Seafood, sweets, and that world-renowned peri peri chicken. Portugal’s place at the very edge of the continent has made their cuisine one of the most unique and delicious in Europe. With each dish either heavy on spice, sauce and sugar (or a combination of the lot), visitors to Lisbon, the country’s capital, are in for a gastronomically good time.
But anyone looking to indulge in Portuguese cuisine on their trip will have a lot of questions. What’s the best food to eat in Lisbon, Portugal? Which are the best places in Lisbon to eat? Which are the Lisbon restaurants where locals eat?
Whether it’s your first visit or your fifteenth, finding the best examples of Portuguese cuisine will be key to getting the proper Lisbon experience. So let’s take a look at the 10 dishes that every tourist should try, and the best places to eat in Lisbon for each recipe.
1. Pastéis de Nata/Belém
In a city famed for its sweets, one Lisbon snack stands head and shoulders above the rest. Pastiés de nata or Pastiés de Belém, simply ‘nata’ or ‘Belém’ to the locals, are staples of this gorgeous city, found in the pastelarias that seemingly stand on every street corner. The snack itself is rather simple – an eggy custard tart dusted with cinnamon – but the taste is sensational. Not just popular in Lisbon, these little pastries have spread throughout the world, from former Portuguese colonies like Brazil and Mozambique to strange lands like Japan. The perfect food to eat in Lisbon for anyone exploring the city, grab a bag and use them as little energy bombs!
Where to try it: Pastéis de Belém
2. Ovos Moles de Aveiro
The Portuguese are mad for eggs. If you think you know a fair few ways that eggs can be prepared, think again – in this part of the world it’s almost a national pastime to create new ways to ingest eggy goodness. Ovos moles de Aveiro (soft eggs from Aveiro) is one example of this creativity. A simple mixture of egg yolks and sugar is pressed between two communion wafers, creating a delicious bite-size snack. Such is the reverence in which this dish is held, in 2008 ovos moles de Aveiro were designated a product with Protected Geographical Indication (the same designation shared by things like Champagne) by the European Union.
Where to try it: Casa dos Ovos Moles em Lisboa
3. Pastel de Feijão
Of all the delicious things to eat in Lisbon this is certainly one of the strangest. Staying on the dessert train, pastel de Feijão is a pastry that was created by a 19th century Portuguese woman called Joaquina Rodrigues. It stayed a family secret for generations before her descendants eventually shared the recipe with the world, becoming quite successful in the process. Known locally as bean cake, this is a truly ugly, odd, and delicious delicacy. Mashed white beans form the base of the dish (weird, yes, but good), while slivered almonds bring texture and flavor. The whole thing is wrapped in pastry to up the sweetness, and somehow the whole thing works!
Where to try it: Fábrica do Pastel Feijão
4. Pudim Abade de Priscos
In the 19th century Portugal had its own celebrity chef – Manuel Joaquim Machado Rebelo, an abbot who was tasked with preparing banquets for the royal family. While he was well known for his outrageous culinary talent, he was a secretive man when it came to his recipes. Happily Pudim Abade de Priscos (Abbot of Priscos pudding) was one that slipped through the cracks. A rich crème caramel pudding sounds simple enough, until you realize that it features no less than 15 egg yolks and the oddest of dessert ingredients, bacon. The result is sugary, salty, velvety, fatty deliciousness. According to its creator, Pudim Abade de Priscos is “rather easy to make, but difficult to get right.”
Where to try it: Café Lisboa
5. Peri peri chicken
Fancy a bit of genuine Nando’s? Peri peri will headline many a traveler’s list of must eat food in Lisbon, although surprisingly, while some people know this dish as ‘Portuguese chicken’, it isn’t actually Portuguese at all. This chili-based sauce that goes perfectly with char-grilled bird was actually created in South Africa (where Nando’s also originates from). The recipe was brought back to Portugal through the country’s former African colonies of Mozambique and Angola, and has been a local hit ever since. The Portuguese aren’t known for their heat tolerance, however, so you’ll usually be served the chicken and peri peri sauce separately, allowing you to coat on as much as you wish.
Where to try it: Bonjardim
6. Bacalhau à brás
If you’re wondering what to eat in Lisbon, Portugal, look no further. According to local legend there are as many ways to prepare bacalhau – salted cod – as there are days in the year. The most popular, and the one often cited as the Portuguese national dish, is bacalhau à brás. This dish sees shredded salted cod, onions and matchstick-sized French fries bound together with scrambled egg. It’s often garnished with olives or parsley, although you can expect something a little different from every restaurant. If you’re on the hunt for genuine Portuguese cuisine, keep an eye out for bacalhau à brás, as it’ll be served in all the must-eat restaurants in Lisbon.
Where to try it: A Casa do Bacalhau
Looking to snack on the go? The bifana is here to help. The choice of everyone from white collar workers to late-night partiers, the bifana was Portuguese fast food before fast food existed. A simple roll filled with tender pork that has been marinated in garlic, spices and white wine, the simplicity of this sandwich is its strength. It is chowed down with soup during work lunches, bought as a snack for the walk home, or ordered alongside a beer at a pub. The northern version (sometimes called prego) more commonly uses beef and hot sauce, but the Lisbon dish will be pork-based and mild, and goes perfectly with mustard. If you’re wondering what to eat and drink in Lisbon, beer and bifana is the ultimate combination.
Where to try it: Casa das Bifanas
Referred to as ‘little things’ (jaquinzinhos) or ‘horse mackerel’ (carapauzinhos) depending on where you are and who you ask, this dish is a staple of Lisbon tascas, small neighborhood restaurants, often unmarked, where the locals have lunch. The recipe is simple – get a bag of small fish, usually mackerel, deep-fry them whole, then serve them with a side of bean or tomato rice. The preparation makes the snack more reminiscent of pork rinds than seafood, with a delicious crunchiness that will make you forget you’re eating the head, tail and stomach of the fish (the oil ensures you won’t find any squishy bits here). Tascas are great places to eat in Lisbon, and if you do go local, this is the dish you should be ordering.
Where to try it: Último Porto
9. Arroz de Marisco
Many visitors are surprised when they learn that rice plays as large a part as seafood in the local food to eat in Lisbon, Portugal. While the average European consumes around 5kg of rice a year, the average Portuguese eats 15kg. Reminiscent of the more famous Spanish paella, Arroz de Marisco brings together seafood and rice in a beautiful dish. Beginning with a base of rice, prawns, fish, clams and other seafood are combined with a wealth of vegetables and some secret herbs and spices. The result is a mouth-watering dish that’s ideal for sharing. And while you’ll need to take a ferry to get there, Restaurant Farol is the ideal eatery at which to sample the delicacy.
Where to try it: Restaurante Farol
10. Sardinhas Assadas
When you think sardines your mind will probably wander to the smelly, salty fish in the tin can. You may even think of cat food. But you’ll need to put all of these images out of your mind if you visit Portugal over summer, because the Portuguese do these little fish differently and deliciously. During sardine season, between May and October, Portuguese fishermen haul plump sardines out of the ocean by the boatload. The fish are most commonly grilled over fire – sardinhas assadas – at any self-respecting restaurant or tasca (the best place to eat sardines in Lisbon). Light, flaky and delicious, you’ll need to work around the bones, but the reward is well worth the effort.
Where to try it: Santa Rita