Last month, I fell in love with Lisboa. Being there for the first time ever (first time in Portugal even!), I was overly excited to try as many Portuguese dishes as I could: From oven cooked octopus to freshly grilled sardines, from dozens of Pasteis de Belém to ice cold Mazagran (coffee with lemon and sugar), I ate my way through this lovely city, walking up and down the hills, enjoying the many different districts and just having the best of times (seriously, I loved it). Staying in a lovely AirBnB apartment just off Jardim do Príncipe Real (very recommendable location, you can walk almost anywhere and there are a plenty of cafés, eateries and shops around.) I was lucky enough to have local guides leading me to the nicest places and of course can’t wait to share my eating experiences with you, just in case you ever find yourself in the city and don’t know where to eat.
First things first: Pastéis de Belém. Known to many as Pastéis de Nata, because the only place they can be called de Belém is in Belém, a civil parish South-West of Lisbon and home to many of the most distinct landmarks of the city and one of the most important culinary institutions: the pastry shop Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. This egg tart pastry was actually created by Catholic monks in Belém’s monastry some time before the 18th century and has since conquered the world. Even Berlin has more than one good source for Pastéis de Nata, although they are nothing in comparison with the ones you get at this shop in Belém. The pastry here is paper thin yet crispy and the egg tart so soft and only perfected by the mix of sugar and cinnamon on top. Oh the delight… We went there after dinner, almost at 11 pm, and the giant, beautiful shop was still filled with people – room after room families and groups of friends devouring many Pastéis. I can’t even imagine the lines if you get there at more pastry-appropriate times.
Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, Rua de Belém 84, Belém, daily from 08:00–24:00
For the first dinner, my friends led me to the old town district called Alfama, where the traditional (and very melancholic) music of Fado can be heard in almost every restaurant (some better than others, Alfama is a very touristic place thanks to its “authentic” appeal). We went to a place without singers, Pateo 13, where you chose your meat or fish of choice to be freshly grilled. The bar and kitchen itself are located in tiny spaces inside, guests are seated outside on a big terrace. Barbecuing is basically all they do, and that’s probably why they are seriously good at it – especially with sardines, which is why you should get those.
Pateo 13, Calcadinha Sto Estevao 13, Alfama
Surprisingly, Lisbon has at least two traditional market halls that have recently been transformed into (gourmet) food halls: Mercado da Ribeira, managed and designed by Lisbon’s Time Out magazine, has a bit of a more posh (almost over-designed) feeling to it (don’t miss the market hall just next to it with loads of fruit and vegetable vendors and a completely different feel). And then Mercado de Campo de Ourique in the more up and coming Campo de Ourique district, which is a bit more casual (although they have automatic water atomizers throughout the whole hall, supposedly to cool you down) and combines produce vendors for vegetables, fruits and fish with food stalls. We went there to try the famous Prego, the Portuguese steak sandwich, at Atalho. It was served on pao de bolo do caco, typical bread from Madeira, which is a specialty and very important to the taste. Sadly, neither the fries and salad nor the black plastic plate could keep up with the quality of the dish, so keep it simple and order the sandwich only.
Mercado de Campo de Ourique, Rua Azedo Gneco, Campo Ourique
I quickly learned that Portuguese pastries and sweets are mainly made of egg and sugar, but come in various forms and have their local characteristics. On our way to the beach one day, we stopped in the village of Azeitao to visit the café of Pastelaria Regional Cego, famous for their Torta de Azeitao (many tried to copy it, all failed, is what my Portuguese friend said). It’s the bright yellow roll in the middle of the small plate – it’s a sponge cake filled with, you guessed it, eggs and sugar and it is really very good. So we shared two, obviously (besides all the other egg-and-sugar varieties).
Pastelaria Regional Cego, Rua Jose Augusto Coelho 150, Vila Nova de Azeitao
What you should eat while in Lisbon is obviously sea food, and while many restaurants serve it in a simple and rustic way (grilled), there are some who are more experimental. Like SeaMe, located in Chiado, and famous for their raw fish specialities. We feasted on plates filled with sashimi, nori salad, almond tempura prawns and the one pictured above – salmon seared only for seconds, with wasabi ice cream which gave my friend a – quote – food-orgasm. I liked it a lot as well. And despite being one of the pricier options in Lisbon, we only payed about 60 Euros for two including a bottle of wine and water.
SeaMe is always fully booked, better call before to make a reservation or hope for a seat at the sushi bar.
SeaMe Peixaria Moderna, Rua do Loreto 21, Chiado, Mon–Fri 12:30–15:00 and 19:30–00:00; Sat–Sun from 12.30, +351 21 346 1564
Octopus is a big thing in Portugal, and I was lucky enough that my friends invited me to join in a very traditional fun – every Friday for lunch, a restaurant called Casa dos Passarinhos serves an incredibly soft and tasty polvo a lagareiro com batata a murro e grelos – cooked octopus with “dead potatos” – because they are smashed with the fist – and savoy cabbage. You can call and see if there are left-overs for dinner and then feast on it at night, because you’ll be very tired after this delicious, yet rather heavy dish. (However, the staff’s English is not great, better get a Portuguese friend to make that reservation.)
Casa dos Passarinhos, Rua Silva Carvalho 195, +351 21 388 2346
Just before leaving, I dived head-first into barbecued chicken wonderland with a plate of grilled poultry from Frangasqueira Nacional. Located in a small space in a side street, it is already exciting watching the chef grill the poultry, he’ll have you wait until it’s done perfectly. My friends liked to get another spicy sausage and potato chips with it. And a cold beer of course.
Frangasqueira Nacional. Rua da Imprensa Nacional 116 C, 1250-127 Lisboa