A Lisbon Food Tour: From Fresh Prawns to Firewater
Our guide to eating your way around Lisbon, one pastel de nata at a time...
If Lisbon were a smell, it would be sea air. If it were a colour, it would be blushing pink, sun-baked peach and daffodil yellow. Its sound would be the soaring cords of a Fado lovesong. And its taste? Fat, sweet shrimp fresh from the sea; bitter espresso; saltless bread soaked in garlicky butter; cinnamon dusted on creamy pastéis de nata. In a word, Lisbon is delicious. All the way from its flaking, faded kaleidoscope of buildings and cramp-inducing cobbled hills to its rattling trams and tiled facades.
You won’t have trouble eating your way through this captivating little city, no matter whether you're spending a whole week in Lisbon or only a fleeting weekend there. Either way, you will most likely return home with a newfound passion for all things Portuguese (don’t listen to them, that cabbage-shaped bowl is simply adorable). But if you’re short on time, or don’t know quite where to start, look no further than this Lisbon food tour; Plum Guide's meticulous little guide to the very best dishes in the city - and where to eat them. Plus a few culinary experiences we’d hate for you to miss. So pull on some hill-friendly footwear and get ready for the ultimate food tour of Portugal’s very own City of Light.
Pastéis de nata at Manteigaria
Portugal’s traditional creamy, golden custard tarts have become something of a culinary icon in the last few years. They may be available in cafes all over the world now, but there’s still no better place to eat them than Lisbon. Perpetually busy and sweet-smelling, this place produces thousands of fresh pastéis de nata every day. Elbow your way through the swarming crowds to find a little space at the bar. Order an espresso to go with your tart, and be sure to add a generous dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon to each one. Trust us.
Pastéis de nata at Pastéis de Belém
That’s right, more pastéis de nata – this is a Lisbon food tour, after all. Open since 1837, many locals argue that this 183-year-old bakery makes the best tarts in the city, but we’ll let you be the judge of that. Board the tram to Belém, a breezy neighbourhood on the Tagus River, and you’ll immediately Pastéis de Belém - and the long queue outside. Once inside, you’ll pass by an open kitchen stacked with freshly-filled pastries on your way to the blue-and-white-tiled dining room. Order a couple of pastéis de nata to yourself (these just aren’t for sharing) and let the ‘Manteigaria or Belém’ debate commence.
Giant prawns (carabineros) at Cervejaria Ramiro
For an unforgettable dining experience (depending on how much ‘cerveja’ you drink), don’t miss this joyous fish restaurant. Unflattering lighting, raucous crowds, fish tanks, paper tablecloths and pleasantly brusque waiters are all part of Ramiro’s charm. But don’t be fooled by the laid-back setting, this will be some of the best seafood you’ll ever eat. Think curious crustaceans, parsley-speckled clams, octopus and oysters, plus their famous giant, candy-pink prawns doused in garlic oil. All served with lashings of cold beer and hot, buttery bread. Prepare for a deliciously messy feast. And when the waiter suggests a steak sandwich to ‘round off’ the meal, say yes.
Prego at Gambrinus
Speaking of Lisbon’s legendary prego (steak sandwich), the ones served at this old-world, woody restaurant are almost certainly the best in the city. Nothing goes with a cold beer quite like this garlicky, rare steak sandwich in a crusty roll with mustard. Eat yours at the bar like a true Lisboeta.
Tinned fish and wine at Graça do Vinho
Forget the pilchards you’d find in your great aunt’s cupboard. Tinned fish is different in Portugal. Since the recent culinary renaissance took hold here, Lisbon’s most exciting young chefs are using it on their menus. It is a fixture on the shelves of stylish boutiques, and is still one of the best ways to enjoy local catches - preferably with a glass of cold wine in-hand. This cosy little bar takes care of both those cravings, serving a carefully-curated list of Portuguese wines along with cheeseboards, charcuterie and a selection of tinned delights.
The ‘Pure Ceviche’ at A Cevicheria
Located in fashionable Príncipe Real, this light-flooded restaurant serves up Portuguese twists on Peruvian classics. Pull up a chair beneath the (surprisingly stylish) giant hanging octopus and sip a frosty pisco sour while you wait for your ceviche - a refreshing medley of seasonal white fish cooked in tangy ‘leche de tigre’, served with sweet potato puree and crispy seaweed.
Dinner at Taberna da Rua das Flores
Waiting for your table outside this tiny, candlelit restaurant is all part of the fun and a must during a Lisbon food tour. Grab a carafe of wine and watch people strolling downhill towards the seafront as you wait. Rickety wooden tables and tiny stools are tucked into every tiled corner of this place, and you’ll most likely find yourself spending the entire evening working your way through the daily-changing menu of seasonal Portuguese classics. A word of warning - some of their cocktails are shaken with eye-watering local firewater. Not for the faint hearted. Or anyone hoping to rise early from their Plum Guide Lisbon home the next day…
Time Out Market
While this may not sound like the most authentic of culinary destinations, this indoor mega-market is actually one of the best places to come and taste authentic Portuguese food - as well as just about every other cuisine under the sun. Admittedly, it’s a little touristy (clue’s in the name), but if you can bear a few selfie sticks here and there, it’s a must-visit. Do a few laps of the giant room to see some of the city’s best chefs at work in their open kitchens, before choosing from fresh seafood, international cuisine, fine wines and Portuguese soul food, all hand-picked by a panel of local experts. What a gruelling job that must have been…
Don’t forget to stop by Lisbon’s oldest bar, which serves the sweet cherry liqueur first concocted here back in the heady summer of 1840. You’ll find a delightful swarm of old locals at this hole-in-the-wall bar most hours of the day, knocking back the good stuff come rain or shine.
Head to the Alcantara district to explore this former fabric factory, which has recently been converted into a little village of boutiques, bars and restaurants. Cantina LX is a lovely spot for a casual lunch of fresh fish and cold beer, while Cucurico is the place to sample some of Portugal’s famous peri peri chicken. Which is just so much better than the imitators. Not naming any names (it rhymes with ‘landos’).
You’ll notice lots of brightly coloured kiosks around Lisbon, usually with a smattering of tables and chairs around them. These classic quiosques are central to the city’s al fresco personality, and usually serve little snacks and coffee that’ll blow your socks off. All the better for an afternoon climbing those steep hills.
Conserveira de Lisboa
You may not have expected to return home with a suitcase full of tinned fish, but after a couple of days in Lisbon you’re likely to develop a life-long obsession with the stuff. For the most beautifully packaged, high-quality selection, get yourself over to this family-run shop. Since 1930, its polished wooden shelves have been stocked with fine Portuguese produce, and for tinned fish of the squid, tuna and octopus varieties, there’s no better place to stock up.
And of course, the food is only a small (but very important) part of exploring the city, so take a look at our quick guide to what else to discover in Lisbon next.