Food, glorious food. Food in Lisbon is amazing, and although Portuguese cuisine is not as well known as it’s Spanish neighbour, the flavours, produce and local dishes available here are good enough to rival any top foodie destination. To learn more about the food in Portugal and where to eat the best food in Lisbon, I contacted Taste of Lisboa to see if I could join one of their cultural food tours in Lisbon. They suggested their Downtown-Mouraria Food and Cultural Walk which was in a part of Lisbon renowned for Fado, a traditional form of music in Portugal. I was excited to join their Lisbon food tour for lots of tasty food and to learn something at the same time!
I received a complimentary tour in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and I maintain full editorial control over the content published.
We met our guide Catarina at the memorial in São Domingo’s Square, on a cloudy and damp afternoon in Lisbon. I was pleasantly surprised to find I wasn’t the only solo female traveller on the tour. For me, food tours are a great alternative to dining alone when I’m travelling solo and a lovely way to meet local people and fellow travellers as well as eating lots of tasty food! This tour was no different, but Taste of Lisboa’s food and cultural walks differ from a ‘typical’ food tour because they include much more information about the local area, culture and community. When we met Catarina, she explained how the tour would work, and the awful history of the square where we were. Throughout the tour Catarina shared more information about Mouraria, Fado and the history of Lisbon, as well as taking us to some fabulous foodie stops.
Our first stop was a foodie’s dream. A delicatessen selling fresh fruit and vegetables from a display outside, and inside it was a treasure trove of cheeses, cured meats, pates, oils, wine and bacalhau. Bacalhau is salted cod, most of which comes from colder seas around Iceland and Norway. The Portuguese developed a taste for salted cod during the days of exploration across the oceans when they needed protein which would keep for months on the long voyages. These days, cod is an obsession.
We didn’t taste any cod here though, despite the piles of it for sale. Instead, we tried some olive oil and pata negra cured ham. The ham is from a certain breed of pigs, which feed on acorns to give the cured meat a special flavour. It was melt-in-the-mouth delicious.
Before I came to Portugal I hadn’t really considered that olive oil has a flavour, and that flavour can change drastically depending on the quality of the oil. The cold pressed olive oil we tasted with fresh bread was smooth and mellow, a perfect accompaniment to the ham. One of the other women in the group was vegetarian so we also got to try some creamy soft cheese with walnuts as well.
It wasn’t long before cod made an appearance on our tasting trail though. Our next stop was a small café which claimed to have the ‘best codfish croquettes in Lisbon’ – a bold statement indeed. I had realised by this point that most restaurants in Portugal claimed to have the best whatever in the city, country, or even universe. I don’t know how anyone could claim they have the best anything in the universe without going to the effort to try out of this world examples of the dish, but anyway, Catarina said that she had tried a lot of cod croquettes in Lisbon, and that these were indeed the best ones in Lisbon, that she had tried at least. They were pretty good, but without more diligent research I can’t confirm or deny their claim! The croquettes were served with a tomato rice side dish wish was very tasty too, and a glass of vinho verde, Portugal’s green wine.
We continued our food and cultural tour with another Portuguese typical dish – a bifana. These sandwiches are made from fresh bread buns, filled with grilled meat, in most cases pork. The little restaurant we went to used to sell charcoal in the days before electricity, then when the demand for fire-power declined in the city, they decided to use the excess coal for barbecuing. And the tradition continues, with a menu of simple grilled meats, as well as traditional soups and cheeses which we also sampled, and other simple, delicious food.
We ventured into the neighbourhood known as Mouraria. Mouraria is famous for being the home of Fado, a traditional type of Portuguese music often involving mournful singing and guitar playing. All around Mouraria we could see the influence of Fado, from the street art portraits of famous Fado singers, to tunes playing in the bars, restaurants and homes we passed.
Mouraria also had fabulous street art. There was a street filled with portraits of famous Fado singers, and several colourful murals we passed portraying everything from day to day life to Fado and the challenge of immigration in Europe. There was also a street which had photographs of the local people who lived there, including their names so you could get to know the locals even if you hadn’t met them in person!
Continuing with the food and drink tastings, our next stop was a bar. It wouldn’t be a real food tour if there wasn’t any booze, and although we’d had wine at most of the stops before, a shot of sour cherry liqueur was just what we needed on a chilly evening. We ducked out of the rain into a tiny bar, where the owner serves up ginjinha – literally meaning ‘small ginja’ shots of liqueur made from cherries into plastic cups which we gladly imbibed. Fado music drifted out of the speakers and posters from fado performances filled the walls, alongside photographs of the owner throughout the years.
Tinned fish used to be one of Portugal’s top exports, but that fell out of favour and many of the tinning factories closed down. In the last few years though, tinned food has been making a comeback. There are now several restaurants in Lisbon which specialise in tinned fish and seafood. I must admit, I was sceptical, not usually eating much tinned fish apart from tuna. However, the delicate fish drizzled in olive oil served on crunchy toast with a tang of raw onion and herbs was much tastier than I expected!
Another dish I didn’t expect to eat on a Portuguese food tour was the samosa we tried at our next stop. You may be wondering (as I did) what the hell a samosa is doing on a food tour in Lisbon, but Catarina explained that in Portugal’s period of empire, explorers travelled to Africa, and Mozambique was under Portuguese rule for many years. This restaurant serves up Portuguese and Mozambican food, a fascinating blend of cuisines which is definitely delicious! I washed down the samosa with a glass of cashew fruit juice, a taste I recognised from my time in Belize, where cashews also grow.
We ended our cultural food tour at a popular bakery, where we had our obligatory pastel de nata. I love these things, crisp, flaky pastry tarts filled with sweet custard and a sprinkling of powdered sugar or cinnamon on top. I lost count of how many I’d had in Portugal, and actually, I’d popped into this bakery the day before as I’d heard their pasteis de nata were the bomb. And that they were! With our group, we sat upstairs, and Cristina explained the history of this famous Portuguese dessert, from the monks in Belem creating the first recipe, to the thousands of bakeries churning out millions of them every day, which are devoured by willing locals and visitors alike.
What I loved about Taste of Lisboa Food & Cultural Walks
I loved the variety of places we visited. Each of the seven stops was unique in their own way and were mostly tiny cafés and restaurants which I never would have gone into myself. The cultural parts of the tour were really interesting too, and it was fascinating to learn about the history of Fado in the area, and new street artists giving names and personalities to the people who live there.
I hadn’t been to the Mouraia neighbourhood before the tour, and I suspect it often gets overlooked by visitors who stick to Barrio Alto and only come here to visit the castle. There is so much history here – and great food! – I’d urge anyone coming to Lisbon to explore.
Anything I Didn’t Like?
At first I found the tour a little slow-paced; we spend quite a long time at the meeting point, where Catarina went through all the stops we were going to visit and what we were going to eat – for me that wasn’t necessary, and kind of spoiled the surprise so I’d be happy to skip that part and just see each one as they come. However, once we were on the move there was a better balance between walking, information and tasty food!
Would I Recommend Taste of Lisboa Tours?
Most definitely! I’ve taken a lot of food tours around the world, and I am consistently pleased with the quality and variety of food, and with all the interesting information the guides share. Yes, you can go for a meal by yourself, but joining a food tour is so much more rewarding!
Where to Stay in Lisbon
Hostels in Lisbon
I stayed at the fun and friendly Good Morning Hostel Lisbon which is in a great location by Restauradores underground station. This is probably the best place to stay in Lisbon for solo travellers, with a daily happy hour including free sangria and beer, and lots of fun events and social dinners. Rooms are clean and spacious, and the staff are all fabulous. Read my full review of Good Morning Hostel Lisbon here or book it now. You can also find other hostels in Lisbon on Hostelworld.
Hotels in Lisbon
For hotels in Lisbon, check out Casa Amora Sao Mamede Lisbon which is slightly out of the centre but very highly rated. Casa do Barao is in Barrio Alto and also gets excellent reviews – and has a swimming pool to enjoy. You can find other hotels in Lisbon on HotelsCombined.
Airbnb in Lisbon
I came back to Lisbon for another few days after visiting Porto, but this time I stayed in an Airbnb in the Barrio Alto. This area of town has TONS of bars and restaurants, and is a really popular area to stay in. You can find all the options for Airbnb in Lisbon here, including the place I stayed which was small but perfect for one person.
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
Have you taken a food tour in Lisbon? What did you think? Any more recommendations for where to eat in Lisbon? I’d love to hear your tips, please leave your comments below.
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