I write about food and travel because I believe that the two are inextricably linked. If you travel to a new city and eat only food from home, you haven’t really experienced the culture at all. When I visit a new place, I make it my mission to try things I’ve never tried before and learn how certain dishes came to be such a strong part of the local culture. On a recent trip to Portugal, I made it my mission to find as many unique foodie experiences in Lisbon as possible.
One of my favorite ways to get to know a new city is through a food tour. By exploring the town on foot, you’re able to get your bearings while passing famous landmarks. And the food you’ll try will introduce you to unique local delicacies and the stories behind them.
I took a Secret Food Tour in London, which I absolutely loved and was excited to find they offer tours here in Lisbon, too! I signed up for their food tour, but if you’re more interested in drinking in the culture, there’s a wine tasting tour, too.
We met our lovely guide, Carmen, under the arch in the Praça do Comércio, where she gave a quick briefing on what to expect and took note of food allergies. And soon, we were off to our first stop. The tour begins at 10:30 AM, and it’s about 10:40 AM by the time you reach the first stop. Usually I’d say that’s a bit early for a glass of Port, but we’re on holiday and it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!
Starting with drinks!
Carmen poured small servings as she explained that this truly is an ‘anytime’ kind of drink… Any time except meal time, that is! It can be drank any time before aperitifs and after dinner. Carmen gave us the insider scoop and made us promise not to pay tourist prices for Port. Some places will charge €10 for a glass, but you should only pay €3-6 (and only pay the higher prices if the view is good). She explained that her advice is twofold. She doesn’t want to see us ripped off… but she also doesn’t want those high prices being normalized for locals, too! I appreciate her honesty!
And moving on to the best food in Lisbon
Lisbon is the city of seven hills, which would lead to mega leg workouts… if it weren’t for the free elevators in town. We rode the Elevador Castelo to our second stop, where we tried bifanas. The pork in this sandwich is marinated overnight in a wine and garlic marinade called vinha de alhos. If you say it out loud, you may notice a similarity between this Portuguese snack and the Indian dish, vindaloo. Don’t forget that the Portuguese were some of the greatest explorers of all time, and they brought their culture with them. Another example of Portuguese food showing up somewhere unexpected? Tempura is also a Portuguese invention, brought to Japan by Christian missionaries from Portugal. They went to share the Word… but they also shared their culture.
We traveled through the Mouraria neighborhood, where we passed portraits of the elderly residents who call this place home. This is the area where Moors lived when the Christians took over the city in 1147 and the birthplace of Fado. Mouraria is a neighborhood of colorful tiles, authentic food and feels significantly less touristy than the area just down the hill.
As we continued on, we tried canned sardines and learned some valuable fish facts. Don’t ever eat “fresh” sardines October-April. They are only in season from May-September. And don’t order fish at a restaurant on a Monday. Fishermen have Sundays off, so the fish won’t be fresh.
Don’t forget to try a pastél de nata
I want to leave a few stops and treats for you to experience on your own… but I have to tell you that we ended on the sweetest note! If you’ve spent any time at all in Lisbon, you’re sure to have seen pastéis de nata, the Portuguese custard tart. This recipe originated in Belém at Jerónimos Monastery, when the result of starching monks’ garments with egg whites was a lot of unused yolks. Those yolks are the star of what we now know as the pastel de nata. Try it with cinnamon on top, which brings out the flavor of the tart!
After the tour, I was a little tipsy and satisfied with the amount of food, but not stuffed. Secret Food Tours Lisbon introduced me to some new dishes that I’ll definitely be eating again!
I’m not a natural in the kitchen. I’ve taken classes all around the world trying to remedy that, though. From cooking in Julia Child’s house in France to outdoor classes in Thailand and everywhere in between (including a vegan sushi class in London), I’m always trying to better myself and add to my repertoire in the kitchen. Since arriving in Lisbon, I’ve managed to prepare a meal that gave me Salmonella and light my hair on fire while cooking another. It was time for another cooking class.
Cooking Lisbon offers an opportunity to learn under a Portuguese chef and take a bit of your holiday home with you. Chef Ana led our small group of four, expertly involving everyone. Wine is poured and cooking snacks are set up… just in case cooking makes you hungry! Pulling myself away from the salty tremoços (lupini beans) was an achievement in itself! These beans are poisonous if prepared incorrectly, but prepared correctly, they’re an addicting snack!
While some cooking classes involve everyone making the same things, at Cooking Lisbon you’ll work as a team to make a meal. One person chops vegetables, another uses the immersion blender to purée the soup, while others make a meringue for the dessert. Every job is important and the class is relaxed enough that you can listen in to the instructions for each part of the meal. No note-taking necessary, though! Just hours after the class is over, you’ll receive the link to a Google Drive folder with recipes, not just for the things you make in your class… but for every recipe they’ve ever made in the cooking class, including their gourmet and vegetarian classes! It won’t be the same making these dishes without Ana’s sense of humor and encouragement, though.
I took the class at the tail end of winter, so the dishes we cooked were warming and filling. We started with a butternut squash soup, topped with chestnuts and cilantro (if you like that soapy-tasting herb). Like all good Portuguese dishes, we finished it off with a good pour of olive oil (the premium kind you use for dipping bread… not the stuff you cook with).
Meatballs accompanied the soup, but these meatballs were unlike any I’d tried before. They’re made using the meat inside the alheira sausage. Quick bit of background: during the Portuguese Inquisition, Christians hung their pork sausage to dry outside their homes. Since Jews don’t eat pork, their lack of sausage was evidence which would lead to expulsion or conversion. To remedy their lack of drying sausage, they created a kosher version, using bread and chicken, veal, rabbit, duck or anything except pork. We removed the casing and formed the meat into balls, which were dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and baked. These went perfectly with a cilantro mayonnaise, made from scratch.
Have you even been to Portugal if you don’t try the bacalhau? We made bacalhau à brás, which is my new favorite Portuguese dish. I only wish I had a bigger stomach (or that I hadn’t eaten so many tremoços) by the time this dish was done. Bacalhau à brás is made using tiny shreds of bacalhau (dried, salted codfish that’s been rehydrated), tiny matchstick potatoes and onions finished with eggs poured over the mixture to create a creamy sauce similar to a carbonara.
We plated these in a circular mold, topped it with parsley, olives, and a pour of olive oil (of course) and judged each other on presentation.
No meal is complete without dessert. I expected big things from this city with a sweet tooth and I was not disappointed! We made farófias (poached meringues), topped with an egg yolk custard and cinnamon. The dessert was sweet, but also light and fluffy so it didn’t leave us feeling stuffed.
The dinner and the experience ended too soon, but I’ll take the recipes and memories of the class with me forever!
Visiting a new city can feel a bit like a scavenger hunt at times. Will a turn down this street lead to a fun new discovery or getting inextricably lost?!
The team at Secret City Trails decided to help you out, creating scavenger hunts through Lisbon (and 28 other cities) to help you discover hidden gems while having a whole lot of fun. There are 10 different scavenger hunt options for Lisbon, but I was gifted the “Lisbon’s Bairro Alto & Bica: Fun Figures and Fabulous Views,” since it’s the most foodie-centric game.
Hidden Gems of Bairro and Bica
The instructions let me know that I’d be starting on the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara and ending near Cais do Sodre. There’s no time limit if you want to leisurely stroll and explore other things on the way, but the game is supposed to take between 1.5-3 hours.
Over the course of the scavenger hunt, you’ll solve 17 riddles which will lead you to your next location. If the riddles are too tough, use the “hint” button for a little extra help. You’ll receive a 10-minute penalty, but sometimes it’s worth it.
Throughout the game, riddles lead you to bars and restaurants with great views and great food. One stop even gives you a great 2-for-1 deal.
From lookouts to culture, you’ll get the inside scoop on Chiado’s most famous poet and have the opportunity to see an 18th-century chapel that, at the time of its construction, was the most expensive in Europe.
I don’t want to give away too much. For €21.00, you and up to 4 other friends can experience this game for yourself!
What foodie experience in Lisbon sounds like the most fun to you? How do you like to get to know a new city and its culture?
Note: All three experiences were gifted. All opinions are my own and I’d never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome!
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