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Wondering what to eat in Lisbon during your first visit to Portugal? Whether you want to try a Pastel de Nata or a Bifana Sandwich, read on to find ten Lisbon food favorites that you need to eat during your food trip.
Previously under the radar, Lisbon has hit the tourism big time with travelers who flock to the Portuguese capital at all times of the year. Many of these travelers are new to Portuguese food since it’s not a typical cuisine in many parts of the world.
As for us, we now live in Lisbon. However, we first experienced food in Lisbon back in 2007 during our honeymoon. At that time, information about what and where to eat in Lisbon and the rest of Portugal was sparse.
As honeymooners, we relied on our noses and word-of-mouth recommendations when it came to finding the best food in Lisbon. Despite the challenge, we fell for Portugal, its people and its food.
Fast forward to the present and the situation is quite different. Information abounds on the internet, plus there’s no lack of tours focused around food, culture, history and other aspects of Portuguese life. This time around, finding great in Lisbon has been an easier nut for us to crack.
What To Eat in Lisbon
Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is a great city to sample a range of food from all corners of the coastal nation. Must try food in Lisbon include local specialties that originated on its cobblestone streets as well as Portuguese dishes from other regions and cities such as the Douro, Alentejo and the Algarve.
If you have limited time in Lisbon, you can taste many of these foods at the chic Time Out Market in Cais do Sodré. However, be aware that this tourist-friendly market is pricier than most traditional Lisbon eateries.
Lisbon is a city where you can dine at snack bars for two euros, drink specialty coffee or blow your wad at Michelin starred restaurants. We suggest you eat your way through the city and start with the following ten Lisbon food favorites:
1. Pastéis de Nata
Popular around the world (especially in former Portuguese colonies like Macau and Mozambique), Pastéis de Nata are eggy custard tarts notable for their bright yellow color and creamy texture. Monks invented Pastéis de Nata in Belém centuries ago, but they’re as relevant today as they were when crafty clergymen concocted the heavenly Portuguese desserts.
Caramelization makes the top of authentic Pastéis de Nata dark brown to almost burnt, but the color does not negatively impact the flavor. Though we’ve eaten duds in cities around the world, we’ve never had a Pastel de Nata in Lisbon that was less than wonderful.
Each shop’s Natas have super slight, unique differences in flavor and texture. If you’re savvy with your time, you can taste a range of Lisbon custard tarts and find your personal favorite.
2. Bifana Sandwiches
Most countries have a signature sandwich. In Portugal, that sandwich is the Bifana.
The Bifana may be a mystery to visitors, but the concept will surely be familiar. One of the best sandwiches in the world, this iconic Portuguese sandwich is comprised of sautéed, marinated pork packed inside a crispy roll. Some restaurants add more ingredients, but a true Bifana is a simple affair. Add some chips (i.e. french fries) and a glass of Sagres beer to complete the ultimate Lisbon cheap eats meal.
In Lisbon, diners squeeze bright yellow mustard on their Bifanas, similar to what people add to hot dogs in American cities like Chicago and Buffalo. If you’re not sure where to eat a Bifana, just follow the crowds since Lisbon locals know where to find the best food. The same goes for finding a good Prego, the popular Portuguese sandwich made with beef.
Don’t be deterred by the lack of proper tables and chairs at neighborhood Bifana stands. Eating at the bar is half the fun even if you have to communicate with hand gestures and smiles.
We ate at O Trevo too and unfortunately found their Bifanas dry with overcooked slices of pork. We prefer eating moist, flavorful Portuguese sandwiches out of the tourist zone in neighborhoods like Arroios.
Bacalhau is more than your mother’s cod. This salted fish is both a popular food staple and part of Portugal’s culinary heritage.
The epic history of Bacalhau goes back centuries when intrepid explorers ate preserved fish while conquering the world, consuming necessary protein during long stints at sea. Today, travelers find Bacalhau on Portuguese menus throughout Lisbon, with enough variations to eliminate any possibility of boredom.
Be sure to try Bacalhau à Brás with shredded cod mixed with potatoes, eggs, onions, chopped parsley, garlic and olives for garnish. We also recommend Pastéis de Bacalhau, fried fish cakes with a mix of potatoes and herbs reminiscent of croquettes. Although you’ll find the crispy treats at most snack bars in Lisbon, they’re actually a specialty that originated in northern Portugal.
Want to prepare Bacalhau like a local? You can buy Bacalhau in most Lisbon markets and grocery stores. Don’t be put off by the daunting sizes – most fishmongers sell smaller portions upon request.
4. Sardinhas (Sardines)
Although Sardinhas or sardines are freshest in mid-June when Lisbon celebrates the scaly fish during its annual Feast of St. Anthony Sardine Festival, locals eat grilled and canned sardines all year long.
You’ll want to try grilled Sardinhas even in the offseason. Freshness isn’t an issue since the Portuguese flash freeze Sardinhas to eat during the winter months.
Once the Sardinhas are grilled and doused with a splash of Portuguese olive oil, your only concern will be when you’ll be eating grilled Sardinhas again. However, don’t discount canned Sardinhas.
Previously thought of as a cheap alternative to fresh Sardinhas, canned or conservas Sardinhas are now a trendy Portuguese delicacy. While in Lisbon, you can eat elevated Sardinha preparations at upscale restaurants like Can the Can along with glasses of Portuguese wine.
Insider Tip: Portuguese viticulture is among the best in the world.
Pick up a few cans as edible Lisbon souvenirs. You’ll find Sardinha tins decorated in a rainbow array of colors, many with stylish and whimsical designs.
5. Caldo Verde
Most Lisbon restaurants offer a Sopa do Dia or soup of the day. When it’s available, be sure to try Caldo Verde, a warm green soup made with simple ingredients like potatoes, kale, olive oil and salt.
Decent bowls of Caldo Verde are ubiquitous in Lisbon but excellent bowls are harder to find. When done well, the soup will be so creamy in texture that you’ll swear that cream has been added even though it wasn’t.
Lest we forget, the best part of Caldo Verde is its protein. Most cooks add a slice or two of Chouriço (see below) to each bowl. Though not Vegetarian-friendly, this addition adds a smoky flavor and satisfying bite.
If your accommodation in Lisbon has a kitchen, you can feed your Caldo Verde habit at Pingo Doce. The Lisbon grocery store chain sells an excellent refrigerated version of the popular soup.
6. Piri Piri Chicken
Portuguese cuisine features spices introduced to Europe when Portugal was busy colonizing near and far parts of the world. Piri Piri Chicken is a great example of this phenomenon, blending global flavors from former African colonies with local Portuguese products.
If you’re not familiar with Piri Piri Chicken, you’re in for a tasty experience when you try the popular dish in Lisbon. Typically, cooks grill marinated free-range chickens over an open flame. The spicy, moist chicken gets its flavor from marinade ingredients like piri piri chilies, olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
We’ve enjoyed Piri Piri Chicken in cities like Cape Town and Montreal. However, there’s nothing better than eating this flavorful style of grilled chicken in Lisbon along with salad, potatoes and rice on the side. It’s another Lisbon cheap eats favorite.
Frango is Portuguese for chicken and can be found all over Lisbon. Look for a Frango sign when you’re in the mood to eat Piri Piri Chicken, though you’ll probably smell the enticing aroma before you see the sign.
Less spicy than its Spanish cousin, Chouriço is a popular Portuguese sausage subtly flavored with paprika. Lisbon locals eat this versatile meat as a snack and also use it as an ingredient when cooking.
Food travelers who stroll around Lisbon can easily find Chouriço on Lisbon menus. We recommend ordering Chouriço Assado, a dish in which the Chouriço is literally cooked tableside in a flaming clay dish.
If you love Chouriço as much as we do, you’ll be pleased to find the smoky meat in dishes like Caldo Verde (see above), Arroz de Pato and Cozido à Portuguesa. Not for the faint of heart or Vegetarians, Cozido is a carnivorous pork stew that’s a Portuguese meal on a plate.
Savor the flavor by eating Chouriço with Pão (Portuguese bread). Or take it to the next level by adding Azeitão (see below), one of Portugal’s remarkable contributions to the cheese world.
More than just a tasty protein, Alheira has a fascinating history that dates back to the Inquisition when recently converted Jews would eat the savory farci as a substitute for sausage. Though their intention was to fool Inquisitors into thinking they were eating pork, the ploy didn’t minimize the dish’s quality all those centuries ago.
This Portuguese specialty replaces pork with kosher proteins like chicken, duck and veal. Its bready, stuffing-like texture reminds us of Kishke, another traditional Jewish food that involves a stuffed casing.
Today, diners of all religions enjoy Alheira without worrying about persecution. The only concern is whether or not to add a fried egg and french fries. We say go for it and add both.
Savor the flavor by eating Chouriço with Pão, Portuguese bread. Or take it to the next level by adding Azeitão (see below), one of Portugal’s remarkable contributions to the cheese world.
9. Azeitão Cheese
Though overshadowed by cheese powerhouses like France and Italy, Portugal holds its own when it comes to the production of Queijo or cheese. The country even produces a dozen artisanal cheeses that quality as Denominação de Origem Protegida or DOP, a protected status.
We’re partial to the ooey-gooey Queijo known as Azeitão. Produced with raw sheep’s milk in the nearby town of Azeitão, just 35 kilometers from Lisbon, the creamy cheese pairs well with red wine and makes an ideal snack between meals.
Perfect for Vegetarians, Azeitão producers use thistle flowers sourced from Arrábida Natural Park instead of animal rennet to separate sheep milk curds from the whey. This approach gives the ripe DOP cheese a distinct, herbaceous flavor that stands above other local cheeses.
Skip a knife and instead use a spoon to spread Azeitão cheese.
Though technically a drink and not a food, Ginjinha is a Portuguese liqueur worth trying in the city of Lisbon where it was invented. Infused with sour Ginja or Morello cherries, Ginjinha has a tart yet sweet flavor thanks to the addition of ingredients like cinnamon and sugar.
Throngs of people stop for quick shots of Ginjinha, often spilling onto Lisbon sidewalks. The vessel of choice is typically a tiny glass, though tourists can opt to sip shots of Ginjinha from tasty chocolate cups.
Locals often refer to Ginjinha as simply Ginja and are known to drink the popular liqueur at all hour of the day from dawn to dusk. The decision isn’t whether or not to drink Ginjinha but rather if a booze-infused Ginja or two should be added to the bottom of the shot.
Not sure what to do with your Ginja pits? Drink like a local and spit them into the street. However, we recommend against doing this if you’re inside a bar.
Plan Your Lisbon Visit
Some businesses may revise their hours and menus due to COVID-19. Others may close, either temporarily or permanently, without notice. Be sure to check websites for updated information and make advance reservations where possible.
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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.