6 Tips to Eat Like a Local in Lisbon

Even if staying for a short time, you want to feel deeply connected with your destination. Part of that connection comes through food.

On these six tips to eat like a local in Lisbon, we at Devour Lisbon are focusing on cultural eating habits. Eating like a local in the Portuguese capital means enjoying a meal, no matter how short on time you are. It also means being picky but not a fussy eater. And, above all, it means enjoyment.

Want to eat like a local in Lisbon? Here are 6 things to know.

 

Photo credit: rafaela.marquesc; Text overlay: Devour Lisbon Food Tours

1. Sit to Eat Lunch

At a table or the counter, Lisboetas sit to eat no matter how quick the meal. Workers get one hour to lunch and they make the most of it around the table. Here they’ll discuss politics, another coworker, the state of the health system, more politics, education, the latest gossip, and, especially on Mondays, last Sunday’s football match if they’re hardcore fans.

A bifana sandwich, the perfect way to eat like a local in Lisbon
Eating like a local in Lisbon means sitting down for a meal, even if it’s just a sandwich. Photo credit: Kent Wang

2. Know What A “Quick Meal” Really Means

A sandwich for lunch? Not unless it’s a bifana or a prego and you’re in the mood for Lisbon street food. If a local is having a sandwich for lunch at a restaurant, then it’s most likely complemented by a bowl of soup. A “quick meal” by Lisbon standards is the middle ground between fast food and a prolonged dinner. It’s a dish that’s part of the daily specials and ready to go, may be part of a menu that includes a drink and a coffee, and requires swift service. Always at the table, of course.

3. Go for the Lunch Menu

Portuguese in the big cities eat out for lunch on weekdays. Workers get an additional daily bonus to their income to cover lunch expenses and most prefer to eat out. Packing a meal was a trend during the 2011-2015 economic crisis, but you’ll notice it less now. Besides, with such great weather most of the year who wants to be stuck at the office for an extra hour?

Most tascas and snack bars (cafés that also serve quick meals) are strategically located near office buildings and all have their version of lunch menus. They cost under €10 and include one main dish that you can pick from the specials’ list, a drink, sometimes a salad or soup, and a coffee. Dessert is usually optional and alcohol drinks aren’t included. When in doubt where to eat a good and affordable lunch, choose the place with the most “suits” between noon and 3 p.m.

People sitting for lunch at the outdoors of a café in Lisbon. Eat like a local in Lisbon!
Even with just one hour to lunch, Lisboetas still sit to enjoy their meal and a conversation. Photo credit: János Szüdi

4. Special Occasions Are What You Make of Them

Going out to dinner with friends or family to celebrate a special occasion is common. The range of what “special occasions” mean for the Portuguese is wide. It can be a birthday, a farewell party, or just getting a group of friends together that miss each other. It can also mean trying out a new restaurant. The point is to find an excuse to share a meal, and it’s never too hard to find one.

5. The Portuguese Art of “Petiscar”

Portuguese have whole meals just with petiscos and drinks. These can go on for hours unless it’s a busy restaurant and the waiter is desperate to free a table. First, choose a place with the best petiscos in Lisbon. Then, prepare to order and share. We at Devour Lisbon suggest you try every petisco on the menu and then order a second dose of your favorites. Food (almost) becomes secondary as conversations at the table take over.

Octopus salad is one of the best petiscos in Lisbon. Drizzled with olive oil and herbs, as pictured here, it's a great dish to have in the summer!
A little bit of onion and fresh herbs is all you need to make a delicious Salada de Polvo (octopus salad). Photo credit: monde_delicieux

6. Don’t Overthink the Food but be Picky

Lisboetas look more for the price/quality balance than a menu that wows them. Of course, if a restaurant gets both things done right, they’ll forever recommend it to friends, family members, and any tourist who might ask them for a nice place to eat. Flavor matters, respect for food matter, and the quality of the ingredients matter.

There’s a pickiness that’s best observed at pastelarias and bakeries. Pay close attention to local customers. Before ordering they’ll carefully browse the pastry-filled refrigerated counter (or the bread on shelves if it’s a bakery). Some are less vocal, so they’ll press their finger against the window pointing to the exact pastry they want. Others are more explicit and they’ll describe in detail not just the pastry they want but how they want it.

Are you coming to Lisbon?
Don’t waste a single meal—check out our ultimate foodie guide to
where to eat in Lisbon!

To understand the “more cooked” or “less cooked” level, the employee will usually pick up one of the pastries with a tong, rotate it in different angles so the client has a better look, and only after it passes all the tests is the pastry served. It may sound exhausting, but the client gets exactly what they want.

Pastries on display at Pastelaria Alcoa in Chiado, Lisbon
Locals are picky about their pastries and they take a while to browse until they find the perfect one. Photo credit: Sandra Henriques Gajjar

Counting down the days to your trip to Lisbon mainly so you can start devouring all the Portuguese food in sight? We feel you—that’s how we travel too.
Let’s hang out while you’re in town, preferably on our food tour! Let us feed your curiosity and show you our Lisbon.

Keep Devouring

Our 7 Favorite Bairro Alto Restaurants Fancy a bite to eat in Bairro Alto? Check out our favorite restaurants in the area! There’s more than cheap beers and cocktails in Bairro Alto. This ...
What to Eat in Lisbon: 9 Traditional Bites You Need To Try Wondering what to eat in Lisbon? From breakfast to dinner, we're laying it all out there so you can eat like a true local. No trip to Lisbon is compl...
Behind the Bite: Ginja This post is part of our Behind the Bite series, deep dives into the dishes that we can’t stop thinking about. Lisbon’s legendary liqueur is sweet, s...

Sandra Henriques Gajjar is a freelance web content writer and travel blogger born in the Azores and based in Lisbon for 20+ years. Since 2014 she’s been blogging about travel, culture, and the people she meets in between at Tripper, a blog on sustainable cultural tourism.

Leave a Reply