Portugal is becoming one of the hottest travel destinations in Europe and with its sunny climate, beautiful landscapes and rich culture. In Lisbon, the bar and restaurant scene is buzzing. And across the city’s foodie spots you can find everything from traditional taverns to cutting edge innovative cuisine. If you’re planning a trip to Portugal or are just curious about what’s good to eat, read on to discover my list of 7 essential foods to try in Lisbon, Portugal.
What is Portuguese food like?
Portugal is flanked on one side by a long, rambling coastline and is famous for its fresh fish and seafood. Like the Spanish, they also produce a lot of cured meats as well as some fabulous cheeses. Pair these with some of the country’s fantastic wines, you’ve got yourself some delicious and unforgettable meals.
In Lisbon, you’ll be blown away by neighborhoods such as Bairro Alto, where it seems like every second building is a restaurant! If your Portuguese isn’t quite up to par and you’re at a loss at what to order, you can bet on one of these tasty Portuguese typical foods to hit the spot…
Bacalhau: Salted Codfish
Ask a Portuguese person what’s the one thing they always take on a long trip and they’ll answer “bacalhau”. Ok, that may not be 100% true but the Portuguese do love their bacalhau. The people of Portugal have been enjoying it for over 500 years and legend has it that there are over 1000 different ways to prepare this local delicacy.
Bacalhau refers to cod fish that has been dried using salt and it must be rehydrated over 48 hours before being eaten. While you’re in town, you can try a pastel de bacalhau, a fritter made with cod and potatoes that’s the perfect snack for refueling while you’re out sightseeing. For something more substantial, try bacalhau com natas, a cod gratin baked with cheese and cream – you won’t regret it.
Where to try Bacalhau
Pastel de Nata: Custard Tart
The Portuguese custard tart should be given a spot in the pastry hall of fame. Their insane deliciousness has caused bakers all over the world to try their hand at them, from Hong Kong to Toronto. But the original and best can only be found in Lisbon.
This flaky, creamy egg tart was created by monks in the 1800s in a Lisbon suburb called Belém and rumor has it that the original recipe is only known by five people, who aren’t even allowed to travel on the same airplane – serious pastry business. Make sure to get yours fresh from the oven and I recommend ordering half a dozen to keep you going throughout the day. Stay tuned for a definitive guide to custard tarts in Lisbon.
Where to try Pastel de nata
However, Jeff Brownson who hosts the Miles & Pints podcast recommends another local favorite Manteigaria, whose original location in Chaido is here and also has a newer and larger location in the Time Out Market.
Gambas à Guilho: Garlic Prawns
There are few things in life greater than garlic shrimp and Portugal knows how to do this dish justice. Gambas à guilho involves frying fresh prawns in olive oil with lots of garlic, a flash of brandy and a bay leaf. Simple and satisfying, you will love this dish. Especially if you ask your waiter to bring you extra bread for soaking up all the delicious sauce that’s left over.
Where to try Gambas à guilho
Ginjinha em Copo de Chocolate: Cherry Liqueur in a Chocolate Cup
Although it’s not technically a dish, this Portuguese specialty is an absolute must-try for any discerning foodie traveler. A ginjinha is a shot of ginja, a sweet cherry wine produced in a town called Óbidos, near Lisbon. It’s warming and the Portuguese used to use it as a medicine… so I like to believe that it’s practically good for you! But the best thing about ginja is that the traditional way to serve it is in a little shot glass made entirely of chocolate. Trust me, the experience of crunching through the bittersweet chocolate as the ruby-red liqueur dribbles down your chin is one you won’t forget.
Where to try Ginjinha em Copo de Chocolate
Head to the old neighborhood of Alfama, where at every corner old ladies sell their own homemade ginja served in a chocolate cup.
Alheira: Kosher Sausage
Alheira is a delicious Portuguese sausage with a fascinating history. Back in the 1500s, the King ordered all the Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Many Jews simply pretended to convert while still practicing Judaism in secret. And from this was born the alheira – a cleverly crafted sausage made not with pork but with poultry, bread and paprika. It looked and tasted like a regular sausage and was enough to fool the armed Christian guards. Now it is one of the most popular dishes in the country and is served in all manner of ways. Try it fried with an egg and sautéed potatoes.
Where to try Alheira
Zé dos Cornos found here is a classic, no-nonsense spot with some fantastic alheira.
Queijo Amanteigado: “Buttered” Cheese
This scrumptious cheese is produced in Serra da Estrela, the Portuguese mountain range, and gets its name from its silky smooth texture. It has a mild, creamy taste and should be served at room temperature so you can literally spread it on your bread like butter.
Top tip: the Portuguese tend to have their cheese as an appetizer before the meal rather than after the main course, like in France.
Where to try Queijo Amanteigado
There’s a good chance that no country loves sardines more than Portugal. Every year in Lisbon there’s a whole festival that’s basically dedicated to sardines. Yep, the Festas de Santo António take place throughout the entire month of June and are a series of street parties with loud music, streamers, beer and lots of fresh, grilled sardines. Unlike the little fish you get in a can, fresh sardines are pretty big and if you’re squeamish about bones and heads, they might not be for you since the Lisboans are not in the habit of filleting these bad boys. But if you are a sardine fan, you’ll love enjoying one with salt and olive oil served on top of a big hunk of bread, which is the typical way to eat them in Lisbon.
Where to try Sardinhas
If you can’t make it for the sardine festival, head to O Portas restaurant found here in the Baixa area for their sardines on bread.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the tasty things to eat in Lisbon, Portugal. It was a hard call but we’re confident these 7 dishes are a fair representation of the country’s amazing cuisine. We’ll be posting lots more about Portuguese food and the restaurant scene in Lisbon but in the meantime let us know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these foods and what you thought of them!