If there is a good way to know a country’s culture and soul, that way is to discover what people eat. Better still if you can find their favorite places. In the Portuguese capital, a great path to do just that is engaging in one of Lisbon food tours.
Like all the big cities in the world, Lisbon has thousands of restaurants and other places where you can have a full meal, a few snacks or just a glass of wine or a beer. But, like all those same cities, many places are crowded, overrated or simply catering exclusively international dishes. So, if your taste buds are craving for authenticity, let us guide you in our vision of what a good food tour should be.
First, think outside the box. That means choosing beyond the top restaurants and find the family owned business. Lisbon has plenty of that, specially in the old districts of Alfama, Mouraria or Castelo. Sometimes, just a few tables, a small terrace and a very experienced mother or grandmother, busy in the kitchen. The Portuguese are warm, friendly and love feeding people. You really should enjoy that.
Second, be aware that, like any other rich food culture, Portugal has plenty of ‘interesting’ dishes. And with ‘interesting’ we mean things like unconventional cuts of meat or fish, ingredients that can be considered ‘exotic’ by many – like blood or tripe -, strong seasonings or a surprising mix of ingredients. For example, we have a dessert that combines sugar, almonds and… rabbit meat. So, if you are adventurous, go for it. But, if you rather know exactly what’s on the table, just ask. People will be more than happy to explain.
The same goes for dietary choices or restrictions. In the past, it was not easy to find places that would offer, for example, vegetarian, vegan, glute-free, dairy free, kosher or halal options. Today, more and more restaurants and tasting venues cater for everyone, creating dishes from scratch or adapting recipes. Nevertheless, they are still a minority. So, again, ask for all the information you need and if there is any chance to change or skip some ingredients. That is not possible every time, but you still have a good chance of experimenting Portuguese flavors adapted to you.
Third, don’t over order. The portions sizes in Portugal tend to be robust and, sometimes, it is hard to resist finishing an amazing dish. So, if your goal is to taste as many different options as possible, think about what you normally would have at one sitting and cut that, at least, in half.
What should we order?
That’s the one million dollar question! Portugal has thousands of delicacies and dishes, all of them available in Lisbon. In the end, it all comes down to your personal preferences. If you love the ocean flavors, you are in the right place to indulge. Portugal is known for the quality of its fish and seafood and no wonder we are the third country where people eat them more. Again, during a food tour, it is wise to stick to small portions, so you can try many different things. Some of our absolute favorites are: octopus salad, garlic and spiced prawns, steamed clams or goose barnacles.
If your are more a meat person, the Portuguese charcuterie is perfect for you. With hundreds of options, the king of all flavors is the Pata Negra ham. It all starts with the animal: “Pata Negra” means black foot or hoof and relates to the black pig, a subspecies only found in southern Portugal and Spain. The animals are raised free-range and their main source of food are acorns. The ham is salted for a week and cured for, at least, nine months, with stable temperature and humidity. The result is a buttery delight which tastes even better when its served finely sliced.
Flavor on your fingertips
“Petiscos” are the Portuguese equivalent to Spain’s tapas and a must in many Lisbon Food Tours. It’s easy to understand why. You can sample many different options in a short amount of time, and it’s even possible to eat them outside or on the go. Againm with hundreds of different petiscos, it’s up to you to choose the most appealing.
If we had to choose, “bifanas” would be on our top list. These amazing little sandwiches are made with thin slices of marinated and fried pork, on a bun infused with the sauce where garlic is king. You can find this anywhere in Lisbon, but there are some places where they are specially good. And we know them all!
Other petiscos you should really try are the cod fritters. Crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, they are a great way to introduce the palate to one of Portugal’s most loved fish options. Seasoned olives, sliced or buttery cheeses should also be on your menu during a food tour. And, if you feel adventurous, and they are in season, why not give “caracóis” a try? True, “caracóis”, or snails, are a divisive subject: some people love them, others hate them. Why not order some and make up your mind?
Sweet, sweet life
You have a sweet tooth and would love to finish your Food Tour with some amazing cake or dessert? Again, Lisbon is a great place to indulge in all the cravings. One of the best known Portuguese sweet options, if not the best known around the world, are the custard tarts. Bite size, buttery flaky on the outside, creamy on the inside, once you try them they are unforgettable. They are found pretty much anywhere in the country, but not all of them present five stars quality. So, choose wisely or let yourself be guided to the best temples of “pastéis de nata”.
If you wish to explore a little bit more the universe of Portuguese desserts and baked goods, just step inside one of the many pastry shops and ask for the bestsellers. You will not be disappointed. Even so, we want to help you navigate these sweet waters, with a few of our personal favorites: Pudim Abade de Priscos (an elevated egg flan), leite creme (a cousin of the French crème brûlée), travesseiros de Sintra (puff pastry envelopes with almond, custard or chocolate fillings) or bolas de Berlim (fried sweets buns with creamy fillings).
And what about wine?
Portugal is a wine country. We have hundreds of native grape varieties and thousands of single harvest or blend options, born in 14 different regions, from North to South and in the islands of Madeira and Azores. And don’t forget the wine that can only be produced in our country: Port.
Any preference you have, there is probably a Portuguese wine that suits you. So, no wonder many Lisbon food tours include wine tastings. Two of our favorites experiences in town are created by Lisbon Winery. They define themselves as “wine curators” and are keen in providing private experiences, either the Portuguese Wine Tasting or the Port Wine Tasting. Besides the wines, you are also treated to an extra virgin olive oil tasting and some of the best food Portugal has to offer.
Food Tours with us
For the last 10 years, we have been fortunate to share our passion for food and wine with thousands of guests. Besides all the fun we have at the table, the experience is made even richer with the opportunity to discover and explain the city, walking from one place to the next. If you wish to join us on a Private Lisbon Food Wine Tour, a Lisbon Tour with Portuguese Wines and Tapas or a Lisbon Tour with Port Wine and Tapas, just reach out. We will be thrilled to share our Lisbon Food Tours with you!