Portugal has made a name for itself as a nation of culinary collaboration, and no place embraces that title better than the City of Light itself, Lisbon. Drawing inspiration from centuries of Moorish and Roman occupation, and sprinkling in flavors from the Age of Discovery, Lisbon's food is a fusion of international and traditional cuisine.
This article will highlight the city's most popular dishes. There's much to try, from indulgent sandwiches and roasted chicken to creamy custard, so start your GoWithGuide adventure with a Lisbon private tour that caters to your inner foodie. Our local Lisbon private guides will ensure your trip is as diverse as the city’s mouthwatering meals.
Walking through the vibrant streets of Lisbon, you'll almost immediately notice a sweet, salty smell wafting through the air. That's the bifana, a beloved pork sandwich dripping with red pepper spices, shredded pork slices, and a warm Papo Seco bun to tie it all together. Lisbon's signature sandwich is marinated overnight or boiled in a spicy sauce to enhance the pork loin's flavor.
Bifana sandwiches are sold everywhere, but most locals grab theirs at a tasca, or mini-buffet, alongside some fries and a cold beer. You could spend an entire day sampling bifana as each chef adds their own touch to Lisbon's signature sandwich. Carry some to go, or you'll find yourself drifting back to the bifana lines throughout the day for "just one more."
Pastel De Nata
Lisbon's food reflects its history and culture, so it's no surprise our next dish celebrates the city's Catholic roots. Warm and smooth on the inside, and perfectly caramelized on the outside, this humble pastry originates from the laundry practices of Lisbon's 18th century monks and nuns. They'd use egg whites to starch their clothes, leaving an excess supply of yolks. Instead of wasting them, they turned the yolks into the creamy custard cup we all know and love.
You'll find a decent pastel de nata at any bakery or cafe, but just a stone's throw from the Jeronimos Monastery lies the Pasteis De Belem. This must-see pastry shop boasts the original recipe passed down directly from the monastery nuns and monks. Be sure to ask Lisbon tour guide about squeezing in a quick trip to the Pasteis De Belem.
When Vasco de Gama and Pedro Cabral sought to explore new worlds, they kicked off the Age of Discovery, forever transforming Lisbon's culinary scene. Their journeys brought back spices from India, China, and Africa, leading to dishes like Frango Assado or Frango a Piri Piri. This coal-roasted chicken features the small but powerfully spicy Peri-peri pepper, brought in from Africa.
Proper frango assado has a crispy spice-coated crust and a slightly smoky flavor. If you're not a fan of spice, avoid this local delight, but if you love a little heat, ask for extra Peri-peri oil with your serving.
Every city has its go-to comfort meal, and for Lisboetas, it's Caldo Verde. Creamy, green, and full of nutritious kale, it's a heartwarming soup that's enjoyed by all ages. Originating in northern Portugal, this dish has traveled worldwide and is known by most as kale soup. The ingredients are simple - pureed potatoes to thicken the soup, finely chopped Galician kale, and, if you're lucky, some chouriço, or Portuguese sausage to top things off.
Though Caldo Verde is famous, it is only sometimes available. Most Lisbon restaurants change their menus to match the season, so don't hesitate to order a steaming bowl of green soup when you see it.
There's a reason why Lisbon is affectionately nicknamed the Queen of The Sea. The city's love for seafood shows in most of its local meals, and the Caldeirada is an ode to the Atlantic. Traditionally, caldeirada was a one-pot meal consisting of the fisherman's catch and a few rough-cut vegetables. Then, the fish and seafood would be cooked, bones and all, for hours until the potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and fish form a thick stew.
Born during Portugal's 15th century explorations and enhanced with imported spices, caldeirada has grown in popularity over the years. Today, different types of shellfish, shrimp, and even octopus are added. Whether enjoying this in a Michelin-star restaurant or at a small tasca, a spoonful of caldeirada stew always goes down smoothly.
When it comes to indulgence and excess, the francesinha has no equal. A testament to Lisbon's inventive and exciting food experiments, the dish (also known as little frenchie), is a sandwich within a soup. The francesinha often features Portuguese flatbread, a protein of choice, and some vegetables. Added are a slice of grilled cheese, a fried egg, and some thickened gravy.
You can enjoy this by itself or do as the locals do and eat your little frenchie with a side of crispy fries and an ice-cold beer. Though the dish is a Porto import, most restaurants in Lisbon have added the meal to their menus as its legendary status grows.
Plump, crunchy, and full of smoky goodness, sardinhas assadas, or grilled sardines, are the perfect introduction to Lisbon's love affair with seafood. Lisboetas celebrate the salty fish by holding sardine parties in the Alfama District and throughout the city's neighborhoods. If you're lucky enough to visit Lisbon in June, ask your guide about the Santos Populares festival, where the city's patron saint is honored by grilling, frying, and roasting sardines.
Most locals enjoy their sardinhas assadas with some seasonal vegetables or as a quick sandwich, but if you want to take a bit of Lisbon home with you, head to the Loja das Conservas and pick from over 300 different varieties of fish.
Capping off our list is Portugal's most beloved ingredient, Bacalhau, or salted cod. With over 25,000 tons of cod imported every year, it's no secret that Portugal loves this fish. Though it's not always locally sourced, with a large amount coming in from Norway, Lisboetas consider it a necessary part of their culinary heritage. Bacalhau grew in demand during the 16th century, and it's rumored that there are over a thousand ways to prepare it today.
Bacalhau a Bras, Lisbon's most popular version, features shredded cod, eggs, onions, black olives, garlic, and potatoes. For a fried treat, try the pasteis de bacalhau, a fish cake similar to Madrid's croquetas that mixes cod, potatoes, and herbs. There's so much to sample, so slide in a plate or two after your Lisbon tour.
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