Get a local's opinion on the top 10 must-try foods to eat while travelling around the Portuguese city of Lisbon, from creamy pastéis de nata to spicy Alheira.
Portugal's capital city of Lisbon is bursting with exciting local dishes and produce, so learn to eat like a local with Good Food's guide to the top 10 must-try plates. Make sure you get your fill of gooey cheeses and delicate cinnamon-spiced cakes.
The alheira is usually made from chicken or game mixed with bread and fat and has a slightly vinegary, smokey taste. It’s one of the few Portuguese sausages meant to be eaten as a sausage and not chopped up into other things. At home, we grill or bake them. In a restaurant, they are usually deep fried and served with lovely home made chips with a fried egg popped on top – a good budget-friendly filling meal. You can get them in the supermarket for around €3 each.
2. Ovos mexidos with farinheira
It’s amazing how versatile the egg is in Portugal. Even scrambled egg gets several treatments and isn't limited to just breakfast. Farinheira is a smoked sausage made with flour, pork fat, paprika and white wine. Scrambled eggs with Farinheira is, on one hand, a delicious starter, and on the other, a gentle introduction to the farinheira, which is one of the sausages that needs to be eaten in small quantities.
The Portuguese are crazy about cheese. There isn’t as much variety as in, say, France, but what there is is almost always interesting. Most cheeses are small bundles of sheep, cow or goat cheese, ranging from dry and extremely salty to buttery and stinky. Dispense with flamengo, the edam-like sliced stuff, and go for a pure white Requeijão (ricotta), a crumbly Niza, or a gooey Serra da Estrela or Azeitão. Eat them with the wonderful jams such as pumpkin, tomato and fig that they are typically served with.
4. Pastelaria (cakes)
Forget pastéis de nata. Ok, don’t forget pastéis de nata, because they are delicious and you can’t avoid them – they are everywhere! However, Portugal is incredibly sweet-toothed and there are cakes and biscuits to be found in every café.
Go to a “pastelaria” to find the greatest range. In some you’ll find flouncy, fruity affairs, but try the simpler things which are truly Portuguese. There aren’t bold flavours, just egginess with hints of cinnamon, and sometimes aniseed. If you don’t like extreme sulphury egginess, avoid things with a yellow-orange paste in them – that’s just egg yolk and sugar you’re looking at.
5. Meat sandwiches
They may sound simple and, years ago, they were made with dry, leathery meat but today it’s hard to find a bad meat sandwich in Lisbon. There are three kinds of meat sandwich that you will easily find on the streets of Lisbon: the bifana, a pork loin steak which has been marinaded in stock and red pepper paste, served in a crusty bread roll; the prego, a beef steak sandwich often served inside a bolo do caco, a bread made with sweet potato; and the sandes de leitão, a roll filled with shredded, roast suckling pig with a pepper and salt sauce made from the roasting juices of the meat.
Portugal’s equivalent of prosciutto or jamón. It’s worth forking out a little bit extra to get the really good stuff. You can buy it freshly sliced in good delicatessens where they will have different hams made from different kinds of pig, acorn or chestnut fed, with different ages – some are cured for as much as three years.
Ask for 50g of something really expensive (€5-€9 for those 50g) and a bit of cheese to make a picnic of it in the park. Beware, in restaurants, of plates of presunto if you haven’t asked for them… eat it, and you may pay more than €10 for the privilege.
7. Tosta mista and Torrada
If there is one thing that flamengo cheese is really good for, it’s a tosta mista (a ham and cheese toastie). If you just want cheese, ask for a tosta de queijo. Almost any café will make you one, at any time of day, and if you’ve been slogging up and down the hills of Lisbon you'll have earned the carb fix. They come in two varieties - on pão de forma (sliced bread) or on pão caseiro (decent bread), depending on the kind of café you're in. Either is good, oozing stringy cheese and dripping with butter. You can also ask for just toast (uma torrada) in any café – two doorstops of bread will arrive, slathered in melting butter, on both sides of the bread.
8. Jaquinzinhos or carapauzinhos
Tiny horse mackerel. They are floured and deep fried until crunchy. In a tasca, they will be served with red bean rice or tomato rice. Don’t be squeamish – this is a fish you eat whole, from the head to the tail, and usually in just one bite. They are hard fried, so there aren’t any squishy bits to remind you that you are eating a whole fish.
9. Feijoada (bean stew)
Much of Portuguese cookery comes from rural villages, where every ingredient had to be used to its fullest. Feijoada, similar to cassoulet, is a pork and bean stew, which uses various cured sausages to give it flavour and bits of pork that aren’t the prettiest. Bits of ribs and belly sit alongside chopped up noses and ears. If you leave those bits on your plate, the locals will think you’re crazy, but they won’t mind. A good feijoada has a deep smokey flavour and you probably won’t be able to eat again (or move) for hours.
It’s almost impossible to visit Lisbon and not be confronted with bacalhau. There are thousands of ways to cook this old Portuguese staple of salted cod and almost every establishment offers at least one version. Many visitors still shy away from it because of its stinky reputation. Don’t avoid it. In its dry state, yes, it reeks, but once it is cooked, roasted, boiled or shredded and mixed into other things, it’s just cod with some flavour to it.
Before you commit to eating a whole steak of salt cod, pastéis de bacalhau, deep fried fishcakes found in most cafés, are a good way to introduce yourself to the idea. You can also try bacalhau à brás, scrambled eggs with salt cod, poatatoes and olives.
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