What to Eat in Portugal: My Food Guide for Lisbon and Porto
Of course the first thing I did before landing in Lisbon was look up what to eat in Portugal. For me, exploring and getting to know a new country always starts at mealtime with local dishes and cuisine. Portugal was no exception.
I fell instantly in love with Portugal and it’s definitely my favourite country in Europe. And Portugese cuisine is one of the reasons why I love it so much. Especially considering how affordable it is to eat out in Portugal, it’s cheaper than any other Western European country I’ve been to.
As always this food guide to what to eat in Portugal isn’t complete, I’d need to spend a whole lot more time in Portugal for that (hopefully one day!). But it’s everything I ate during my two weeks in Portugal, including recommendations for specific restaurants in the cities of Lisbon and Porto. So here are all your questions asked for what to eat in Portugal!
What to Eat in Portugal- Main Dishes
Sopa da Pedra (Stone Soup)
This was the first thing I ate in Portugal. I still hadn’t quite recovered from the cold I caught in London, so soup seemed the best option for lunch.
It’s basically a bean and sausage soup, with the addition of lots of random ingredients like potatoes. It’s the perfect lunch for those rare cold days in Portugal.
Where to Eat It: Any of the smaller snack bars or stores around Lisbon.
Piri Piri Chicken
Thanks to Nandos (which I don’t think is even Portugese owned), the most well known Portugese dish is Piri Piri Chicken. If I asked most people what to eat in Portugal, they would probably at least be able to say piri piri.
But despite its worldwide popularity, this dish isn’t so popular in Portugal itself. The Portugese don’t actually eat a lot of spicy food, so most versions of ‘piri piri chicken’ are actually just really delicious roast chicken without the spice added.
Whilst you’ll find fantastic roast chicken (which is far more Portugese than the piri piri version) all over Portugal, you’ll have to look a little bit further to find the places that have a bottle of piri piri on the table. One of those places, and one of the best places to get chicken is Café Bonjardim in Lisbon.
You get served a huge portion of chicken with fries and then you can add as little or as much piri piri as you like using the basting pots provided on the tables. It’s great because you make this dish as spicy or as mild as you like.
It’s seriously delicious and as we discovered, it makes awesome hungover food after a big night out in Lisbon.
Where to Eat It: Lisbon- Café Bonjardim
Portugal is a country with a huge coastline and thus it is to be expected that you’ll find great seafood here. I was visiting in winter so I didn’t head down to the Algarve- the seafood capital of Portugal. But Lisbon is also famous for it’s delicious and fresh seafood.
I’m obsessed with seafood. If I had to pick one food group to live off for the rest of my life, my answer would always be seafood. So I’ve tried some incredible seafood all over the world, including fresh lake fish in Rwanda, whole fish in Thailand and even live octopus in South Korea.
But I had the best seafood of my life, at probably the cheapest price I’ve ever paid at Cervejaria Ramiro.
This place is a Lisbon institution. They don’t take reservations and the line is always out the door. My best piece of advice for grabbing a table is to get here right on opening. Otherwise you need to be prepared to wait (trust me it will be worth it).
The English menu is provided on an iPad and all of the seafood is priced by the kg, which can be slightly confusing. Feel free to ask the friendly staff who are really good at making sure you don’t over order.
After some debate we ended up ordering the clams with garlic sauce, half a dozen oysters, six tiger prawns and the hairy crab.
The food came out incredibly fast and if I had one complaint about this restaurant it would that they bought it all out at once. Given how much food we had ordered this meant that by the time we got to the crab it had gone a little cold. My piece of advice would be to maybe only order half and then order the other half later, or specifically ask for the items to be staggered.
Everything was seriously incredible. The clams were cooked to perfection and the pairing of a garlic sauce only made them more delicious. The oysters were huge, fresh and didn’t need anything more than a squeeze of lemon. The hairy crab was full of flavour and the head mixture went incredibly well with the restaurant’s homemade bread.
But the highlight for me were the tiger prawns. Prawns aren’t my favourite type of shellfish- I usually head straight for the oysters and the scallops. But these were the best I have ever had. They were cooked perfectly, still juicy and looked incredible on the plate. I could have eaten the whole plate to myself!
At the end of the meal the bill came to around 95 Euros for three people, including the bottle of Portugese white wine that we had with our meal. Whilst this was a ‘splurge’ meal for Portugal, it’s the cheapest seafood I’ve ever eaten, especially considering how incredibly fresh and delicious everything was.
Where to Eat It: Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon
Bacalhau or codfish is something you’ll find everywhere in many different forms. You’ll most likely find the salted version, which can be found in sandwiches, stewed in a mix of tomatoes and onions, fried with some eggs and potatoes, or even turned into a cheesy casserole type dish.
My favourite version is the eggs and potatoes, it’s almost like a bacalhau omelette and full of flavour. I found it to be a bit of a weird tradition, but they option serve bacalhau with potato chips, like the crispy type you’d usually find in a packet in the supermarket. The Portugese ones are almost always home made, but it still seems a strange addition to a meal.
Where to Eat It:
Lisbon- Restaurante Laurentina o Rei do Bacalhau
Porto- Solar Moinho de Vento
One of my favourite things to eat in Portugal was octopus. If you have ever tried to cook octopus before, you know it can be tricky. Even if it’s only a little overcooked it comes out rubbery and pretty much inedible.
I ate so much octopus in Portugal, but never once did I find an octopus dish where it wasn’t cooked perfectly. This dish is usually about the raw ingredients and the flavour of the octopus, they don’t often smother it with too much sauce. And I think it is the best way to eat it!
Where to Eat It:
Lisbon- Café Royal
Porto- Solar Moinho de Vento for Octopus Rice
The best dish I ate the whole time I was in Porto was actually octopus rice. The way the portugese cook their rice is so delicious. When I get to Florence and have my own kitchen I’m going to do some research on how to prepare it.
The best way to describe it is kind of like risotto with more broth leftover. It’s really juicy rice and the method of cooking lets the rice soak up all the flavours from the stock and other ingredients in the pot. This octopus rice came to my table in the pot that it was already cooked in and was probably enough for two people on its own. The octopus was perfect, the rice was perfect and it was seriously one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
I tried to go back to get it again my last night in Porto but unfortunately they didn’t have it available. So your best bet is probably to go for lunch.
Of course you can also find other versions of portugese rice without the seafood, including a lovely vegetarian one that I had at the Mercado da Riberia (or the Time Out Market) in Lisbon.
Where to Eat It:
Lisbon- Mercado da Riberia (Miguel Castro e Silva stall).
Porto- Solar Moinho de Vento for Octopus Rice
Whilst this isn’t actually a portugese dish, it is a must visit for any foodie on a visit to Lisbon. Here you will find stalls selling some of the best food from Portugal and around the world. The choice is almost too overwhelming and it took me ages to decide.
Some of the best stalls are the ones that are branded, designed and signed by some of Lisboa’s best chefs, including Marlene Vieira, Vitor Claro, Alexandre and Henrique Sa Pessoa. I ate a delicious meal at Miguel Castro e Silva.
What to Eat in Portugal- Sandwiches
If you don’t feel like some piri piri chicken, a bifana also makes an incredible hungover food, or afternoon snack.
Dinnertime in Lisbon is typically around 9pm which takes some adjusting. So what we sometimes did was have a bifana for an afternoon snack to tide us over until dinnertime.
Bifana is a beef (or there is a pork version) sandwich. They cook the meat in it’s own fat and some magical sauce and then dump it into bread. In the best shops you’ll see them stewing the bifana mix behind the bar.
The combination of the beef mix and the bread is a greasy, but delicious sandwich. The meat is super tender and full of an almost tangy flavour. And at 2 Euros you can’t really go wrong with this one!
Where to Eat It:
Lisbon- Café Beira Gare (right across from Rossio train station).
This is Porto’s most famous dish. Hence if your trip to Portugal includes a trip to Porto, I’d wait until you arrive in this particular city to try this one.
The idea of this dish is actually really disgusting. In fact when it was described to me I didn’t want to try it at all. But I knew I couldn’t leave Porto (or write a food guide for Portugal) without trying this dish.
A Francesinha is a sandwich containing sausage, ham and steak. It’s then wrapped in cheese, a fried egg is put on top and it’s smothered in some delicious sauce made up of beer and tomato sauce. Oh and it comes surrounded by a mountain of fries.
My guide on my walking tour informed me that there are 1300 calories in this dish, something I really didn’t need to know. Lucky Portugal is super hilly so I’d spent my two weeks working out by climbing up hills.
I didn’t expect to like this dish but I actually found it to be super delicious. It’s not something I’d be running back for (like that Octopus rice) but it was still really yummy to eat at the time.
Where to Eat It:
Porto- Café Santiago
Whilst the francesinha might get all of the attention, the best sandwich I ate in Portugal was this one from Flor dos Congregados.
This little sandwich takes more than 24 hours to prepare. The ham is marinated in some secret delicious mixture overnight before being slow cooked. It’s then put in a crunchy roll with a piece of superior bacon. It’s slow food at it’s absolute best, and a close second to the Octopus rice for the best thing I ate in Porto.
Where to Eat It:
Porto- Flor dos Congregados
What to Eat in Portugal- Desserts
Pasties de Nata from Pasteis de Belem
Portugese egg tarts or pasteis de nata are everywhere in Portugal, especially Lisbon. But you absolutely can’t eat them from anywhere else but Pasteis de Belem.
Pasteis de Belem have been serving these little pastries since 1837 and they have a secret recipe that is guarded like a precious jewel. Be prepared to line up to collect these incredible bundles of joy. They are always busy, but that just means that the pastries are always served fresh and piping hot. And don’t be afraid to order six at once, it’s a much better choice than getting one to taste and then having to line up again.
Belem is about a thirty minute tram ride from the centre of Lisbon and is worth visiting not just for the pasteis but for the concentration of monuments and world heritage monastery located out there. Be careful of the pickpockets on the tram!
Where to Eat It: At Pasteis de Belem (seriously only there).
Travesserios and Queijada
But the pasteis de nata actually weren’t my favourite pastries in all of Portugal.
The best pastries I had in Portugal were traversserios and queijada. Both of these pastries are apple based and native to Sintra. I’m going to talk about Sintra in a later post, but it’s an easy and awesome day trip from Lisbon. And if you aren’t interested by the amazing palaces, you should at least go for these pastries!
Apple is one of my favourite flavours for desserts so of course I was going to love these. The travesserios was the clear favourite though- it’s basically a sausage roll but cooked with amazing pastry and filled with apple filling. Who wouldn’t love that?
I’m not ashamed to admit that my friend Kylie and I literally just had these (including seconds) for lunch while we were in Sintra.
Where to Eat It: Sintra- Piriquita
I feel like every country I visit in Europe tries to lie claim to chocolate mousse, so I’m not even sure this is a ‘traditional’ portugese dish. But I did have some awesome chocolate mousse while in Portugal. I love how they tend to use dark chocolate and the focus is on the quality of the chocolate rather than the addition of a lot of cream and sugar.
Where to Eat It:
Most good restaurants, I had a great one at Solar Moinho de Vento in Porto.
What to Eat in Portugal- Drinks!
I’ve saved the best for last. Of course you can’t leave Portugal without drinking Port. And the place to drink it is Porto of course.
I’d highly recommend the port wine tasting tour that I did while in Porto with Porto Walkers. It was only 15 Euros for a three hour tour with lots of port tastings and a highly informative guide. We learnt so much about the methods of creating port, the history of port and got to sample some delicious port wines.
You’ll also find some delicious port wine cocktails around Porto, including this one I got from Flor dos Congregados to go with my sandwich.
Where to Drink It- Porto!
Whilst I enjoyed the Port Wine, I can’t drink too much sweet wine. Lucky for me Portugal actually makes some of the best wine in the world. Anything from the Duoro Valley is incredible. It’s also great value, one of the best reds I have ever tasted was only 8 euros a bottle!
I’d recommend hitting up any of Portugal’s countless wine shops and indulging in as much of this wine as you can (Warning: I take no responsibility for drunkenness!)
Where Should I Stay in Portugal?
If you are a budget traveller or are just looking to make some friends, Portugal is home to some of the best hostels in the world. I’d absolutely recommend Yes! Lisbon Hostel in Lisbon and Yes! Porto Hostel in Porto.
AirBnB is also a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!
What to Eat in Portugal? Am I Missing Something?
I’m sure many of my Portugese friends are reading this, so if you, or anyone else reading this post has any other additions to my ‘what to eat in Portugal’ guide, please comment below!