Portuguese food is very diverse and although it is not very sophisticated, it involves a long history and tradition. Many Portuguese dishes are quite rustic and humble because they were created by locals in times of poverty and scarcity. Something that definitely marked Portuguese food was the influence of African tastes for so many years.
There is a big African influence in Portuguese cuisine and some of the restaurant owners from this post were originally from Angola and Mozambique.
So, are you dying to experience the wonders of Portuguese cuisine but can’t find the time or budget to travel? No problem. I have curated the best restaurants to explore and enjoy the tastes from five different regions in Portugal without leaving Lisbon.
Of all the Portuguese regions, Madeira is the one I hold a closer relationship with because my family is originally from there and I grew up eating their food.
Madeirian food tastes like home to me and I’m taken back in time every time I eat it.
Their cuisine is quite diverse, so I picked one of my favorite dishes which is called milho.
Milho is made from a dough you create with water, corn flour and herbs. This dough is cooked in a pot until it gets a bit harder and then it solidifies when it’s served on a deep plate. You can eat it like that or cut it into cubes and fry it. My favorite place to eat Madeirian food in Lisbon is a restaurant called Sabores da Ilha. Although it’s a chain, the food quality is amazing, it tastes just like my grandmothers’ food.
Francesinha is the most emblematic dish from Porto, but I must tell you that it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea as it’s quite heavy, and because of the mix of ingredients. It’s a type of sandwich with ham and meat, covered in melted cheese, bathed in a thick beer sauce. This sandwich is typically served with French fries and a fried egg on top. It is said that this dish was an adaptation from the French croque monsieur, hence its name.
The best place to eat traditional francesinhas in Lisbon is called Marco and it’s located in Santos. There are different variations of the dish on their menu, including a vegetarian version, as well as the original version from Porto.
The dish costs 13 euros and it’s extremely popular, so I recommend you make a reservation here in advance.
Although the history of this dish is not quite clear, it is said it originated in the 14th century in the area of Coimbra. It is called Chanfana and it is made with goat meat stewed in red wine, garlic, bay leaf, pepper, salt and annatto. One of the stories says that it was created by nuns during the French invasion of Portugal. They had to kill their goats so they wouldn’t get stolen and stew them in wine because the water had been poisoned by the French.
A Provinciana is a Portuguese restaurant in the area of Rossio and although Chanfana is not on their fixed menu, sometimes it’s included in the menu of the day and it is said to be one of the best Chafanas in Lisbon.
It’s also a family restaurant that has been there for many years and prices range from 8 euros to 15 euros.
Codfish is a staple of Portuguese food and it’s prepared in different ways depending on the region of the country. The way they cook it in Lisbon is called Bacalhau à Bras and it has pulled codfish, onions, olives, scrambled eggs, potato sticks and parsley. It owes its name to its creator named “Bras” who made it for the first time in a small tavern in Bairro Alto at the end of the 14th century.
Because it’s typical from Lisbon, you can find it in most of the menus of local restaurants. However, Laurentina is one of the most popular ones where besides Bacalhau à Bras, you can enjoy many other dishes made with codfish. It’s a family business that has been open since 1976.
Prices for the codfish dishes range from 13 euros to 18 euros without drinks.
Even though the Algarve is a coastal area, one of their most famous and widespread dishes is surprisingly made with chicken and not with fish. It’s called Frango à Guia and it has been around since 1964. Guia is the name of a town in the Algarve, next to Albufeira where this dish was born. Its main particularity is in the way the chicken is roasted and the sauce that covers it after it’s been cooked.
The original recipe is said to be kept in secret but there is a restaurant that is known as the best place in Lisbon to eat this dish. It is called O churrasquinho à Guia and located in Carnaxide. The restaurant has been open since 1999 and it’s a family business.
Prices range from 10 euros to 20 euros per person and it seems to be pretty crowded for lunch, so it’s probably better to make a reservation here.
Read more about food in Lisbon here.
Read of Mónica’s posts on Dispatches here.