15+ Typical Lisbon Foods to Try in the Portuguese Capital

Written by:
Last updated on June 12, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 16 minutes

Lisbon is becoming an increasingly popular destination for foodies. It’s home to one of the world’s largest and best food markets (the Time Out Market), it’s the birthplace of the pastel de nata (or Portuguese custard tart), and it’s a great place to try a few of Portugal’s many different dishes.

Whether you’re visiting Lisbon for a few days, a few weeks, or even longer, this foodie guide will take you through all you need to know about Portuguese food and what you should eat in Lisbon.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the top Portuguese dishes you can try here as well as highlight some foods that originate in Lisbon.

Pastel de nata

Pastel de nata

Typical to Lisbon

The pastel de nata (or Portuguese custard tart) is Portugal’s most famous culinary creation. Lisbon is where the pastel de nata was created, and it’s here that you’ll find some of the best natas in the country. Pastéis de Belém in the neighbourhood of Belém is the main bakery, and the first commercial bakery to begin making pastéis de nata, but it’s no longer the only place to get them.

Although you can now find these custard tarts in bakeries all over the world, they’re often not up to the same standard as the ones you find in Portugal. Often, they don’t even look the same.

You should definitely take a trip to Pastéis de Belém. For Portuguese people, the custard tarts that come from here are a category onto themselves, but see if you can spot the difference between pastéis de belém and pastéis de nata. Pastéis de Belém were one of the winners of Portugal’s Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy competition.

If you enjoy those natas, be sure to check out some of the other great places for them. A number of new bakeries have opened in recent years, and many of them have even won the city’s melhor pastel de nata award. They also tend to have a much nicer atmosphere as they’re less busy than Pastéis de Belém.

Places to check out include:

  • Manteigaria
  • Aloma
  • Fábrica da Nata
  • Pastelaria de Santo Antonio

Read our full list of the best places to get a pastel de nata in Lisbon.

Vegan? Portuguese custard tarts are vegetarian-friendly, but not vegan (due to the eggs and dairy) but don’t worry: we’ve got you covered. There are several places that make vegan pastéis de nata, most famously Vegan Nata, which has an outlet in Chiado (right in Lisbon city centre) and in Campo de Ourique (where the Tram 28 ends).

Love pastéis de nata? Why not learn how to make them for yourself by taking a Pastel de nata cookery class?

Bacalhau à Bras

Typical to Lisbon

While you’ll find lots of different bacalhau dishes on menus in Portugal, one of the most typically Lisbon dishes is bacalhau à bras.

It’s said that the recipe was created by a tavern owner in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, named Brás (or Braz, as it was customary to write at the time). It combines cod with potatoes, onions, and eggs. It’s one of the most popular bacalhau dishes and one that you’ll find on many menus in Lisbon.  

While this bacalhau dish is one of the most typical Lisbon dishes, it isn’t Portugal’s only bacalhau dish. There are apparently more than 365 different recipes, although there’s often a lot of crossover. Bacalhau à bras is quite similar to Bacalhau à Lisbonense or Bacalhau à Assis, for example.

Other dishes to look out for include:

  • Bacalhau com natas (bacalhau with cream).
  • Bacalhau à lagareiro (Baked bacalhau with lots of olive oil).
  • Bacalhau com broa (Bacalhau with a breadcrumb topping).

You should definitely try bacalhau à bras but be sure to try a few other bacalhau dishes too.

Pastéis de Bacalhau

Pastéis de Bacalhau

Typical to Northern Portugal (but eaten nationwide)

That’s right! Another bacalhau dish.

Pastéis de bacalhau are little deep-fried patties crafted from a mixture of salt-dried cod and potatoes. While it may be another dish featuring bacalhau, it’s undeniably worth sampling, especially since you can easily find these tasty treats in cafés and snack bars across Portugal. They go best with a beer or a glass of wine, but also work with a coffee too.

Pastéis de bacalhau, often referred to as bolinhos de bacalhau in the northern regions of Portugal, represent the most common variety of salted cod fritters available throughout the country. According to gastronome Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes, this pastry made its debut with the introduction of potatoes to Portugal. While they may have a distinct name in the southern part of the country, most culinary historians credit their origin to the Minho region in northern Portugal.

You can spot these egg-shaped delicacies displayed in the counters of pastelarias, our favored spots for coffee and a quick bite, as well as in tavernas, where they serve as snacks, and across the spectrum of restaurants, often served as appetizers. You’ll even find specialised stores putting their unique spin on one of the most widely cherished cod recipes, such as the Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau, which has popularised these fritters by adding a gooey filling of Serra da Estrela sheep cheese.

Ginjinha

glass of ginjinha

Typical to Lisbon

Ginjinha is a sour cherry Portuguese liqueur that’s made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherry, Prunus cerasus austera, the Morello cherry) in alcohol (called aguardente) and adding sugar along with other ingredients like cloves and/or cinnamon sticks.

Ginjinha is typical in Lisbon and the nearby town of Óbidos. In Óbidos, it’s normally served in a chocolate edible cup, although it’s possible to find places serving it that way in Lisbon too. Depending on where you go in Lisbon, a little shot of ginjinha in Lisbon costs around €1-€1.50.

In Lisbon, the big question is whether you have the cherry or not. Here, it’s typical to say yes (com elas or with the cherry) but some people don’t like the sour flavour. Also, there’s the question of what you do with the cherry stone. You’ll notice a lot of cherries on the ground and that’s because a lot of people spit them out (they get cleaned up by the owner). Not everyone is comfortable spitting the stones on the ground, so hopefully you can find a bin nearby if that’s not your thing.

Ginjinha is something to try at least once, and some people like it so much that they take a bottle or two home. It’s fun to try, and makes a nice gift, but if you’re looking for a fine wine, check out Port wine or some of the higher quality table wines, particularly from regions like the Douro.

There are several famous places to try ginjinha in Lisbon including A Ginjinha and Ginjinha Sem Rival. Here, you’ll find it served the traditional Lisbon way—in a glass shotglass with or without the cherry.

If you aren’t planning on visiting Óbidos, you should also take the opportunity to try ginja in a chocolate cup while in Lisbon. A good place to do this is Ginginha do Carmo.

Read more about Ginjinha

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato

Clams a bulhao pato

Typical to Lisbon

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato is another dish that you won’t just find in Lisbon but, since it originates from here (most people think from Almada), it’s worth trying it while you’re here. Some say the dish is named after the Portuguese poet Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato.

You’ll find this dish on petiscos menus, in marisqueiras, as a starter in normal restaurants – it shouldn’t take long to find it. It’s incredibly simple and combines just a few ingredients like garlic, coriander, olive oil, and lemon juice, but it’s also incredibly typical of Portuguese cooking. Have it as a petisco (a Portuguese tapa) or as a starter.

Ameijoas à Bulhão Pato was one of the finalists for the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy, a competition to find the best Portuguese dishes. Although it didn’t make the top seven, just being a finalist shows how important it is to Portuguese people.

Vegan or vegetarian? You can actually get a meat-free version of this in A026, a vegan restaurant that creates vegan versions of traditional Portuguese dishes.

Sardinas Assadas

A plate of grilled sardines in Olhão

Typical to Lisbon

Grilled sardines, known as Sardinhas assadas, are a beloved classic Portuguese dish and for many the smell of grilled sardines in the air signals the beginning of summer. The Portuguese love fish of all kinds, but this one is particularly special, partly because it’s associated with summer festivals.

It’s said that the dish originates from the Lisbon area, but it’s something that’s celebrated and enjoyed throughout Portugal. During the summer months, particularly August, you’ll find sardine festivals throughout Portugal, including Lisbon and the Algarve. One famous one is the Festival da Sardinha in the Portuguese city of Portimão. Such is the cultural significance of Sardinhas assadas that you can even find grilled sardine festivals in Portuguese immigrant communities worldwide.

One of the most typical times to eat these is during the Festas dos Santos Populares or Festa de Santo Antonio, a traditional festival when people eat grilled sardines in the street and dance to cheesy Pimba music. Porto has a similar festival, São João Festival, where grilled sardines are eaten alongside caldo verde (a traditional Portuguese soup).

Caldo Verde

Caldo verde soup

Typical to Northern Portugal (but eaten nationwide)

Caldo Verde, a simple soup composed of shredded kale, onions, potatoes, garlic, and chouriço, hails from the northern region of Portugal but is enjoyed all across the country. Notably, it holds a prestigious spot as one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy, alongside the previously mentioned pastéis de Belém. It’s worth mentioning that, depending on the preparation, Caldo Verde can be made vegetarian (before the essential chouriço slice is added), though it’s advisable to double-check and to confirm the stock is also vegetarian.

Originally, Caldo Verde emerged in the Minho Province of northern Portugal. Today, it has become a beloved national favourite, embraced not only throughout the country but also in locations where Portuguese communities have settled, such as Brazil, Macau, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Toronto.

This simple yet delightful soup is often savoured during special occasions like weddings, birthdays, and festive gatherings, including summer festivals. It can also serve as a prelude to a main course or as a late-night snack, especially after a few drinks. Traditionally, it is served in terracotta bowls known as “tigela.”

Pataniscas de bacalhau

Typical to Lisbon

Pataniscas de bacalhau, a Lisbon delicacy originating from Estremadura, holds such importance in the city that it was even the subject of a competition during one edition of the Peixe em Lisboa festival. Dom Bacalhau restaurant in Parque das Nações was the winner.

Pataniscas are crafted from shredded cod mixed with onion and parsley, coated in an egg and flour batter, and then fried to golden perfection in hot oil. These delectable treats often take on either an irregular spherical shape (resembling dumplings) or a flattened circle, depending on the cook’s preference and the establishment’s tradition. However, they share common characteristics: a satisfying crunch, a tender interior, a harmonious blend of flavours, and just the right amount of oiliness. They’re usually served with a side of rice and beans.

Legend has it that the first documented patanisca recipe dates back to the 19th century, found in the book “A Arte do Cozinheiro e do Copeiro” by Visconde de Vilarinho de São Romão. Their unique shape is attributed to the historical practice of serving pataniscas as a sandwich filling.

Bifana

bifana

Typical to Vendas Novas and Northern Portugal (but eaten nationwide)

The bifana is a quintessential Portuguese sandwich, featuring a crispy bread roll filled with white wine-seasoned sautéed pork strips cooked in garlic. It’s a juicy and sometimes slightly greasy delight, often savoured as a late-night snack to accompany beer. Typically, bifanas pair well with regional beers like Super Bock in the North and Sagres in the South.

This affordable Portuguese fast food is also consumed throughout the day, sometimes complemented by a bowl of soup (like caldo verde) for a heartier snack. Regional variations abound, making it worthwhile to sample bifanas across Portugal to savour the differences.

In the south of Portugal (and Lisbon), bifanas are topped with simple yellow mustard, an unexpected pairing considering the marinated pork. Conversely, in Porto and Northern Portugal, the secret lies in the sauce, with pork marinated and cooked in a flavorful mixture of garlic, bay leaves, white wine, pork lard (or margarine), olive oil, piri-piri sauce, chicken stock, and white wine vinegar. While in Lisbon, it’s worth trying the local style (and the Porto style if you can find it).

Iscas com Elas

Typical to Lisbon

Iscas com elas is a dish associated with the Lisbon region, specifically Estremadura. The dish consists of marinated pork liver and it is usually served with potatoes, although it can sometimes be served as a sandwich filling, much like the famous bifana.

The precise origins of this dish and its creator remain a mystery. However, historical records show its popularity in early 20th-century Lisbon. It was a common street food, often complemented with “bofe” (spleen) and “frescura” (a fresh salad). Due to its thin, affordable cuts, it was affectionately known in colloquial terms as “flat head steaks.” Iscas com elas found a steady presence in taverns and pubs and this dish held such significance in Lisbon that certain establishments were known by the name “Casa das Iscas.”

The dish is normally served in two forms: “Iscas com elas,” served with potatoes as a substantial meal, and “Iscas sem elas,” a lighter snack without potatoes.

In the past, some establishments maintained a practice of preserving the frying fat from preparing “Iscas com elas,” adding more as neede, and only washing the frying pan every now and then. It was believed that this contributed to perfect execution—a tradition no longer observed in today’s restaurants.

While you will find this dish on restaurant menus in Lisbon, you may have to look a tiny bit harder than with most of the other dishes.

Peixinhos da Horta

Typical to Lisbon

Peixinhos da Horta is a cherished Portuguese recipe, particularly in the Lisbon region. Its name likely stems from its resemblance to small fried fish, showcasing the clever ways in which the Portuguese transformed their limited resources into culinary delights.

It is prepared by coating green beans in an egg and flour batter and frying them until crispy. Some claim that it played a role in the creation of Japanese tempura, a staple in Japanese cuisine. Despite the name, there are no fish used in this recipe so it’s vegetarian-friendly.

This versatile dish can be served as a snack, starter, or as an accompaniment to various meat or fish dishes, adapting to various culinary occasions and preferences. While the precise origins of peixinhos da horta remains a topic of debate, the people of Lisbon have wholeheartedly embraced this delicacy as their own.

Meia-Desfeita

Typical to Lisbon

Legend has it that Meia-Desfeita originated in the historic Lisbon neighbourhood of Mouraria and has become famous as it was mentioned by Portuguese writer Eça de Queirós. Initially known as “cod with grains,” this dish carried a stigma of being humble fare for those with limited means.

These days, it’s often served as a snack or appetiser. It also holds a special place as a post-Christmas Eve treat, with many people making it from the leftovers of the Consoada (Christmas Eve bacalhau meal).

According to legend, this dish got its name because customers frequently requested half-portions of it.

Petiscos

chocos fritos served as a petisco
Chocos fritos served as a petisco

Petiscos are essentially Portuguese tapas and, if you’re feeling like a couple of small things, this is a good way to go. Many bars have petisco menus, and you’ll also find some places that focus on them entirely.

The petiscos menu isn’t always the most exciting menu, but a few dishes to look out for include pastéis/bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod fritters), pica pau (fried steak pieces with pickles), and salada de polvo (octopus salad).

Many places also do cheese boards, or cheese and meat boards, and this can be a good place to try one or two Portuguese cheese. If there’s one cheese that foodies absolutely must try, it’s queijo da serra.

Then there are what’s known as conservas, which are tinned foods like tinned sardines or tinned tuna. In Portugal these are somewhat of a delicacy, and they’re made to a much higher standard than most other countries. It’s worth trying some either as a petisco or buying some in a shop and having them at home.

Ovos Verdes

Much like the previously mentioned dishes, Ovos Verdes can be either a snack or even take center stage as a main course.

These vibrant green eggs have graced the tables of Lisbon taverns for generations and have also found a place in upscale restaurants. While their preparation is relatively simple, achieving culinary perfection requires a touch of patience.

Ovos Verdes are crafted by boiling eggs, delicately removing the yolks, mixing them with softened bread and finely chopped parsley, and then encasing them in a savoury batter before frying to golden perfection.

Meia-Unha

Mão de vaca

Typical to Lisbon

Meia-Unha, also known as Mão de Vaca com Grão, is a popular dish made from cow’s hoof and chickpeas. It’s sometimes served as a snack while other places while serve it as a main course.

The name Meia-Unha, which translates to “half hoof,” originates from the fact that only half of the beef is typically served in this dish. It can be found in traditional tavernas throughout Lisbon.

Fava Rica

Typical to Lisbon

Fava Rica is a simple but nutritious soup that’s made of dried broad beans, simmered to perfection, and then sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and pepper.

Until the early 20th century, Fava Rica was a familiar sight on the streets of the capital. It was famously announced by street vendors with their melodic cry of “Fava Riiiica!” This tradition endured in the city’s poorest and most historic neighbourhoods until the early 1970s.

Personal recollections harken back to a time when an old Fava Rica seller would sit outside the Cais do Sodré station, armed with two pans wrapped in newspapers and blankets over half a century ago.

This nostalgic connection runs deep, as the soup played a significant role in the breakfasts of Lisbon’s working-class families during the first half of the 20th century. Families would send pans down to the morning Fava Rica auctions, and they would return laden with this hearty broad bean soup. After a dash of vinegar, it would soak the previous day’s bread in bowls, serving as a satisfying meal until dinner.

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]
Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

Spotted a mistake? Suggest a correction

There are 14 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Comments

      • Great info, thanks James. As second time visitors to beautiful Portugal, my husband and I have given most of your suggestions a go – and not been disappointed:) The one place we are struggling to find authentic food is in Alfama at night. Is it simply because it’s geared towards the many tourists enjoying the romantic, winding streets of an evening? Where would you recommend is a good spot for easy but authentic dinner options? We tend to stay in the Baixa/Chiado area. Thank you!

        Reply
        • Hi Wendy,

          Alfama is definitely difficult and I rarely ever eat there. As you say, it’s quite touristic and although there are plenty of restaurants and petiscos bars it’s hard to find somewhere “authentic.” That’s not to say there’s nowhere to eat there, it’s just a little difficult sometimes.

          I usually focus on looking for tascas – the kind of places that write the menu in marker on a paper tablecloth. They’re not the best in terms of atmosphere or interior design, but they produce simple and traditional food. Some are better than others, and some start off well and then go downhill. The various review sites like TripAdvisor and Google Reviews can give you some clues, especially if you look at the star ratings from Portuguese people.

          Reply
  1. Hi There- stumbled on your guide last night while starting to plan our family trip ( 2 teens) ( 2 weeks Mid July 2020) -first time visit. Would love to highlight small quaint beach towns and realize it is a busy time. We are also considering Maderia. Would you mind recommending an iten? We enjoy a good hike and are aware there are plenty!!! Thank you in advance! Camille

    Reply
    • Hi Camille,

      Yes, it will be a busy time on the beach towns.

      I don’t know if there are many beach towns that don’t get tourists, but you’ll have more luck if you stay away from the Algarve and the towns extremely close to Lisbon.

      The Alentejo has some nice beach towns like Porto Covo and Vila Nova de Milfontes. Both are popular with Portuguese tourists, but not so much with international tourists.

      Reply

Leave a Comment