For a taste of the real homemade and genuine Portuguese cuisine, Tascas are the must-go place. These tiny restaurants are mainly gathered in the old districts of the city centre. Do not trust the posh restaurants, the real authentic tascas are generally sober and family run, with one or two persons cooking and only one waiter serving tables.
Prices are very low, but the food is excellent, simple and of unmatched quality. Dishes are abundant, and are generally accompanied with rich portions of vegetables, rice and potatoes. Wine is also very cheap, especially red wine.
The best thing to do is to choose the dish of the day (pratos do dia): the service is faster and the food is cheaper and fresher. Menus are exposed outside the restaurant, where a waiter is always available to give you more information on the various dishes.
Beside the dish of the day there is obviously food which can be found every day, like soups (sope), grilled meat and fish. In Portugal people have lunch and dinner early, respectively around 12.30-13.00 and 20.00-20.30.
At the end of the meal we suggest to try one of the exquisite homemade cakes, which are difficult to find anywhere else.
If you like grilled meat, try one of the churrascheria, a sort of take away specialized in meat, which also serve soups.
In Lisbon there is also a wide choice of luxury restaurants, as well as restaurants serving international cuisine. Vegetarian restaurants are also very cheap.
Tea rooms are a widespread habit in Portugal. The so called casas do chá, halfway between a café and a pub, are the ideal place for an afternoon snack or to end your day in a relaxing way. Here you can find middle aged persons, families, workers and young people. Tea rooms also work as pastry shops.
The base element of Portuguese cuisine is fish: you will find it everywhere in tascas and restaurants. It can be grilled (grelhado) (especially sardines, gilt-breams, calamars, cuttle-fish), boiled or cooked (cozido).
A special mention deserves the famous bacalhau (cod), which is the national dish, which can be prepared in a hundred different ways. It is said that there are 365 recipes to cook cod, one for each day of the year.
Cod is fished locally or imported from Norway, in this case the price might be slightly higher.
The most common preparations are with potatoes and chick-peas (com batata e grão); with potatoes, onion, olives and eggs ( á Gomes da Sá), with scrambled eggs, potatoes and olives ( á Brás); mixed with potato puree and cooked in the oven ( sfoliado com batatas o á conventual ) or fried ( á minhota).
There are also some lighter ways to cook it, for instance á portuguesa (boiled with tomatoes and garlic), á alentejana (cooked in the oven with tomatoes, green peppers and black olives), cozido (with mixed boiled vegetables), à caldeirada,, á biscainha exc..
To taste some good meat you should head to the towns and villages inland, whereas in Porto the meat specialties are tripe and francesinha, a steak covered with melted cheese, egg and a special beer sauce.
Cheese is widely consumed, both made with goat and sheep milk. It is often served in restaurants as starter.
About starters, they are always served in restaurants and tascas, no matter what your order, but remember that they are not included in the price, and they often cost as much as the main meal. If you are lucky you may find grilled sardines or olives.
Wines are very tasty, both red and white. But the best known wine is the precious Porto, a liquor produced in the vineyards of the Douro valleys.
There is the possibility to visit the cellars, where you can buy wine directly from the producers at discounted prices. With maximum 4 Euro you can arrange a guided visit which includes free tasting.
As for cakes, there is an endless variety of pastries and cakes in Portugal, made with almond, nuts, hazelnuts exc.. The pastries and brioches served for breakfast are excellent, as well as croissants and pies. Absolutely not to miss is the pudding, made with rice or milk, and the pasteis de Belém, exquisite pastries filled with cream, which are served hot and sprinkled with cinnamon or sugar.
In all markets you can find a large choice of fruits and vegetables, like mangoes, papayas, bananas, sweet potatoes and other tropical fruits coming from the island of Madeira.
Last, but not least, coffee could not miss in a country with a colonial past such as Portugal. Portuguese coffee is said to be the best one after the Italian espresso, and in Lisbon there are numerous coffee shops embellished with decorations leaning out from the windows.