If there’s one thing that I really seriously look forward to when traveling to new countries, it’s the food. There’s just something about those new local flavors mixed with different textures that really excites me. Even when it’s something that I’m familiar with, just the sights and sounds of the local environment adds a fresh perspective that I’ll readily gobble up almost every time.
So, when it comes to planning out my list of hot spots to check out in a brand new city, the first thing I do is to ask around and try to find some delish local eats. The food in Lisbon, surprise surprise, delivered like none of the other cities or towns I visited in Portugal. Below are my top 3 favorite memories of munching around town.
Dreaming of roast pork at Nova Pombalina
Anybody that knows me really well will tell you that I’m a firm believer that pork is far and away the king of meats. With the ability to take it sweet, salty, savory or smokey; you just can’t go wrong. And if there’s one thing I learned during my stay in Portugal, it’s that the Portuguese know how to do pork. The fact that Iberian pigs – famous for producing highly sought after iberico ham – are spread all throughout the country doesn’t hurt either.
So it should come as a surprise to no one that, when I began to read about an almost legendary roast suckling pig (leitão) sandwich served at a restaurant called Nova Pombalina, I had to put this at the top of my list.
Bordering the Baixa and Alfama districts, Nova has been holding its own for over 30 years. More of an old New York deli vibe than a restaurant, it’s completely walkable but easy to miss if you’re just quickly passing by. ProTip: Rather than look for any easy to read signage, just keep your eye on the nearby windows and you’ll know when you’ve found your destination…
Once you’re in, quickly grab an available table before it gets snatched by someone else (this place gets VERY crowded during peak dining times) and quickly glance at the menu. Sure, there are a few different meats to choose from and even a veggie option, all served on freshly baked crusty rolls. But, come on… Take another look at that beautifully golden roasted pig in the window and tell me that doesn’t look like something you need immediately. Add a fresh squeezed juice and you’ll be all set for around €6. This was definitely some of my favorite food in Lisbon.
A taste of old Lisbon at Pastéis de Belém
Another item on the stuff my face list was Portugal’s most famous pastry, the pastel de nata (a sweet egg tart). You’ll find these just about everywhere throughout the country. Though nowhere are they more famous than at Pastéis de Belém, where they have been baking these sweet custardy pillows of deliciousness since 1837. Now if this all sounds good to you, then best get down there early or be prepared to wait in a LONG line snaking halfway down the block.
Even if you do find yourself in this situation, don’t panic! The line moves like a well oiled machine and you’ll make your way inside before too long.
If you’re in more of a light meal kind of mood, they also do a sit down table service where you can order different cafe style items. This allows you skip the line entirely, but really, that’s all just a distraction for what you’re really here for.
For about €1.20 a pop, you can order as many egg tarts as you want (I got 4, but easily could have downed 400) and, after paying, are handed a slip by the cashier. You then have to navigate back through the crowed of people gathered inside to another counter where you turn in your slip and are handed a trendy little white bag filled with your goodies.
Inside of your bag you’ll find 2 envelopes of cinnamon and 1 of powdered sugar for sprinkling, along with a cardboard cylinder containing your soon to be devoured tarts.
Now, you’re free to try these babies with as much cinnamon and/or sugar as you want. But just one bite of these crunchy pastry cups filled with slightly sweet airy custard will most likely convince you that they just don’t need it.
To complete your Pastéis de Belém experience, take your carry-out bag and grab a bench in one of the nearby parks overlooking Jerónimos Monastery (where the above pictures were taken). Perfect munching conditions.
Experiencing codfish cakes at Casa Portuguesa
Codfish cakes were one thing that I just wasn’t so excited to try out. Much like the egg tarts, these cakes can be found all over the country. And cod in general is HUGE in Portugal. Specifically bacalhau (dried and salted cod), which can be found stacked up in just about every supermarket and used in all sorts of different dishes – one of these being codfish cakes.
So, after seeing various different types of these small fried treats throughout my time in Portugal, I figured that there was no better place than Lisbon to give them a try.
While walking around the Baixa neighborhood one day, I saw a large bright sign outside of Casa Portuguesa and I knew it was time. A few €’s later, there I sat with my codfish cake looking back at me. A nice golden brown with visible herby flecks, it certainly looked like it had the potential to be tasty.
It took just one bite for me to decide that I’m just not a fan. While it was decently crispy on the outside, the stiff mashed potato interior and shredded cod gave the entire cake the texture of a thick paste. Not that great. I gave it one more bite just for kicks and hit the gooey cheese center that Casa Portuguesa prides themselves on. It improved the experience, but in the same way that I would imagine Elmer’s white glue would temporarily help to thin out wet concrete.
So yeah, this particular codfish cake experience was not some of my favorite food in Lisbon, but I’m still willing to give them another chance. Maybe, hopefully, Casa Portuguesa is just not my thing and I will find better alternatives throughout my time in Portugal.
I could go on and on about more of the delicious food in Lisbon that I ate during my time there, but the above were my top 3 shareable experiences. Here’s hoping that more delicious food awaits!