Lisbon is a cultural casserole. With influences drawn from Africa to the Far East, Portugal’s capital has an edible heritage that dates back hundreds of years, bringing together dishes and ingredients from all over the world. Small wonder that eating here is high on any food fanatic’s bucket list.
In recognition of its uniquely delicious blend of flavours, cooking styles and chefs, the city was recently named as National Geographic’s “foodie hotspot” of the year. With acclaim like that, the pressure is on to eat as well as you can.
To help you make the most of your next visit, we’ve prepared a list of the city’s seven most unmissable dishes. Lisbon might be full of tasty treats, but these are definitely top of the tree.
1. Pastel de Nata
The classic combo of buttery, flakey pastry and sweet creamy custard has helped make Pastel de Nata a Portuguese icon up there with Cristiano Ronaldo. The famous golden cups actually originate from the city’s “Mosteiro dos Jerónimos” monastery, but the best place to try them for yourself is probably the Pastéis de Belém bakery next door.
Even though it’s on the doorstep of some of the richest fresh seafood stocks anywhere, Lisbon’s most famous fish dish is, ironically, salted and preserved for years at a time. An indispensable ingredient in Portuguese cooking, Bacalhau or “salt cod” can be prepared hundreds of different ways and is eaten all over the city. D’Bacalhau restaurant serves up some of the best.
Every summer, the city is inundated with an almost impossible amount of sardines. This fishy feast reaches a crescendo with the annual Festival of St Anthony, where grilled sardines are scoffed by the thousand all across town. The fact that they’re delicious, as well as bountiful, only makes the experience more exciting.
Almost every country has their own interpretation of the classic sandwich formula, and Portugal is no different. Featuring thin slices of pork steak, marinaded in garlic and wine and stuffed between two crusty buns, Bifana is an iconic aspect of the country’s street food culture and can be eaten all over the city. Just be sure you’re provided with a plate for all that juice mopping.
5. Arroz de Marisco
Rice and fish might sound simple, but don’t be fooled - this dish packs a serious punch. Superficially similar to Spanish paella, Arroz de Marisco can feature everything from monkfish to fresh clams, all served on a bed of sticky, flavourful rice. As popular in homes as it is in restaurants, it is a must-try.
6. Piri Piri Chicken
If you asked a layperson what dish sums up Portugues cooking, they would almost certainly say piri piri chicken. Originally hailing from southern Africa, the dish is a perfect blend of bold spicing and succulent grilled chicken, which helps explain why it’s now eaten all over the world. Often served alongside thinly sliced chips, there aren’t many more heartwarming dishes in the capital.
Check out our recipe for Beer Can Piri Piri Chicken:
7. Caldo Verde
Between piri piri chicken and pastel de nata, it might seem like an anticlimax to end this list with soup. Caldo verde, however, is not just soup. A soulful, salty blend of cabbage, potato and spicy sausage, this traditional staple makes mac ‘n’ cheese look about as comforting as a hair shirt. Head to O Calde Verde restaurant and prepare to feel immediately more positive about everything.
In a continent full of famous foodie destinations, it can be easy to treat Lisbon as nice option rather than a must visit. As this list, and the endorsement from National Geographic reader’s proves, it deserves to be taken a whole lot more seriously. Time to book that flight.