For me, trying lots of different foods and flavours is one of the joys of travel. Lisbon’s a great city for foodies of all ages whether you’re interested in wandering around the food markets, eating lots of cake and ice-cream (always a hit with my boys) or trying the local fish dishes. Here are seven of the best things to look out for when you’re in the city.
Eat bacalhau in a local restaurant
Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, and salted or dried cod dishes are so popular that they’re the traditional Christmas dinner in some parts of the country. There are said to be over 1,000 recipes in Portugal alone.
One of the best places to try it is at a small, local restaurant like A Primavera do Jerónimo, which is hidden down one of the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto. You’ll find plenty of bacalhau dishes here alongside clams, squid, swordfish, ray, pork tenderloin and the wonderfully named ‘grilled secret black pig’.
The food isn’t fancy but good, traditional Portuguese fare. Service is very welcoming, especially to children and the setting is relaxed and low-key – there’s only room for a few tables and the tiles on the wall are decorated with Portuguese proverbs.
A Primavera do Jerónimo, Travessa da Espera 34.
Taste gourmet treats at the Mercado da Ribeira
The Time Out Mercado da Ribeira is the place to go if you want to try a selection of different foods from some of Lisbon’s top chefs. The gourmet food hall has only been open for two years but it’s rapidly become one of the city’s most popular places to eat. It’s a great way to taste all kinds of foodie flavours, from gourmet burgers, fish and chips and sushi to fabulous salads, steaks and cheeses.
You can order wine by the glass or have one of the fantastic fruit juices. It’s a massive area and it can get really busy at peak times so come early or be prepared to wait for a table.
Time Out Mercado da Ribeira, Avenida 24 de Julho 50.
Drink port in a palace
Port is a Portuguese fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. I’d only ever drunk the heavy, sweet red wine as an after dinner tipple before my trip to Lisbon so it was a revelation trying the delicious white port. It’s much less heavy than the red and makes the perfect before dinner drink.
The ideal place to try it is Solar do Vinho do Porto, a cavernous bar with the atmosphere of a gentlemen’s club, in an 18th-century palace with vaulted ceilings and white leather sofas. You choose your port from a 20-page menu and are served by waiters who are either very grumpy or take their port extremely seriously. For a couple of euros, you can order a glass from a selection of every kind of port, from vintage to the more everyday. You can also buy bottles to take home.
Solar do Vinho do Porto, Rua Sao Pedro de Alcântara 45.
Have an ice cream from Santini’s
A holiday is a good excuse to eat ice cream every day, right? Some people consider Santini’s to be the best ice cream in the world. See if you agree by joining the queue outside the shop on Rua do Carmo in the Chiado area, one of Lisbon’s main shopping streets.
Buy the goodies for a picnic from a food market
Mixing with the locals at the food markets is one of my favourite pastimes when I’m travelling. The covered market at Campo de Ourique is a great place to browse a range of food stalls from fresh fish, hams, cheeses and breads to freshly prepared pasta, tapas and sushi.
We like to buy all the things we need for a gourmet picnic and take it to the nearest park for a feast. The nearby Jardim da Estrela is a particularly good choice but if you want to eat straightaway, there’s a lovely seating area in the middle of the market. The Campo de Ourique is a much smaller and less crowded option than the vast Mercado da Ribeira.
Indulge on pastries
You’ll find pastry shops, pastelarias, on every street corner in Lisbon but the one cake you mustn’t leave without trying is the pastel de nata, the famous puff pastry tart filled with custard cream.
These pastries were first created before the 19th century by the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. At that time, convents and monasteries used large amounts of egg whites to starch clothes so it was quite common to use the leftover yolks to make cakes and pastries.
The monks started selling the pastries to make some money and the recipe was eventually sold to a sugar refinery who opened up the Fabrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. This is still the best place to buy the tarts, warm from the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon. There’s always a queue for takeaways but you can bypass the queue if you eat at one of the many tables inside.
Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Rua Belém 84-92
Try a prego made out of fish
In Portuguese cuisine, a prego is a steak sandwich, a bit like a burger. The traditional prego has been given a delicious twist at O Prego da Peixaria, a restaurant near the university’s botanical gardens. Here you can try pregos with soft shell crab, salmon and cuttlefish, tuna steak, cod or shrimp. They’re all gorgeous and come sandwiched between a variety of unusual home-made breads like carob or black bread. Don’t miss the sweet potato skinny fries on the side.
The restaurant itself is really lively, with walls covered with potted herbs and colourful graffiti. It can get really busy so come early, particularly if you’ve got kids. Mine loved the fresh juices with their fish burgers.
O Prego da Peixaria, Rua da Escola Politécnica 40.
For more information about visiting Lisbon, take a look at the Visit Lisbon website.
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