrano peppers and Valentina hot sauce. Hooray!
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Mexican Food
After sourcing excellent Mexican products, we make our own guacamole, salsa and spicy margaritas at home.
3. NY Pizza Slices
We have no problem finding great pizza in Lisbon. The city has a handful of excellent pizzerias, each with a commitment to crafting wonderful pies and sourcing quality ingredients both locally and from Italy. When the pizza craving hits, we simply choose between Neapolitan pizza or Roman pizza. One shop, Lupita, even makes a hybrid style similar to Roberta’s in Brooklyn.
Finding solid slices is a different situation. We’ve tried several and haven’t yet eaten one that comes close to the kind of slices sold at thousands of pizzerias in all five New York boroughs as well as in Philadelphia. However, we’re not quitters and will continue this noble quest.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Pizza Slices
We typically order kebabs when we’re looking for a cheap meal on the go.
It’s a universal truth that most Europeans don’t get the concept of properly cooking hamburgers. While we’ve eaten great burgers around the continent in cities like Lyon, Strasbourg and Hamburg, we’ve accepted that sub-par burgers are to be expected when we’re not in the Americas.
Sadly, we’re typically disappointed by the burgers in Lisbon with a few notable exceptions. However, one burger joint that we like is overpriced and another requires a metro ride. Don’t get us started on Lisbon’s fast food burgers – they’re even more disappointing. While McDonald’s is decent in some countries like The Netherlands and Japan, the American chain has served us dry, overcooked burgers on multiple occasions.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Burgers
We still eat burgers. However, we either cook them at home or hop on the metro.
5. BBQ + Fixings
We agree to disagree about barbecue in America. Daryl prefers Texas barbecue while Mindi likes saucier styles prepared in Kansas City, Memphis and North Carolina. However, we agree that Europeans don’t totally get the BBQ concept even when they really try.
We’ve eaten decent barbecue in cities like Helsinki, Paris and Copenhagen as well as in our adopted home city of Lisbon. But none of these meals truly demonstrated America’s low and slow cooking technique or included the kind of sides that turn barbecue from meat to a meal. Plus, since European cows are typically grass-fed, European meat doesn’t develop the same marbling that makes American BBQ taste so darn good.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Barbecue
Since we don’t have any problem finding good steak in Lisbon, steak restaurants fill the void when we’re feeling particularly carnivorous.
6. Cobb Salad
Eating a big salad is super satisfying especially when it’s loaded with goodies like avocado, blue cheese and bacon. The Cobb salad has all of these ingredients plus tomatoes, red onion, hard boiled eggs and grilled chicken. It’s not just a classic California salad and one of the world’s best salads – it’s also a protein party on a plate.
Bob Cobb’s salad has appeared in US restaurants on both coasts ever since Cobb (the man) invented the Cobb (the salad) in Los Angeles back in 1937. Sadly, his creation hasn’t seemed to have jumped the pond. At least not yet.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Cobb Salads
Instead of eating Cobb salads at Lisbon restaurants, we eat them at home. We even created a restaurant-style Cobb salad recipe that we love.
You might think that we’d miss Philly Cheesesteaks based on our Philly roots. Nope. The Philly sandwich that we miss most is the city’s hoagie. It’s not just one of the best sandwiches in America. It’s also one of the best sandwiches in the world.
If you’re not familiar with a hoagie, it’s pretty much the same thing as a submarine or grinder sandwich and not so different from a New Orleans po boy. Whatever you want to call it, we love it and we miss it.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Hoagies
We buy baguettes at Eric Kayser and create hoagies at home.
8. Pastrami Sandwiches
When we order a pastrami sandwich, especially one from a New York City deli like Katz’s, we receive a mountain of juicy smoked meat bounded by soft, New York style rye bread. Let’s face it,, we don’t often get mountains of anything on a plate, let alone a huge stack of meat in a sandwich, in Europe in general or Lisbon in particular.
Adding salt to the wound, it’s virtually impossible to find fat-laden cuts of braised and smoked brisket unless they’re imported from the United States. Beef is a different thing here because, as Paris food authority David Lebovitz stated, “many of the cows were raised for their muscles, to pull carts or produce milk.”
Beef is a lean product here in Portugal which doesn’t make for a super indulgent sandwich. Oh well, there’s always the next time that we’re in NYC…
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Pastrami
We eat bifana sandwiches filled with slow stewed pork when we’re home in Lisbon. However, when we’re in Porto, we head to the legendary restaurant Casa Guedes and eat magnificent pork sandwiches with Serra da Estrella cheese that make us forget about pastrami sandwiches. They’re that good.
9. Buffalo Wings
Named after the city where they were invented, Buffalo wings may be America’s ultimate comfort food. Deep fried and coated with lip-tingling, buttery hot sauce, the bar food favorite tastes great with blue cheese dressing and pairs well with beer.
We’re not saying that Buffalo wings were the best thing we ate in Buffalo but they were close. If it were possible to clone those wonderful wings and eat them in Lisbon, we’d pair them with a glass of tawny port or some local craft beer.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Buffalo Wings
We head to one of Lisbon’s many Indian restaurants when we want to spice things up.
10. American-Style Chinese Food
Strip mall Chinese restaurants are seen as a scourge in America – a symbol of cheap, unhealthy urban blight that adds more to the waistline than the neighborhood. It’s a different story in European countries like Portugal where Chinese restaurants tend to be a little more authentic and a little bit pricier. They’re great when we’re looking for a gourmet experience but not so ideal when we want to veg out on the couch with a box of General Tso’s.
We didn’t truly appreciate chicken with broccoli lunch specials until we couldn’t easily find them in Lisbon. Egg rolls? They’re not quite the same. Hot and sour soup? It’s here but the iconic soup is usually more sour than spicy.
That being said, Lisbon has a large Chinese community and we have plenty of Asian grocery stores near our apartment where we can buy Chili Crisp, Shaoxing wine and oyster sauce. After building an Asian pantry during the pandemic, we can now can cook Chinese dishes like Hunan Chicken and Yangzhou Fried Rice at home.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave American-Style Chinese Food
We stir-fry at home at least three times a week.
11. Southern Fried Chicken
Nobody fries chicken better than cooks in the American South. Willie Mae’s Scotch House serves some of our favorite fried chicken in New Orleans, however, we also love eating hot chicken in Nashville where the fiery fried chicken variation was invented.
We’ve found decent fried chicken at just one spot in Lisbon so far. Maybe that’s a good thing since fried chicken is a bit of a belly buster.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Fried Chicken
Lisbon food favorite frango assado (roast chicken) satisfies our chicken cravings. It’s delicious!
12. Chili Powder
We have no problem finding hot sauce and peppers in Lisbon since the Portuguese, unlike the French, enjoy spicy food. However, while piri-piri and Indian chilies are readily available in the Iberian country, generic chili powder is difficult to find.
We’re not talking about spicy cayenne pepper powder. We’re talking about the kind of smoky chili powder used to make chili con carne and Cincinnati chili. Out of desperation, we made our own chili powder with three different dried Mexican chilis at home. Daryl’s nose was clogged for days afterward. It wasn’t a pleasant process.
What We Use in Portugal When We Need Chili Powder
After buying a trio of peppers from a local Mexican distributor, we made chili powder at home during the pandemic. Another option is to ask a close relative or friend to buy a jar and bring it in his or her suitcase. We’re not saying we did this but it’s an option.
13. Honeycrisp Apples
Although Honeycrisp apples were genetically created before we were born, we didn’t discover the American apple varietal until we were adults. Making up for lost time, we ate as many as possible each autumn when we lived in Philadelphia. We even had a favorite Honeycrisp apple vendor, notable for his bald head and surly personality, who brought crisp, sweet apples from an Adams County farm near Gettysburg to our local market each Sunday.
Sadly, Honeycrisp apples don’t grow in Portugal. Happily, Portuguese farmers in Alcobaça grow wonderful Fuji, Pink Lady and Royal Gala apple varietals that we can easily find at local Lisbon markets. We’ve tasted them all and have deemed the sweet, crisp, oblong Fuji varietal to be our favorite apple in Portugal.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Honey Crisp Apples
While the Honeycrisp is still our favorite apple, we’re perfectly content to munch on apples grown in Portugal’s Alcobaça.
14. Pancakes Smothered in Maple Syrup
There’s something special about eating a stack of three pancakes smothered in maple syrup. Primarily produced in Vermont and Quebec, real deal maple syrup takes pancakes, as well as waffles and french toast, to the next level. Adding a pat of butter is like putting a bow on top of an edible gift.
Since real maple syrup isn’t super easy to find in Portugal and comes at a premium, we understand why many of the best Lisbon brunch spots are stingy with the sugary elixir. However, we haven’t figured out why many put syrup inside the pancakes as opposed to on top of the stack where it belongs. It’s a mystery that we continue to investigate one plate at a time.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Pancakes Smothered in Maple Syrup
We can easily find pancakes at Lisbon brunch spots but often need to request extra maple syrup. Our taste buds are worth the extra cost.
15. Froot Loops
Eating Froot Loops is a guilty pleasure that we like to indulge once every year or two. Since we grew up eating bowls of Froot Loops and slurping the remaining sweet milk, this affinity makes sense.
Considering that the colorful, round loops aren’t made of fruit, maybe it’s not a bad thing that most Portuguese grocery stores don’t sell Froot Loops. We still crave them and other American cereals once in a while nonetheless.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Froot Loops
We buy Frosties, the European version of Frosted Flakes, every blue moon. However, we prefer to eat foods like artisan sourdough bread and and fresh fruit most mornings.
16. Hershey Bars
The Hershey Bar isn’t our favorite candy in the world. It doesn’t even get our vote for the best American candy. But, since we grew up in the states, the iconic American chocolate bar holds a special place in our hearts.
We don’t expect to every buy Hershey Bars at our local Lisbon grocery store. The chocolate bar has a sour milk flavor that Europeans don’t prefer.
What We Eat in Portugal When We Crave Hershey’s Chocolate
We ‘settle’ for Cadbury Milk Bars , Ritter Sport Bars and Lindt Truffles when the milk chocolate craving hits us in Lisbon. It’s a sacrifice that we’re willing to make.
17. Cranberry Sauce
We grew up eating big Thanksgiving meals with our families which were inevitably followed by tryptophan-fueled naps. Though we lived in different cities while growing up, these meals always featured ginormous turkeys, heaping piles of stuffing and neon-red cranberry sauce.
Not to be confused with fresh cranberries, that cranberry sauce always came from a can. Using canned cranberries has been an American holiday tradition since Ocean Spray started canning tart berries with sugar in 1941.
For better or worse, the concept of eating canned cranberries hasn’t become a Portuguese tradition. In fact, imported cranberry cans are only available at pricey specialty stores that cater to expats who live in Portugal.
What We Do in Portugal When We Crave Cranberry Sauce
We could hypothetically buy fresh cranberries at better markets and make cranberry sauce from scratch.
Buttermilk has a misleading name that insinuates the presence of butter. Instead, the fermented dairy product is a byproduct of producing butter and doesn’t actually have butter as an ingredient. While we didn’t buy buttermilk that often in America, it was easy to find when we needed buttermilk for a recipe like ranch dressing or cornbread.
After scouring the dairy sections at numerous Lisbon grocery stores, we’ve discovered that the commodity dairy product isn’t readily available in Portugal. We’ve also discovered that buttermilk is incredibly easy to make with just two ingredients – milk and lemon juice. It’s also easy to make a similar substitute by mixing plain, unsweetened yogurt with whole milk.
What We Use in Portugal When We Need Buttermilk
We still use buttermilk but we make it from scratch instead of buying it by the pint or quart.
19. Diet Coke
Invented in 1982 and sweetened with aspartame, Diet Coke is the most popular low calorie soda in America. However, despite its US domination, Diet Coke isn’t readily available in European countries like Portugal.
We can find easily find Coca Cola Zero at restaurants and markets although we rarely order or buy it. Its flavor isn’t the same as Diet Coke and we’d rather drink sparkling water instead.
What We Drink in Portugal When We Crave Diet Coke
We’ve become so accustomed to drinking sparkling water that diet colas now taste funny to us.
20. Bottomless Iced Tea
To be clear, only one of us misses iced tea… and that person is Mindi. She grew drinking iced tea, both sweetened and unsweetened, in Atlanta where she spent the first 21 years of her life. Daryl didn’t grow up drinking the chilled caffeinated beverage in Philadelphia and never acquired a taste for the stuff.
Sure, Mindi could brew some tea at home and transform it into iced tea. It hasn’t happened yet but there’s always next summer.
What We Drink in Portugal When We Crave Iced Tea
We almost always order sparkling water and/or wine at Lisbon restaurants. While neither is bottomless, both hit our beverage sweet spots.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.