For budget foodies in Lisbon
From what we have seen and tasted so far, Lisbon’s highlights are not of culinary nature. Main tourist spots – in prime locations – may shock you with hamburgers, hot dogs and low key fast food dishes. They are by no means cheap and let’s not even get me started about quality or health benefits.
But there are just as many cheap-good value options. Look for a high frequency of locals and you will find yourself in one of numerous Portuguese PASTELARIAS.
Those traditional pastry-coffee shops are popular places for a sweet breakfast, quick lunch, light supper.
At any time of the day, locals step by to savour on pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts). Accompanied by bica, a short and deliciously mild espresso – the Portuguese way to have coffee. My favourite choice though was fresh squeezed orange juice – also always on the drinks menu.
So here is a list of my favourite pastelarias in Lisbon.
✪ Low Cost Pastelaria e Padaria – just as the name suggests it is the unbeatable price winner and cheapest pastelaria chain ever.
For Portugal’s traditional salame de chocolate (chocolate salami! with no meat but dark chocolate, broken cookies), walnut layer cream cake, pão de ló (Portuguese soft sponge cake – although this one was rather hard), an easter egg cake pop and a beautifully crafted swan éclair we paid 2,80 Euros. In total!
✪ Pastelaria A Padaria Portuguesa – on Praca Luis de Camoes 44 (this is just one location of the chain) – is very good value. In my eyes the best. Ended up here as old tram number 28, the tourist attraction, was filled to the brim and we did not feel like waiting for another one. So we left, of course to… a pastelaria.
Pastelaria A Padaria Portuguesa is popular and a lot of times you have to draw a waiting ticket and pass time till your number pops up.
Pastelarias are not French pedicured cake shops with bows, ribbons and colourful confectioneries. Everything is pretty plain and the colour palette is limited to yellow-brown.
We shared an fatia bolo egg liquer cake, oreo lime cake, obligatory pastel de nata (egg tart), sumo manga laranja (orange-mango juice) and ordered two American coffees (because the normal Portuguese coffee is always the bica espresso). They also sell delicious breads and buns.
Our wishing-table. All for 8,90 Euros!
✪ Antiga Confeitaria in Belém – is the place to try original egg tarts, who are said to be made according to an ancient monks recipe from the famous Jeronimos Monastery near by.
Monks used a lot of egg whites to starch their robes and consequently were left with a lot of yolk. The latter ended up in the creation of the best egg tarts on the planet.
Three egg tarts and three big coffee with milk – 7,50 Euros.
Egg yolk and sugar feature heavily in the famous pasteis de Belém.
If you never make it to try pasteis de Belém, don’t worry. Portugal is egg tart country and you can order similar pastel de nata in every pastelaria on every corner of any Portuguese city, costing no more than one Euro each.
✪ Pastelaria Bernad – on Rua Garrett 104 – dating back to 1868 is more of a budget drainer but not too bad, if you chose to stick to price category “counter” and are adventurous enough to try Mazagran.
SHOPPING MALLS are usually terrible for American fast food but in Portugal they are fantastic for fast forward future food – Portugal has a great food court variety at their shopping malls with many traditional food options for a fraction of regular restaurant bills.
✪ Armazens do Chiado Shopping Centre on Rua do Carmo 2 in the centre of Chiado district, is the place we tried some traditional looking low budget dishes. The one we liked is called Empadaria do Chef. They have fresh homemade lemonade, too.
As long as no one’s around I play chef!
We had hot pastry with a vegetable filling and chose four different side dishes. Tomato rice, salad, fried vegetables, baked tomatoes.
I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get them served like presented on the shop display, where each dish came in a crafty small pot or pan. But we paid 7 Euros for each plate and the food was not worse than what we ate at most restaurants.
RESTAURANTS WITH TOURIST MENUS. There are eateries that do not care about the one-time-never-again tourist but then there are little gems that do succeed to please. Like the one we stumbled upon one fine day.
Tourist menus can be as cheap as 6 Euros and as expensive as 15 Euros, usually including a three course menu.
Most restaurants serve a menu turístico. This is usually great value in that you get a starter (a salad or soup), a main dish of your choosing (fish or meat), a drink which may be a glass or jug of wine and a dessert, followed by bica coffee.
We were curious if you could get a decent tourist menu for the price of 10 Euros in Portugal’s capital, right in its centre, too. It turns out, you can!
✪ I do recommend this one on Rue Magdalena for a basic but tasty meal.
We were the only customers and almost left according to our rule: eat where its full but the lady standing outside the restaurant introduced herself as the cook and was happy to answer all our questions, so we decided to give it a try.
Delicious cheese and soft bread was served first. Bear in mind that the served nibbles and bread (which are not part of what you ordered) are not free in Portugal’s gastronomy system.
Then came traditional vegetable soup for starters.
And my salad. Simple but good. Two beers and a jug of white wine – our drinks.
Mum had fish with rice in a pot.
We had grilled sardines with potatoes. Sardines can be ordered at any Portuguese restaurant for 6 to 10 Euros.
Rice pudding with cinnamon for dessert.
Or fruit salad.
I had an orange, perfectly prepared for consumption. I never eat oranges because it is such a mess to cut them. Next time, I am going to ask how to prepare them like this.
Overall, tourist menus are a hit and miss but can be a good deal, if you are lucky.
Finally, if you have a big appetite but a small wallet in Portugal, SOUP and STARTERS are cheap and rather filling.
And if you are vegetarian, it works out very well, too. Portuguese soup is traditionally made of vegetables (just check they didn’t dump a piece of traditional sausage into it!).
Every pastelaria, snack shop or restaurant will serve soup for about 1,00 to 2,50 Euros a serving. (In touristy areas up to 4,00 Euros.) In normal Portuguese restaurants it is okay to just order soup!
Remember, that cheese and olives and bread (or other nibbles) are served up front, for which you have to pay. But you can check prices on the menu beforehand and send anything back or leave it untouched and you should not be charged!
If it isn’t a touristy restaurant those starters don’t cost much at all and if you pair that with a soup, well, as they say…