Expats Options for Food in Lisbon
Like every country, Portugal has its own distinctive cuisine. It won’t take you long to realize the importance of bacalhau on the menu. Bacalhau is salted codfish and is the mainstay of Portuguese dishes and food in Lisbon. It is believed that bacalhau can be prepared a different way every day of the year. That’s at least three hundred and sixty-five recipes for cooking bacalhau. If you don’t like fish, there are also some favorite meat dishes on offer. In Lisbon, the capital, you are spoiled for choices. There are many international restaurants available also. And, you will not have any problems finding vegetarian and vegan eateries, if that’s your preference.
Portuguese start their day with a light breakfast around 8 am on their way to work. It usually consists of a milky coffee, either a Galão or a Meia de Leite. The difference being the amount of milk used. Galão is a large glass of milk with a drop of espresso, whereas Meia de Leite is similar to a latte. If you don’t drink milk, you might ask for an Abatanado that is Americano-style black coffee.
Add to this a croissant, a toast with cheese and ham, or a sandwich. Breakfast is available at all bars and cafes in the morning. It’s also popular to put ham and cheese inside a sweet croissant.
Around 11 am, it’s normal to enjoy another coffee with a pastry or cake. It is at this time when you are most likely to enjoy a Pasteis de Nata, the traditional and delicious egg custard tart topped with cinnamon.
Restaurants serve lunch between 12-2 pm. Some may stay open longer. Look out for the menu of the day that represents incredible value. These menus usually include soup, Prato do dia (dish of the day), dessert, and a coffee.
4-5 pm is time again for a coffee and a small snack, either sweet or savory. Maybe another pasteis de nata or a pasteis de bacalhau (cod fish cake).
Around 8-9 pm, most Portuguese will have their dinner. Restaurants are the busiest at this time.
What to eat in Lisbon
- Bacalhau a Bras is a traditional codfish dish specialty in Lisbon. Flaked cod served with scrambled eggs, potatoes, olives, and parsley.
- Sardines are another popular dish served grilled with a chunk of artisan sourdough bread and a salad.
- Cozido a Portuguesa is a delicious meat and vegetable stew that is a warming meal on a cold winter’s day.
- Bifana is a classic sandwich found all over Portugal. A scrumptious piece of fried pork loin in a crusty roll. A typical late-night snack with a beer.
- Caldo Verde is another delicious soup made with cabbage, olive oil, Portuguese sausage, and potatoes. This soup is perfect on a cold winter’s day.
- Chicken Piri-Piri is a traditional Portuguese national dish. Early explorers back in the 15th and 16th centuries brought back spices and flavors from coastal Africa. Piri Piri is a small, hot chili. Chicken Piri-Piri is served with french fries and a small salad. You can find this dish at churrascarias which are in every neighborhood.
- Polvo à la lagareiro is a flavorful octopus dish. Cooked in rich Portuguese olive oil and served with boiled potatoes.
- Pateis de Nata is the famous egg custard tart dessert. It can be found in every pastry shop throughout Portugal. However, it is said to have originated in the Belem pastry shop in 1837. Monks that had been expelled during the 1820 Revolution began making these national treasures to make money. Today, the pastry store in Belem, Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem, sells 10,000 tarts every day to the visitors queuing outside.
What to drink
If you are a wine drinker, you will be pleased to know that Portugal has a great wine-making tradition. There are some beautiful wine regions to visit. The Douro valley is one of the oldest wine regions in the world and produces many top awarded wines. Also, Portuguese wines offer exceptional value.
Port is a fortified wine from the Douro valley and is famous around the world. It is a sweet, heavy, rich wine.
Vinho Verde is a slightly sparkling white wine that is delicious served icy cold. It’s fruity and easy to drink. It’s classed as a green wine and is a favorite with lunch.
The Alentejo region that is southeast of Lisbon is a major producer of excellent red wines. Some of the best wineries in this region are Herdade da Calada and Cartuxa Winery.
In Lisbon, many beautiful wine and liquor stores sell all the brands and will advise you on your wine selections. You can also buy wine, beer, and spirits in the supermarkets in Portugal.
There are a few major supermarket chains in Portugal and in Lisbon, you will be able to find a great range of products. In smaller towns, this often isn’t the case.
The main supermarkets in Lisbon are:
Continente is large, has an extensive product range but is expensive compared to some of the other options.
Pingo Doce is a popular supermarket for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, and cheeses. It has a bakery and very often a small coffee shop.
Lidl is affordable and has many of those products you can’t find anywhere else, such as British Cheshire cheese or German marzipan and cookies. It also has stocked organic products.
Aldi is similar to Lidl. A German chain with many German products.
Must visit cafes and coffee shops
Cafe Martinho da Arcada is a historic establishment dating back to 1782. It is Lisbon’s oldest cafe. Here you can enjoy superb coffee and cakes as well as a lunch menu.
Pastelaria Versailles is an iconic patisserie and coffee shop in Lisbon dating back to 1922. It is housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building on Avenida da Republica.
A Brasileira is possibly Lisbon’s most photographed cafe. It opened in 1905 in the Chiado district. It was frequently visited by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, and there is a statue of him sitting outside. It is rated as one of Europe’s finest historic cafes.
Confeitaria Nacional opened its doors in Lisbon in 1829. This place is known for the Bolo Rei (King’s cake), which it introduced to Portugal and is now a Christmas staple.
Must-visit historic restaurants
Leão D’Ouro is a historic house that houses a restaurant, a buffet, and a beer house. It serves some delectable Portuguese cuisine and has occasional Fado concerts.
João do Grão is another classic historic, traditional restaurant where you can experience a traditional cuisine that includes codfish dishes.
Restaurante Tavares is a symbol of Lisbon’s gastronomy and architecture. It opened its doors in 1784 and has continued to provide an unforgettable gastronomical experience for over two hundred years. Pricey but perfect for special occasions.
Mercado da Ribeira in Bairro Alto is a great farmer’s market that has been operating since 1882. This market is an immense 10,000 square meters covered area. It sells fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, and meats, as well as a food hall.
Mercado da Baixa is a foodie’s paradise. It has food stalls and sells a range of cheeses, sausages, fruit and vegetables, nuts, bread, and pastries. Sit down for a meal and experience tantalizing local specialties.
Mercado 31 de Janeiro is an authentic food market that sells fresh fish, meats, vegetables, and many delicacies. Sit down for a snack and enjoy one of the pastries or bread. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 7:00 to 14:00.
Lisbon is heaven for food and wine lovers. In addition to traditional Portuguese fare, you can experience sushi, hamburger restaurants, pizza, Asian cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, Spanish, and many more.