Eating in Lisbon

Unlike Spain where our familiarity with Spanish cuisine guided us in discovering what to eat, Portugal was an adventure. Other than bacalhau and pasteis de nata, we knew nothing about the country’s cuisine.Our first taste of Portugal was at Confeitaria de Nacional for the iconic pasteis de nata. We had just arrived in Lisbon after 2 flights and a connection in Dubai. The pastry helped bring our senses and floating heads back to earth. It was all that it was reported to be — not too sweet and with a flaky crust.We thought it was good until we tried the version Manteigra, famous for its long lines especially at its branch at Plaza Luis de Camoes. Luckily, there was a stall at the Time Out Market where we grabbed a pasteis each before leaving. It was heavenly. The pastry was served hot (unlike Nacional’s which was cold) and the crust was both flaky and crispy. The custard was sweeter than Nacional’s but it was soooo oozingly good. I could have had another one but the line was really long. The best pasteis de nata, though, we would soon discover, was at Pasteis de Belem just across the bus stop for the Monasterio de Jeronimos. The lines trying to get a table inside and the lines at the take home counter speak for itself. Tita Cel lined-up to get a table while Rhoda was at take-out. By the time, we got our package of 6 pastries, Tita Cel was still 5 people away from the head of the line. There were just too many people and the wait staff looked tired and harassed. She ditched the line and we just settled eating our hard-won pasteis de nata somewhere else.Considering that we were able to eat the pastries about an hour later when we were at the Time Out Market (again!), the thin crusts remained crisp. The custard had just the right balance of milky sweetness and the taste of eggs. So utterly perfect! I kept one piece to be brought back to the hotel and be eaten the next day. The crust was no longer crisp , as expected, but not soggy and it was still very good. Another two thumbs up!Speaking of Time Out Market, we really enjoyed eating there as it was a fantastic place to get a good grip on delicious and tummy-satisfying Portugues food, both in its traditional and modern forms as created by some of Lisbon’s chefs and top restaurants. Curated by the writers of travel guide, Time Out Portugal, you can’t go wrong here. Henrique Sa Pessoa is a Michelin 2-starred chef and his roast suckling pig was the best pork I’ve ever head. The large slab of meat was so tender and the skin was so crisp. It more than made up for our disappointment with the cochinillo in Seville. It definitely gave a bang for the buck at 15 €.I partnered it with a plate of couscous with ricotta cheese which perfectly complemented the saltiness of the pork and helped cut it’s fatiness.Rhoda and Tita Cel had octopus with potatoes at Marlene Veira’s which was also very nice. I really liked the idea of having chefs run stalls at a fast food setting so you can get a sampling of their culinary creations minus the intimidation and prices of fine dining. Good job, Time Out!

Buffet Livre de Leao, just a few steps from our hotel at Rue 1 Disyembre, was our go to place whenever we wanted to eat without thinking much of where to go and what to order. The 8.99€ all-you-can-eat of salads, appetizers, rice, and grilled meats and fish was definitely good value. My favorite was the grilled Portuguese sausages. The place was always packed and one time, we had to wait for a table as almost half of the restaurant was taken-up by a large Chinese tour group. Really popular place.TIP: come either early or late.Portugal is famous for its salted cod fish called bacalhau and is said there are a thousand ways of cooking it. At Peixes Lisboa we were amused when we saw bacalhau espiritual on the menu. It sounded so enigmatic. It turned out to be flaked fish with potatoes in a creamy casserole. At a small restaurant at Alfama, we ordered bacalhau paradiso (since we had tried the bacalhau espiritual, might as well go all the way to paradise!). Both dishes were similar but the paradiso didn’t have any cream. We enjoyed this more as we could really taste the fish. Being so close to the sea, Portugal is ground zero for seafood lovers. Also at Peixes Lisboa, we had seafood rice which we didn’t expect to be a Portuguese version of paella. We thought it just be rice with a little seafood thrown in which were could eat with our bacalauh. Not so! We were amused when the friendly waitress brought out small plates, a crab hammer and cracker and put on bibs on the three of us. She then brought out a large pot filled with rice cooked in seafood broth and piled with shrimps, mussels, squid, and crab. It was really good and hearty.Just like Spain, many of the eating places such as cafes and restaurants were well-appointed with uniformed wait staff which made for an excellent dining experience. Food was always good and plentiful.Beside our hotel was a branch of Pingo Doce, a grocery with a bakery and hot meals section. I always dropped by just to see what was on offer. The meal for the day at 3.99€ is the most affordable and filling meal you can ever have. You get to choose any of the 3 viands, pastas, or rice. The servings are really hefty. They also have roast chicken and roast pork. I tried the latter and a pre-chopped piece was just .86€. The meat was tender and the skin crackling. Really good value. No wonder, there’s always a crowd. Pingo Doce is also a good place to buy food stuff you want to give away back. home such as pate and sardines. Many locals shop here so there’s always a long line at the check-out around 7-9pm.We enjoyed our meals in Lisbon. From what we tried, it seemed that Portuguese cuisine is heavy with sauces and meat. There are also different kinds of tapas and our favorites was a board of different Portuguese sausages served at the restaurant we lunched at in Alfama.The hefty servings means you shouldn’t order too much. We usually order a salad and two main courses or a tapas in lieu of a second main course. It could be a problem for the solo traveler as you wouldn’t be able to sample as much. Even the servings at the stalls at the Time Out Market and at Pingo Doce were big.

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