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Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t have high expectations of Lisbon. Not that I thought I wouldn’t like it, mind you – I had just done zero research about the city. I’d not even googled photos of the place. I was over there for the wedding – everything else was just bonus material as far as I was concerned. And with no idea what Lisbon would look like, or even what the food scene would be over there, it was possibly the perfect starting point. I drank in the sights and sounds and scents of the City of the Seven Hills like a child – with rapt attention. Here’s what I learnt along the way…
10 Must-Try Dishes and Drinks in Lisbon
1. Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria – Ok, so this was possibly the only expectation I did have: those little custard tarts. And while everyone raves about them in Belém, the queues there are apparently round the block. So instead, and if you’re staying more centrally, go to Manteigaria for your custard tart fix: they bake them tirelessly for 16 hours a day, and ring a bell by the door every time a new batch comes out of the oven (which is roughly every 10 minutes). Needless to say, I tried a few different varieties while I was in Lisbon, and those from Manteigaria were by far the best.
2. White port cocktails at the Portugal Wine Room – We loved this combo so much it’s become our new house cocktail Chez Amsterdam Foodie. This Portuguese wine shop/bar mixes a heavy pour of extra-dry white port with tonic water and a sliver of orange peel. It’s off-dry, refreshing and amazingly moreish. If you prefer the more traditional, sweeter, ruby and tawny ports, they’re of course available to taste and buy at the Portugual Wine Room, too.
3. Salt cod and eggs at Fabulas – the Portuguese seem to absolutely love their bacalhau (salt cod) and I’d never entirely understood the attraction. That is, until I tried a very simple dish at restaurant Fabulas, which is more or less a mixture of scrambled eggs, salt cod and potato. It’s buttery but not too rich, seasoned but not too salty, and ultimately comforting.
4. Oysters and ham at By the Wine – By the Wine (which is – you’ve guessed it – a wine bar) has possibly the best social media management I’ve ever come across. On each of their paper placemats, they feature their wifi password, Facebook profile, Instagram account and even their own hashtag. That aside, they also serve delicious wines with oysters and Iberico ham (admittedly, this isn’t Portuguese – it is, however, delicious).
5. Ginja de Óbidos na Ribeira – Ginja (also known as ginjinha) is a sour cherry liqueur that reminded me a lot of the Polish cherry vodka. I tried it at a couple of other places and it tasted like cough medicine; but the Ginja de Óbidos na Ribeira (near the river) was fabulous and fruity – and is even served in tiny dark chocolate cups!
6. Tapas at Tagide – Despite a fairly ropey customer service experience (we had some moments in Lisbon that rivalled even Amsterdam for shoddy service), the tapas at Tagide was undeniably excellent. We tried the deep-fried runner beans, clams in white wine and garlic, black pudding with apple compote, and some incredible (and smelly!) cheese… Just make sure you reserve at the Tagide Wine & Tapas Bar (they have a more formal restaurant too, which is considerably more expensive).
7. Piri-piri chicken at Chicken All Around – I’d eaten wonderful piri-piri chicken in Silves in the Algarve last time I visited Portugal. And while the Lisbon area isn’t known for it (the focus is firmly on fish), you can get chicken that comes close in Lisbon’s answer to de Foodhallen. It’s a huge indoor market known as Mercado da Ribeira, and it’s home to dozens of stalls including Miguel Laffan’s Chicken All Around. A whole seasoned and grilled chicken, cut into pieces and served with chips, is enough for two people to share – especially if you order dessert from one of the many other gourmet stalls under the same roof.
8. White sangria at Park – Along with the port cocktail I mentioned earlier, white sangria was the other major alcoholic find of my trip. Sure, I’d had red sangria dozens of times, but white sangria is a miracle waiting to be discovered. It’s sometimes made with sparkling wine, other times with regular white wine, and always with plenty of fruit, ice and mint. To drink yours with a view, head to Park – a bar on the roof of a carpark overlooking the river. Oh-so-hipster.
9. Fado at Povo – Ok, so fado is a type of music, and not in fact a food or a drink. But you can listen to it while consuming both at Povo – a bar in the gentrified red-light district and now the hipster area of Lisbon. But get your tissues at the ready as these guys know how to strum a tear-jerker alright… (Note: Fado is more commonly associated with the Alfama area of the city, which is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right. We didn’t manage to make it there in the evening, so Povo is a good alternative if you’re out and about in the Cais do Sodré area.)
10. Fine dining at Fortaleza do Guincho – Guincho is an Atlantic beach around a half-hour drive from Lisbon, but well worth the trip if you’re in the city for longer than just a weekend. While most of the restaurants around there are over-priced tourist traps, there’s one that’s worth a Michelin star. What’s stranger is that it’s in a hotel that looks like a Disney fortress. However, once inside Fortaleza do Guincho, you’ll be treated to a four-course tasting menu for €90 paired with some fine local wines. I could dedicate an entire blog post to this meal, which included foie gras with rhubarb, the most picture-perfect crayfish dish I’ve ever seen, sauce served in seashells (try saying that after a ginja or two), dozens of petit fours… not to mention the romantic sunset views over the ocean. Definitely one for the special-treat list!
In the end, I have my new Portuguese foodie friend Celia Pedroso to thank for almost all of these. Not only did she take us on an amazing tour of Lisbon’s Chiado/Baixa area (which we paid for – this isn’t a sponsored post); she also wrote down a bunch of recommendations, all of which turned out to be the bee’s very knees. Thank you, Celia – I will be back!
For more on Portuguese food, check out this tasty looking e-book by a fellow travel blogger: Lisbon in 100 Bites – The Ultimate Lisbon Food Guide.