Hi Frugalistas! Regular readers will know I love food walks wherever I visit. I love how they tell a story of the culture and vibe of a city. I also love the opportunity to eat fabulous food in authentic places that I would never find on my own. I was thrilled to discover that my favourite food walk company, Culinary Backstreets have just started food walks in Lisbon. And having been on the Lisbon Awakes: A Culinary Crossroad Reborn tour, I think it may just be the best food walk in Lisbon and one of the top things to do in Lisbon
Starting the best food walk in Lisbon Culinary Backstreets
I booked myself onto the Lisbon Awakes: A Culinary Crossroads Reborn tour, a six hour extravaganza around the Baixa and Chiado districts of Lisbon. Our meeting point is the very convenient Rossio station, right outside the never authentic Starbucks. Teresa, my guide, arrives nice and early.
My tour companions are two American families (complete with a young child each) who turn out to be real foodies. This is a first for me. Previously on my Culinary Backstreets walks I’ve either gone alone (in Istanbul) or with some fellow travel bloggers (in Athens), so I’m interested to see if it is different.
A mid morning snack to start our Lisbon food walk in Lisbon
Once we are assembled, we are off, and we don’t have far to walk for our first tasting. I’m curious about Teresa’s first choice. It’s a restaurant I had walked past previously and dismissed as being “too touristy”. It’s a very touristy neighbourhood after all. best food walk in Lisbon Culinary Backstreets
We are here because this particular restaurant serves a traditional midmorning Lisbon snack – a prawn croquette, normally accompanied by an espresso. I must admit I was a bit wary of the combination of seafood and coffee, but honestly, it was delicious. The croquette was lightly fried with a crispy crumb coating. Inside were chunks of chopped prawn, and the creamiest béchamel sauce. I ate these croquettes a number of times during my stay in Portugal, but these ones were definitely the best.
And they were in a restaurant I thought was a tourist trap……………
Hole in the wall surprises in the Baixa
Next we head deeper into the Baixa. It’s Saturday morning, so local shoppers are out. Our next destination is a local deli and grocers, complete with locals buying up for the weekend. Everything in the shop looks amazing, but we are here for one thing – ham. best food walk in Lisbon Culinary Backstreets
Our tasting plate has two types of ham: the one Teresa suggests we try first is made from a black pig, fed on acorns for 6 months, and its meat cured for 24 months. It looks like typical Spanish jamon Iberico, which I don’t normally like, so it’s with some trepidation I dig in. (I know, I suffer for my research….). But there’s no suffering here. The ham is mellow and sweet and not too salty. I like it.
Then it’s onto the second variety, called bulota. This is a darker looking ham, cured for 40 months. It’s also special in that the black pigs used to make this ham are fed only acorns. It’s so sweet, and it literally melts in the mouth. The kids pass on this, which means more for us adults……..
At EUR150 a kilo it’s a special treat we are definitely not going to let go to waste.
Of course, we must be thirsty now, so Teresa takes us for a drink in a tiny hole in the wall bar. It has no seats and sells just one thing from its ancient wooden counter: ginjinha, a sour cherry liquour. Our little bar was slated for closure when its building recently changed owners. But so well loved is this little bar and the bartender Senor Coelho, that the locals protested until the new owner allowed it to stay. Despite the shot glasses the drink is sipped. While it is 23% alcohol, it is smooth and not too sweet. I like it so much that I duck back and find the little bar when our tour is over and buy a little bottle to take home.
Rock star chef treats in Chiado
We leave the homely hole in the wall Baixa and proceed to the Chiado district, and one of Portugal’s rock star chefs Jose Avillez. Trained by Feria in Spain, Jose Avillez has his cookbooks advertised literally everywhere in Portugal.
We settle into one of his restaurants for another mid morning snack. The highlight is a pastel de massa tenra accompanied by broad (fava) bean salad. Rather than the traditional pastel, Avillez has modernised it with a pillow of light crispy pastry hiding the meaty filling. It reminds me a little of an Australian meat pie – but far more modern.
Lunch is served best food walk Lisbon Culinary Backstreets
Luckily we have time to get over our Jose Avillez experience as our lunch is served about a ten minute walk back in the more touristy part of the Chiado in a restaurant just off the chic, but touristy rua Garrett.
Again, from the outside it’s a place I would have walked past on the basis it was too touristy. And again, Lisbon and its food scene confuses and questions everything I know about choosing a restaurant in Europe…..
Our restaurant has an old vaulted ceiling and what look like the original flagstone floors. The walls are decorated with old movie star photos. The tables and chairs are old and mismatched. There are even tables made out of old treadle sewing machines. In the middle of a touristy part of Lisbon, this place is, well, a bit hipster, and definitely the sort of place I would try at home. It just sits off a courtyard full of horrible tourist restaurants selling pizza and paella (the Lisbon tourist menu staples I decide).
We are, of course, not having pizza, or paella. Although in fairness I suspect the kids may have preferred it. Teresa orders us an entrée (appetiser) of olive tapenade, hommous and cheese. Then our main course (entrée) of salt cod paired with a glass of vinho verde. Our decidedly Portuguese lunch is delicious. The salt cod (bacalhao a bras) is undoubtedly the best I try in Portugal. Salted cod served with shredded potato and onion, bound together with egg like a fish cake, it goes wonderfully with the light Portuguese vinho verde (green wine).
Before we have time to complain about no dessert, Teresa whisks us into another tiny hole in the wall café for probably the best known of all Portuguese sweet treats, a Portuguese custard tart, or pasteis de nata. Our little café serves just two things, pasteis de nata and coffee. If you only make one thing, it better be good. And these ones are. Much nicer than the ones I buy from the famous Pasteis de Belem, where people queue for the privilege. Getting to watch the pastry chefs at work is an added highlight. For more Lisbon coffee, I recommend this great Lisbon coffee post.
Hitting a winebar in Chiado best food walk in Lisbon Culi
Our next stop is a decidedly modern winebar for a little mid afternoon wine and cheese tasting. After some red wine and two cheeses (I particularly love the mild runny sheep cheese called azeitao served with a fig paste) we go to our second dessert of the day, a torta de azeitao with muscatel wine. The torta is not too sweet, and goes perfectly with the spicy, rich wine.
The kids make friends with a baby, and we adults kick back and enjoy the afternoon wine bar vibe.
Taking some Time Out at the Mercado de Ribeiro
I’d already been to the Time Out food market at the Mercado de Ribeiro and I thought I knew exactly what was on offer. But again Teresa surprises me. No sardines or suckling pig for us. We are trying a very different local delicacy. We are going to eat barnacles. And I bet we are the only tourists in the market doing so……..The best food walk in Lisbon with Culinary Backstreets
I’d seen barnacles in markets in Spain, and had seen them on the television, but I’d never tried them. Teresa explains barnacles are boiled and served as a petiscos (the Portuguese version of tapas) or appetiser with either vinho verde or beer.
While they look a bit intimidating (one of our young guests decide they look like dinosaur claws, and I know exactly what he means), the barnacles are actually very easy to eat. You just pull them apart and eat the slightly rubbery interior. They are a little chewy, but not at all tough, and taste fresh, just like the sea. Even the kids seem to like them.
To finish our food walking tour we head out to the back of the market and wander along the street for a gelato. Not necessarily Portuguese, but a delicious end to our day.
Why I think this is the best food walk in Lisbon
I loved the Culinary Backstreets Lisbon: a Culinary Crossroads Reborn food walk, and genuinely believe it must be the best food walk in Lisbon. My fellow guests were knowledgeable and adventurous diners, who had also taken other Culinary Backstreets tours. Teresa took us on a journey that challenged my beliefs about eating in Europe. Yes, we ate in traditional hole in the wall places. Yes, we got to eat food I would never have tried myself (barnacle anyone?). But more importantly, we enjoyed local food, in traditional places in a part of Lisbon that can only be described as the tourist’s Lisbon. We also ate in places that I would have dismissed as tourist places – but that clearly weren’t.
And for me, having my assumptions and beliefs challenges is exactly why I love to travel and explore new places.
Plan your trip to Lisbon now
Author’s note: I received a media discount for my Culinary Backstreets Lisbon: a Culinary Crossroads Reborn food walk. Teresa leads this tour a couple of days a week, and if she is guiding your walk, I guarantee you will have a fun and informative time. There is quite a bit of alcohol served on this walk, so if you do not drink, you may wish to consider whether this is the right tour for you. As always, there is a lot of walking on this food tour. Make sure you wear sensible shoes, and a sensible waistband. Although Lisbon can be quite hilly, we managed to miss most of them, so the walking is not especially onerous, but this tour is about 6hours duration. Culinary Backstreets offer the shorter (and cheaper) Culinary Backstreets Essentials Tour if 6hours of walking and eating is not your thing.