The complete foodie guide to Lisbon

The complete foodie guide to Lisbon

by Katie Smith 12 August 2016

Lisbon's thriving food and drinks scene rivals any of its European counterparts. As Katie Smith quickly discovers, the city is packed with bustling farmers' markets, traditional tavernas, high-end local restaurants and, of course, numerous wine bars. Saúde Lisbon!

Katie is an avid home baker, passionate about using seasonal produce and hedgerow ingredients. As part of the editorial team at Great British Chefs, she pursues her dual loves of food and writing.

Katie is an avid home baker, passionate about using seasonal produce and hedgerow ingredients. On her recent travels around South America she could often be found in the bustling food markets trying the local specialities and finding inspiration for new recipes. As part of the editorial team at Great British Chefs, she pursues her dual loves of food and writing.

Getting lost in the city of Lisbon is easy, and something I would highly recommend to anyone who plans on visiting. Once the jewel in Portugal’s global empire, the capital is a maze of cobbled streets, ornately decorated religious monasteries and fortified Moorish castles that dominate the city’s skyline. But there’s much, much more to Lisbon than its picturesque setting and awe inspiring architecture.

As soon as the plane touched down on the scorching hot Lisbon runway, my thoughts turned straight to the icon of Portuguese pâtisserie – the famed pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tart). Tummy rumbling, I was keen to complete my mission as quickly as possible and immediately made the steep climb to the Barrio Alto district. I soon caught the enticing aromas of gently baking egg custard intertwined with subtle cinnamon spice from nearby Manteigaria. This bakery has truly perfected the art of making the delicate Portuguese pastries. Unlike the touristy Pastéis de Belém – home to the original Portuguese egg custard tart – Manteigaria offers the rare opportunity to watch every step involved in the making of pastéis de nata.

After liberally coating my oven-warm pastéis de nata in cinnamon I made my way to back of the bakery where I could get that unique glimpse into the open kitchen and became immediately entranced. Sitting behind the glass divide, I watched on in fascination as the patissier vigorously pounded chunks of butter into the pastry dough, before repeatedly rolling and folding it to create the intricate layered structure of these beautifully flaky pastry tarts. Meanwhile, trays upon trays of golden, caramelised pastéis de nata made their way straight out of the industrial sized oven and directly into the hands of expectant customers.

Custard tarts
Manteigaria is one of the best custard tart shops in the city and allows customers to watch them being made
[i]Ginjinha[/i] is Lisbon's locally made cherry liqueur and is sipped on terraces all over the city

Having satisfied my sugar cravings, it was time for something more savoury. By this point my friends had managed to navigate their way up through the crisis-crossing sun-baked streets to meet me in time for lunch. The main problem when you come to Lisbon is choosing what to eat! Turn any corner and you're guaranteed to find something to tempt you, from traditional Portuguese food to more international flavours. This was exactly our experience as we dodged the trams in search of something to fuel the busy day of sightseeing ahead of us. After a brief moment of indecision we opted for La Bottega Piadina, drawn in by the promise of fresh Italian flatbreads full to bursting with Parma ham, mozzarella, Parmesan, pesto and olives. In next to no time we had devoured our gigantic piadinas, leaving behind only a few rocket leaves as evidence of our gluttony. Now we were ready to explore.

Clamber up Lisbon’s dizzying hillside streets and you'll find numerous miradouros (or viewpoints) from which to admire the stunning cityscape. Feeling particularly adventurous we decided to make straight for the highest viewpoint in town – Castelo de São Jorge. Our leisurely pace perfectly matched the relaxed atmosphere of the city and we soon stumbled across a hole-in-the-wall bar tucked away beneath a stone stairway. We promptly joined the locals who stood outside Ginginha do Carmo, sipping their small cups of ginjinha (cherry liqueur) and nattering over glasses of ice-cold beer. At only €1.35 a shot it seemed a shame not to!

After a brief moment of indecision we opted for La Bottega Piadina, drawn in by the promise of fresh Italian flatbreads full to bursting with Parma ham, mozzarella, Parmesan, pesto and olives.

Katie Smith

Lisbon tram
Trams are the easiest way to get around Lisbon, but the labyrinthian streets are worth an explore on foot
Taberna da Rua das Flores
Taberna da Rua das Flores offers creative tapas in a relaxed atmosphere

Thirst quenched, we continued onwards in the direction of Castelo de São Jorge. We did, however, make another small detour to nose around the farmers’ market in Praça da Figueira. You can buy anything here, from fresh fruit and vegetables and local cheeses to cured meats, sangria and the Portuguese speciality of tinned fish. The proprietor of the canned fish stall instantly ushered us over and started to ply us with samples of bacalhau (cod), atum (tuna) and sardinhas (sardines). We did eventually make it to the Moorish castle and spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the 360-degree views perched atop the fortified stone walls.

Our very successful day seeking out the finest food and drink Lisbon had to offer continued well into the evening. Indeed, we didn't have to venture far from our accommodation to find specialist wine bar By The Wine and were spoilt for choice with the extensive range of Portuguese wines from Douro Valley dry reds to semi-sweet rosé wines and fresh Vinho Verde. The food also showcased Portugal’s high-quality local produce; oysters sourced from the Sado river, jamón Ibérico de Bellota ham and semi-soft Azeitão cheese to name just a few. Embracing the celebratory atmosphere of Portugal’s post-Euro 2016 win we joined the crowds of local revellers at quirky Pensao Amor (a former Lisbon brothel!) for some after-dinner cocktails.

By The Wine
By The Wine offers dozens of Portugese wines by the glass alongside small plates
Tinned fish
Lisbon is particularly famous for its high quality tinned fish, which come in an array of colourful cans

Day two

Day two began at a more leisurely pace with a wander around the ruins of Convento do Carmo and a brief stop at Manteigaria to satisfy our growing pastéis de nata addiction. Eager to get a different perspective of the city, we took the ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas and admired Lisbon’s historic architectural beauty, the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and the towering Christ the Redeemer statue. All of this sightseeing had, however, left us gasping for some ice-cold refreshment. As the ferry came into dock our eyes were immediately drawn to the sight of Mercado da Ribeira. This old market has undergone a dramatic transformation and is now a buzzing hub of small street food stalls owned by some of Portugal’s most renowned restaurateurs and specialist producers. Standing out amongst this feast of gastronomic plenty was Santini – a shining red and white beacon of ice cream excellence. According to Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, Santini makes the best ice cream in the world – and I would definitely agree!

That night we left earlier than usual to put our names down for a table at rustic Taberna da Rua das Flores. There was a queue as expected, but considering its tiny size and big reputation this wasn’t a surprise. Our patience was dutifully rewarded with an array of creative tapas dishes including succulent octopus and sweet potato, crispy lamb cutlets, marinated mackerel tartare and delicately cooked stingray. Although we were all now extremely full, we still had just enough room to share a velvety dark chocolate mousse and traditional Portuguese rice pudding.

Santini is Nuno Mendes' favourite ice cream shop
Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site and only an hour away from Lisbon on the train

If you have enough time, make the trip to Sintra. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and less than an hour away from Lisbon by train. We escaped the tourists by hiking through the serene forests and gardens up to the multi-coloured Palácio Nacional da Pena and the ruins of Castelo dos Mouros. The imperial grandeur and elegance of Palácio Nacional da Pena are made even more strikingly beautiful by the unique blue and white azulejos (Portuguese tiles) that decorate the exterior and interior walls – really worth the hike. After our day of physical excursion cocktails were most certainly on the menu! Fortunately we had just enough energy to climb the several flights of stairs up to Park – a rooftop bar situated on top of a multi-storey car park. Sundown was the perfect time to arrive and the city became even more stunning in the starlight.

And so came our final day in Lisbon, but there was still one more foodie challenge left to fulfill – the epic francesinha. Although literally translating as ‘Little Frenchie’, there really isn't anything little about this sandwich. I shamelessly shied away, but my companion heroically tackled the humongous meat-filled monstrosity, which came smothered in cheese, tomato sauce and topped with a fried egg. After a long slog he emerged triumphant, but the side portion of chips were unfortunately one step too far! Maybe not the wisest meal choice for the plane ride home?