Some of the best eateries in the city can be found in the iconic areas in Lisbon. The Bohemian Bairro Alto area offers great restaurants and the Chiado area, typical cafes and more elegant dining or food experiences.
My food experience started at our first stop, the local supermarket. Whenever I visit a city, I normally have a browse around the local supermarket, to get an idea of local produce. My favourite item from the bakery was health bread rolls with seeds and fruit which I had as a breakfast snack.
Portugal in a can:
Portuguese people love sardines. Canned sardines are a national icon and part of the city’s culinary heritage. You can find canned sardines in various stores in Lisbon, from the local supermarket to speciality canned fish stores. One of the more well-known brands is Conserveira de Lisboa for its colourful unique vintage designs. I tried sardines in spicy oil, the chilly was subtle and the sardines was not too pungent.
If you would like fresh sardines, the best time to visit Lisbon is between June and October, when it is in season. If you order sardines out of season, it will be canned or frozen. Canned fish is making its way back onto the menu at trendy cafes and restaurants.
There are various other canned seafood and fish, from whole fish to pates to try. Choose from Tuna, Anchovy, Octopus and Salmon, just to name a few, and they come in a variety of flavours. Dedicated canned fish shops can be found in the throughout the city. If you want to take a piece of Portugal home with you, this is the perfect item to take with you.
Bacalhau: Lisbon on a plate
The term Bacalhau refers to dried and Salted Cod. Salted Cod is very common in Portugal. In fact, it is so common that it is known as a national obsession. This national Portuguese dish is predominantly served over holidays like Christmas. There are various ways the locals cook them, and there are hundreds of ways to serve it, which can be seen when visiting local eateries.
Pastel de Nata:
These Portuguese tarts with a custard egg filling, served in a pastry shell, are a local delight. Baked to perfection at 200 degrees, it is traditionally served dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar. They are eaten throughout the day, for breakfast, lunch, as a snack or after dinner. They can be bought from bakeries all over town, and with a bakery around nearly every corner, you will have no problem finding a spot to try them.
Portuguese Fortified Wine:
No visit to Portugal is complete without sampling Port of course. They are the words largest producers of Port. There a so many types to choose from, so I would recommend visiting a Port house. I tried a speciality Port as well as Port chocolate.
Trying the local cuisine:
For our first dinner in the city, we headed to Bairro Alto in search of a good Portugese food. This area came recommended by the locals at our hotel as one of the best areas to try local Portuguese cuisine. There were many restaurants to choose from, but we found one in Rua da Rosa street that was filled with locals only. (Restaurante e Cervejaria O Cantinho da Rosa)
We had some of the breads, cheese and pate to start, which was very good. I really enjoyed the variety of fish/seafood pates. I had fish with salad for dinner, mandatory cuisine in a Mediterranean city!
Sea Me Restaurant:
The next restaurant we tried was a contemporary restaurant located in the old town. It is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. They serve a fusion of Portuguese and Japanese cuisine. We opted to try the traditional Portuguese dishes.
You can select your own freshly caught fish and various other types of seafood from the fridge. The fresh seafood was sold per kilogram. Your waiter will explain the process to first time patrons.
I had scallops as a starter, which was cooked perfectly and served with mango relish and sweet corn. For mains I had to try salted cod. The cod was served with traditional Portuguese Potatoes with a lemon oil dressing.
I had a local green wine with dinner. Despite is name, green wine (Vino Verde), is not green in colour, it looks like white wine, but it is made from young grapes instead. It is a crisp aromatic wine with a low alcohol percentage and easy to drink. It pairs well with seafood. Green wine should be consumed soon after it is bottled and is commonly served in restaurants.
In terms of price, Sea Me is an above average but worth every cent spent on dinner! I rated the scallops as the best dish I had in Lisbon. The restaurant is located in the centre of town and within walking distance of the metro.
We nearly missed trying out this restaurant and we thought it was a more of plush bar when we walked by as it has a champagne and oyster bar and display area in the street front display. I later discovered this was a restaurant which a Portuguese colleague recommended.
This market is located in Cais do Sodre, in the outskirts of town, part of the regenerated area. The historic hall in the city is now a food hall thanks to TimeOut. This large food court is larger than Spitalfields market in London or the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town. The quality of food is amazing and it has a buzzing vibe.
You can try various artisanal produce, local restaurants serving their best or local food stalls. This is perfect if you would like to try the food in a more relaxed setting and with no dress code. We got to the market at 11am on the last day of our stay in Portugal, and what an experience! It was brimming with people and by 12pm there was nearly no free seats!
What food is on offer?
The market is the perfect place to try local cuisine such as Bacalhau (salted cod) or canned sardines. I tried cod fritters as a lighter lunch option, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My friend had Octopus as it was served in many of the stalls/restaurants. We finished our lunch with some pasteis de nata for dessert and bought canned fish from one of the stalls to take home as souvenirs. There were various artisan stalls selling cakes and chocolates, which we also tried.
For me the TimeOut market is a mandatory stop in Lisboa. I loved that you have so many options to choose from and can try different speciality dishes from award winning chefs without the expense of a formal dining experience in a typical restaurant. The market is located close to the metro and is very easy to get to. You can go for brunch, lunch, drinks or dinner, as it is open until from 10am to 12am weekdays and 2am over the weekend.
My must try food:
Salted cod was my favourite fish dishes and Pasteis de Natas was my favourite dessert. I highly recommend trying these custard tarts, but be warned, they are addictive. I have a sweet tooth, so I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A tip for dining out in Lisbon:
You will find that most restaurants in Lisbon place a breadbasket with cheese, pate etc on the table. It is not complimentary. Ask the waiter before you tuck into that delicious freshly baked bread rolls. Some are priced per basket (even if you only eat one item) and other restaurants price it per individual item. We discovered this at the first restaurant we had dinner at, as we were charged for the entire basket, even though we only tried one item!
Hope you enjoyed this food guide. The last of my 3 part series on my Lisbon adventures and visiting Belem, to follow. Until next time, Adventure awaits.