A month ago, Arshad and I made our way to Lisbon, Portugal to meet his parents and spend a few days together with them before we continued our journey to Spain.
Both retired, the preoccupation of both my Mum and Dad-in-law are the two favorite things that I share with my husband: travel and food. Yes, we intend to follow their footsteps when we are older, but for now, we will remain to be green with envy when they call to invite us for a week in Brazil or a month’s visit to my sis-in-law in Melbourne (Dad, limited vacation leaves!).
Lisbon was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. I didn’t expect much from the city, since I was really looking forward to Madrid and Barcelona, more than anything else. When I got to Lisbon, though, and as we made our way to the suburbs of Sintra and Cascais, I didn’t realize that I was in for the food trip of my life!
There were so many things to gush and rave about Lisbon, but the most memorable for me was the FOOD, thus the 2kg. weight gain after the trip. All worth-it calories, if I may say.
Both Mum and Dad were game to try the food, desserts and wine, and most of our photos captured us eating our way through the city of Lisbon and its equally charming suburban areas.
Here are some of the memorable local food and restaurants that we tried, savored and yes, in some instances, repeated, which completed the journey.
When in Lisbon, include these gustatory delights in your checklist of must-try food:
1. Sardines, sardines and more sardines. There is no escaping sardines in Lisbon. I wanted to remain pescatarian even when traveling, and Lisbon being a sardines country was something that I embraced and celebrated the moment that we touched down.
Sardines is everywhere. You’ll see sardines grilled, served as tapas, canned or part of a pasta dish or risotto. Traditionally, sardines is served grilled, with rustic bread or boiled potatoes and fresh greens on the side. My personal favorite is just straightforward grilled, copiously drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Heavenly!
Another take on it would be to just put it on top of grilled rustic bread with grilled tomatoes and herbs with fresh salad.
Sardines is also great for souvenirs and giveaways to friends. Both Jakarta and Manila, where we come from, are very big on souvenir gifts for friends and family (do not dare go home without anything!) and canned sardines is a good idea for “pasalubong” or “oleh-oleh.” We bought canned sardines and pate’ for friends and family.
Sardines can be had everywhere in Lisbon, but I particularly liked the one that I tried in Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris at the Praca Republica. The sardines was HUGE, fresh and not too salty. The availability of tables al fresco was a plus for me, given the great spring weather during our trip. It was just nice to eat sardines with chardonnay while watching people go by!
2. Seafood. Of all kinds! Lisbon was teeming with fresh fish and other seafood. I just can’t have enough of Lisbon’s fresh seafood. Since they are always fresh, they are prepared simply: grilled or pan-fried and drizzled with a lot of olive oil.
Lisbon is Europe’s only capital city along the Atlantic Coast, lying in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic ocean. Being a coastal city, it boasts of fresh fish and seafood and most restaurants will have a “fresh catch of the day” in the menu.
I tried the bacalhau, cod, prawns and grilled octopus tentacles. Personally, I favored grilled octopus, as it is my quintessential favorite and the big prawns on risotto.
For fresh seafood in Lisbon, I highly recommend Nune’s – Real Marisqueria. Everything we ordered was fresh and the fish was right off the tank. They had warm, rustic bread on the side with luscious butter and several good wines that can be paired with the fish and seafood. You can find Nune’s in Rua de Bartolomeu Dias in Lisbon and for reservations, it’s very easy because it can be done online through The Fork.
Here are the details of Nune’s – Real Marisqueria:
3 . Pastel de Nata or Portuguese egg tart from Pasteis de Belem. You can get pastel
de nata or Portuguese egg tart pretty much anywhere in Lisbon, but I highly recommend that you buy it only in Pasteis de Belem. Once you have tasted the egg tarts from Case de Pasteis de Belem, all the other egg tarts will pale in comparison.
Just a quick trip down historical lane: the pastel de nata is believed to have been made by the Catholic nuns in the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, which stands just across the road from the Case de Pasteis de Belem. These sumptuous pastries were the means to raise funds for the monastery’s upkeep and maintenance.
Pastel de nata is a custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon or sugar. Mind you, there is a LONG LINE that traverses outside the cafe’ so it takes a lot of patience for these to be had. Arshad and I had to line up for it, but believe you me, the line and the wait are worth it.
Pasteis de Belem has been selling pastel de nata for more than 150 years and this is something that you cannot miss if you find yourself in the area of the Belem district.
The cafe’ is open everyday. Check out their details below:
Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92
1300 – 085 Lisboa
4. Salad with goat cheese and ice cream. Yes, you read that right. It was my Dad-in-law who discovered this at Lisbon’s Time Out Market, where the greens are topped with fresh blueberries, very light and creamy goat cheese and a dollop of ice cream. I tried it and immediately fell in love so we had to go back to Time Out Market so I could have it for myself. Salad never tasted this good and decadent!
Since I’ve mentioned Time Out Market several times already, here’s how to find it:
5. Vegetarian dishes. Despite being a sardines and seafood country, there are restaurants that will serve delectable vegetarian dishes. I’ve tried mushroom and truffle risotto but I was biased towards the vegetarian lasagna that I had at Lisbon’s Carmo Restaurant and Bar. Several restaurants will also accommodate requests for some of the dishes to be “vegetarianized,” and will be willing to replace the meat with mushrooms and vegetables.
Aside from the vegetarian dishes, one notable vegetarian-vegan-friendly condiment is their chili oil. I’ve been to several restaurants with this heavenly bottle of spicy oil, filled with red chili and garlic. The bite is superb and I drizzled it on anything: my lasagna, risotto, sardines, etc.
I found both of these in Lisbon’s Carmo Restaurant and Bar:
Will I ever consider a second serving of Lisbon? Definitely! And next time, I’ll make sure I have enough time for the other interesting places in Portugal. =)