One of the first things expats look for when moving to a new place is trying out local food. And not that local food you get in Americanized diners everywhere, which offers a modified version of real authentic dishes.
Ideally, you would like to try out what locals eat on a Sunday evening or on a night out with family and friends. With the rapid process of gentrification taking place in Lisbon, it is hard to find a long-standing family-run restaurant, with local prices, right in the heart of the city.
This hidden gem is a typical Portuguese tasca called O Mondego. Tasca refers to local restaurants with a cosy vibe to them as well as a minimalist interior. They serve typical Portuguese food and one may end up spending two or three hours there if dining with a big crowd.
Located quite centrally in Rossio, the restaurant is more than 40 years old. The owners are proud of how they kept the interior almost exactly the same for all these years. The mother is the chef and the father inherited the business from his own father. The two sisters busy themselves around tables, welcoming guests and attending to their needs.
O Mondego offers steak at 6 euros including a side dish. One would assume that this price means that the quality is compromised, but this is far from being true.
The place is packed every night with locals. Sometimes you would have to queue outside especially at weekends. You can easily get their delicious sea bream (Dourada) with chips and wine for less than 10 euros.
Tania, one of the sisters, says their prices are in line with how much locals earn. Their customers are people whom they have known for decades and they do not want to give up on this long connection by making the restaurant more trendy or touristy.
Their steak or Bitoque (the typical Portuguese steak with a fried egg on top) is not their only special dish. Their Friday special Fava a Portuguesa (Portuguese beans) is another dish they’re famous for. The dish is made of chourico (Portuguese sausage), pork and beans.
Even weekdays have special dishes too. On Wednesdays, for instance, you get to try their Cozida Portuguesa which is a stew made of pork, beef, carrots and boiled potatoes. Another chef’s special is Bacalhau O Mondego which is fried codfish with delicious onion sauce and chips.
A taste of Morocco in Lisbon
The strangest thing I found about this place was that they had a Moroccan menu! Yes, you heard me right.
Moroccan food is also served in this typical Portuguese tasca. I had to ask around on why there are tagines and couscous next to Bitoques and Cozida Portuguesa.
I found out the mother is actually Moroccan and has always wanted to introduce Moroccan food to the restaurant. The family was concerned at first. They thought that their locals would not go for Moroccan food when they come especially for Portuguese home cooked meals.
However, the Moroccan menu became a great success. It is almost impossible to go there and not see half the tables with colourful tagine pots.
Mousse ‘to die for’
A general dining rule in Lisbon: do not underestimate the house wine. It is usually really good and unbelievably cheap. While their red house wine was a bit intense for me, their chilled white wine is exceptional. It’s light with a fruity undertone and just the right degree of dryness. It goes very well with the sea bream. Actually, it goes well with everything.
As for dessert, they have quite a big selection for such a local tasca. You get there the typical Portuguese rice pudding (arroz doce), the biscuit cake, flan and their lovely mousses. Their mango mousse is quite refreshing especially after a heavy meal. However, their chocolate mousse is to die for. It is literally the best I had in Lisbon and I have had A LOT.
Do not think that dinner ends with dessert. Many customers ask for a bagaço which is a popular spirit here in Portugal. What is interesting in O Mondego is that they also make their own bagaço which they once offered to me and my friends for free.
They make yellow bagaço from apples and white from grapes. It is a strong drink I have to say, but it is great for digestion. You can drink it there the Portuguese way simultaneously with a shot of coffee.
Dining at O Mondego means that you get the most delicious traditional Portuguese dishes, along with nice wine, exceptional dessert, and an authentic dining experience for half the price you would pay anywhere else in Lisbon.
Even though it is right in the heart of the city, it remains one of the locals’ hidden gems.
About the author:
Sarah Nagaty is a PhD researcher of cultural studies in Lisbon. She’s lived in Portugal for two years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.