From breakfast to dinner and drinks to dessert, Lisbon is a food lover’s dream destination. Its coastal location guarantees fresh seafood in its restaurants and markets, and Portugal’s colonial past brought food from around the world into the country. Here’s what makes the cuisine of the Portuguese capital so palatable.
Most Portuguese foods are made with a few key ingredients. In one iteration or another, you can count on seafood, eggs, rice, potatoes, and/or sausage showing up in almost every dish.
If you don’t like fish, Lisbon just might change your mind. The Portuguese have an insatiable appetite for seafood — especially cod, sardines, and octopus. You’ll see bacalhau (salted cod) on menus all throughout the city; if you visit on June 12 (the day Lisbon dedicates to its patron saint, St. Anthony), the smell of sardinhas grelhadas (grilled sardines) will permeate every street.
You can’t get very far in Lisbon without stumbling across a tasca. These small neighborhood restaurants dot almost every block in the capital and, as a rule of thumb, the best tascas draw crowds of regular customers and haven’t translated their menus into any foreign languages. Choose your stop wisely!
Consider ordering the prato do dia (daily special), or enjoy a tried-and-tested Lisbon favorite. Bacalhau à brás pairs salted cod with scrambled eggs, while arroz de marisco is the Portuguese equivalent of paella. If you’re feeling truly adventurous, order polvo à lagareiro (octopus roasted in olive oil).
Another classic dish is chicken piri-piri, which sometimes goes by frango no churrasco. It originated in the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, when people began marinating chicken in a sauce made from the infamously hot piri-piri chili pepper. Today, the dish is usually served with fries, rice, and beer or wine on the side.
Lastly, cozido à portuguesa is a delicious meal that’s best when served family style. A one-pot stew typically made from sausage, pork, beef, potatoes, and vegetables, cozido often acts as a midday meal for Portuguese families on Sundays.
One of the universal truths of travel is that everyone embarking on a new journey feels tired and lethargic by mid-afternoon. When you’re inevitably ready for a pick-me-up, find a food stall or truck, and order a bifana!
These simple pork sandwiches are much more than, well, simple pork sandwiches. While everyone prepares bifanas a little differently, the pork is typically marinated in white wine and garlic, then served in a bun with chili sauce and mustard. This gastronomic medley tastes delicious, and it’s also quick and satisfying, so make sure to try a bifana on your first day in Lisbon — chances are you’ll want to eat one every afternoon for the rest of your trip!
Drinks and desserts
Portugal is known for producing port, a wine that comes from the Douro Valley in the north. And porto tónico — one part white port, two parts tonic water — is a popular drink that many travelers keep mixing long after they return home. Trust us, you’ll want to give it a try!
As for dessert, Lisbon’s iconic sweet is a custard tart called pastéis de nata. Easily the most famous food in the Portuguese capital, it’s a must-try for anyone who travels to Lisbon. And the best place to sample this tasty treat is Pastéis de Belém, a bakery that bought the original recipe from the monastery that invented it back in the 19th century. The recipe has remained under wraps since then and, although the bakery produces other desserts too, it does pastéis de nata better than anything (or anyone) else.
Cover photo by Marisa Valades