Taste of Lisboa Food Tour Review
Food Score: 32/50
Guide Score: 23/25
Cost Score: 19/25
Overall Score: 74/100
This food tour was a roller coaster. Initially marvelous with the potential to be the best food tour in Lisbon. The highlights were the cod salad, the scrambled eggs, and the sou vide sandwich. However, the last two tastings were disappointing and two of the worst restaurants that I have experienced in Lisbon. Despite the last 2 stops, the positives outweigh the negatives and I appreciated the tour of the market which isn’t a common occurrence for tours in Lisbon.
Taste of Lisboa Food Tour Review
Every city has an authentic side, but most travelers neglect these hidden gems for the more familiar tourist spots.
The easiest way to experience the genuine side of a city is to find its market.
A market entices your senses, allowing you to experience: touching, smelling and tasting fresh food. You'll rarely encounter tourists, they are busy trying the top restaurants on TripAdvisor. If you take the time to wake up early, you'll experience a vibrant market through the eyes of a local.
As I waited for my tram I was excited to discover that the food tour today would include a market stop.
Despite having a designated meeting point, when they don't stand out from random people, it can sometimes be difficult to find your tour guide. Often, on their phones, trying to find a lost guest, you may find yourself approaching people and asking if they are a tour guide which can be a disconcerting way to start a tour.
Today, thankfully this was not the case. As I arrived at the meeting point, our guide Madeline was distinguishable, carrying a tote bag with ‘Taste of Lisboa’ stylishly embossed on it.
In total there were just 7 of us on this food tour, all Americans.
As we waited for another guest to arrive Madeline told us about the church that we were standing in the shadow of. The impressive, gothic style Church of the Holy Constable. It was built in 1951 and commissioned by the dictator Salazar to show the strength of Portugal and its independence from Spain.
Madeline did an impressive job of explaining the history and the transition of Lisbon and specifically, the area of Campo do Orique that we were in.
Where we were standing was just fields before the massive earthquake of 1755 devastated the city. A massive redevelopment started and the area of Campo do Orique became the first and only area of Lisbon to have a Manhattan-style grid system. The district was originally home to factory workers but has slowly become one of the most sought after areas of Lisbon where one can enjoy the good life, sipping on coffees and eating pastries at one of the many coffee shops.
The church bell started to ring, telling us it was 10.30am. This was Madeline's cue to lead us towards our first food tasting of the tour.
First Stop: O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo
After a few winding turns, we stopped outside a cafe so small that it could only fit 2 cramped tables inside. This unassuming cafe was called "O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo” which translates to “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World”.
1. “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World” & Coffee
Starting with a dessert seemed unconventional but I was happy to break tradition to test such a bold claim!
We eagerly proceed into the dollhouse size room, there was barely enough space for us all, but no one seemed to care.
I have a general rule for restaurants and cafes: the more items they sell, the worse the food. In this cafe, there was no menu, they only serve one cake.
The prospects looked good:
The cafe was called ‘The best Chocolate cake in the world’,
The cafe only serves one cake, nothing more.
The numerous newspaper clippings and awards adorning the walls also provided extra reassurance.
My expectations were high and they only increased when I learned that people come from all over the world to try this cake. I thought to myself: It would be a sin to come to Lisbon and not experience the best chocolate cake in the world. You would always wonder after eating every other chocolate cake 'Why didn’t I take that opportunity to eat the best chocolate cake in the world in Lisbon?'
Madeline informed us that the inventor of the cake and owner of the shop is Carlos Lopes Bras. He devised the cake 20 years ago and customers kept returning wanting more. He now has locations in Brazil, Spain, UK and USA.
A small plate is unceremoniously placed next to me. Like a jewel, the rich chocolate glistens with its mahogany colors and numerous layers.
As my fork slices into the tip of the cake, I realize that this is not your usual spongy pastry, it is a flourless, layered meringue cake.
Each layer is expertly constructed with architectural precision. Between each section, chocolate moose oozes like a volcano spewing hot magma.
As I look at the 7 Americans in my group taking their first bites, I see nods of appreciation at this innovative culinary invention.
The taste is rich and deep but what makes this cake unique is the truly terrific texture that takes over your mouth. The crunchiness of the meringue contrasts perfectly with the light fluffy chocolate mousse.
Texture is such an underrated characteristic of food and not enough consideration is given to its ability to transform a dish. Chocolate moose is popular in Portugal as a dessert but when you combine it with meringue-like this, it’s 1+1 =3
If my description isn't convincing enough, one member of the group decided to buy a whole cake to take home with them, one slice was apparently not enough!
Fuelled by the sugar from the chocolate cake we started to make our way towards our second stop. Next was something I was looking forwardmost and it didn't even involve eating food. It was the market stop.
Second Stop: Campo do Ourique Market
Upon entering the south end of the market, we were greeted by local fishermen/women with a stunning display of freshly caught fish.
Clearly this was not your average commercial fishing market. The fishmongers had photos of their boats above their stalls and you could see the freshness of the fish, caught a few hours earlier still shimmering and glistening.
Madeline showed us some of the many fish varieties that swim the 4,000,000 square kilometers of Portugal’s waters which account for 97% of the country's area (land only makes up 3% of Portugal). Some of the varieties included the monkfish (poor man’s lobster according to Madeline) and the goggled eyed, black scabbard fish from the Madeira islands. Eaten with banana and a passionfruit sauce, this dish sounded so unique that I want to go to Madeira to try it.
After being mesmerized by the many and interesting fish we headed into the heart of the market. Madeline seemed to know every vendor personally and as we admired the bounty from each, she told us some interesting facts including: In Turkey, the word “orange” is “Portakal” because of the influence that the Portuguese had on importing the fruit from China.
Madeline informed us that one of the vendors was celebrating his 92nd birthday! He smiled with appreciation as we all cheered and clapped in his honor. It was inspiring to see these vendors who had been working here for so many years, selling fresh produce with a passion and connection for what they sell.
Right in the middle of the market was a seating area and here we gathered for our next tasting.
3. Spicy Mackerel, Tuna, Sardines & Cod & Chickpea Salad & Wine
Canned meat is something you normally associated with war and not a gourmet food tour. But here in Portugal canned fish is a delicacy and at this market we were going to try some of the best from one of the specialty vendors.
Madeline distributed 4 plates on the table in front of us. The plate nearest myself contained spicy mackerel preserved in oil and a glistening tomato sauce that reminded me of a sunset. The other two dishes held tuna and sardines and on the final plate was a cod and chickpea salad.
We used a piece of bread as a makeshift plate to hold our fish. The fish was the best-canned fish I have ever tasted. The bread soaked up the juices like a sponge adding to the flavor. It was as if the mackerel had been sleeping in a time capsule from the day it was caught, still shimmering, with the added flavor of the sauce that it has been preserved in.
I’ve had many salads before but never a codfish and chickpea salad. If I saw codfish salad advertised on a restaurant menu, I doubt I would ever order it. This is one of the reasons I love to go on food tours to try hidden gems that don’t sound particularly appealing but change your perspective after you've tried them.
Of the 4 dishes, the chickpea and cod salad was by far my favorite. The cod was salted, a technique the Portuguese have mastered over thousands of years, giving the cod a mouthwatering, pucker inducing taste. Mixed with the chickpeas, red onion, parsley and other seasonings the flavors really brought this dish together perfectly. I had to move the metal dish away from me to stop myself from taking more than my fair share.
The fish was paired nicely with a white wine from Alentejo that cut through the fatty fish. Ideally, I would have enjoyed more as we were only given a small glass.
It was interesting to see that not everyone enjoyed the canned fish, I wonder if it was because Americans associate canned meat with Spam? It meant at least that Madeline could eat and I am glad that the fish didn’t go to waste.
As Madeline mopped up the last piece of fish we stood up, tucked our chairs in and exited the market and started walking towards our next stop.
Stop 3: The People’s Bakery
The sun shone as we walked past locals going about their daily lives, enjoying pastries and coffees at the cafes. Unexpectedly we stopped at an unimposing wooden door that looked like the entrance to an old social club.
As we entered the building, I felt like we were setting foot into a secret club. I navigated my way through the corridors and up a steep and narrow staircase.
Madeline told us that this building used to be a co-operative bakery, known as ‘The People’s Bakery’, This area of Lisbon is now one of the best areas but it didn’t always use to be. Previously it was home to poor factory workers and anyone who lost their job couldn’t afford to eat. This co-operative provided food at affordable prices to those struggling people.
In 2013 The People’s Bakery was renovated and reopened and now it is a place where you can experience some truly traditional Portuguese cuisine.
As we turned into another corridor we entered an empty, open cafe where the manager was watching soccer on the television. He greeted us warmly and lead us through onto a beautiful sunny terrace with tables shaded by grapes vines. The grapes were visible on the vines and before I sat down I asked if I could try one, which I was eagerly encouraged to do by the manager.
The reason I go on food tours is to discover hidden gems that I might not uncover by myself, to find local establishments that wouldn’t be found easily on TripAdvisor. Finding such a magical and traditional spot was something that I know I wouldn’t have found myself and it made me appreciate being on this food tour.
8. Pica Pau + Scrambled Egg with Sausage & Local Larger
Our waiter asked if we wanted a beer and everyone gladly nodded. Madeline informed us that we would be experiencing two traditional Portuguese dishes. The first was called ‘Woodpecker’ or Pica Pau as the Portuguese call it.
As we were the only customers, the chef was cooking just for us, and our Pica Pau was on our table within a few minutes. Made with rump steak and a vinegary sauce, this interesting dish reminded me of a curry that I once had in the South of India. Despite not having the same spices and Indian taste, it had a small kick or should I say peck! Maybe that’s where the name woodpecker comes from!
In Portugal there are two main beers, Sagres and Super bock. The football team in Lisbon is sponsored by Sagres so naturally, we were drinking Sagres and it washed down my Pica Pau nicely. It’s always fun to hear about rivalries and Madeline told us about one between the beers. If you look carefully, you can find posters in bars in Lisbon of a horse drinking Sagres beer and urinating into a Super bock beer barrel. No doubt if a beer company tried something similar in America they would be quickly sued!
The second dish I approached with initial skepticism. The dish didn’t even have a name, it was simply referred to as scrambled egg with sausage. Most people have likely had sausage and scrambled eggs for breakfast at some point during their life and I thought to myself how different could this Portuguese version be?
My initial disdain was a big mistake! I will try and do my best to explain the divine like the taste of this scrambled egg and sausage dish but it won’t do it justice. I can imagine you dubiously reading this but if you do anything while in Portugal come to The People’s Bakery and try their scrambled egg and sausage, you will not be disappointed. The sausage, called a Farinheira, dates back to the 15th century. It is smokey in flavor and as well as pork, contains flour, paprika, wine, capsicum and fat to give it its unique flavor. This 600-year-old sausage went beautifully with the fluffy scrambled eggs. I can see myself making this myself for breakfast on a Sunday with some crusty bread if I can find somewhere to buy a good Farinheira sausage.
I couldn’t be happier, shaded by grapevines, eating this amazing food and sipping on a beer. As much as I would have loved to have stayed basking in my contentment, we had more food to try and we needed to leave.
Stop 3: Pigmeu
Just down the road, we stopped at Pigmeu a modern yet rustic-looking restaurant with an intentionally weathered, wooden sign held up stylishly by wire. It felt as if we were about to step foot on a traditional farm.
I am always pleased when a tour incorporates both modern and more traditional stops into a tour, so I was looking forward to discovering a more contemporary side to Portugal's cuisine.
12. Sou Vide pork sandwich, Pulled pork Croquet with mustard, Bruschetta crackling & Red Wine
As we sat waiting for our food Madeline told us the owner, Miguel, uses the whole pig and doesn't allow any to go to waste, including the testicles! Madeline reassured us that we wouldn’t be eating any testicles today but it was interesting and remarkable that the restaurant was making use of the whole hog without any waste. It showed how creative and forward-thinking Miguel is.
A few minutes later our food arrived on a wooden platter, a trio of tasters, each unique, creative and alluring:
Sou Vide pork sandwich
Pulled pork Croquet with mustard
The presentation of this smorgasbord of pork was stunning and I was eager to taste each one. As I was debating which one to put in my mouth Miguel placed a glass of Portuguese red wine next to the food. He told us that the pigs were from the Bairrada region of Portugal about 200 miles north of Lisbon. Free-range. they forage on acorns resulting in fantastic marbling and taste.
The sou vide sandwich was calling my name, and without a second thought, I devoured half the sandwich with one bite. The pork was so tender falling apart effortlessly. The meat melted in my mouth, smokey, juicy and tender, it was the best BLT I had ever eaten!
With a sip of the fine red Portuguese wine (which I forgot to note down being so distracted by the food!), I moved on to the second dish, the pulled pork croquet with mustard.
I bite the croquette in half. The crispy outside contrasted beautifully with the soft fleshy middle. You can tell from the taste and texture that the meat was slowed cooked, no doubt for many hours. The spicy mustard cut through the fat and brought this bite-sized ball to life. The croquettes were impressive but not as good as the ones I had eaten at Time Out Market in Lisbon which had a deeper and richer flavor. Nevertheless, the croquette was still impressive and I finished the last bite wanting more.
The final tasting was Bruschetta crackling. The most creative and ingenious dish of the three. As I placed the crackling into my mouth I wondered to myself why no one had ever thought of this before and what other dishes could crackling be used for? Cheese and crackling perhaps?
Like a sheet of ice breaking, the crackling split as I placed it into my mouth. The salty, pork taste together with the crispy texture brought me back to my poor student days in the UK, eating pork scratchings in the pub washed down with a few pints of beer. This, however, was no regular pork scratching, it would be like comparing a cheap sparkling wine to fine champagne.
With the 3 pork dishes finished we moved on to our next stop.
Stop 4: Moulds and Co
Next up was Moulds and Co a Belgian (yes you read that right), Muscles and beer house.
This stop was my least favorite. I was a little surprised by the choice. I actually thought we were at the wrong restaurant at first.
I was confused as to why we were going to a Belgian restaurant on a Portuguese food tour. I appreciate trying foods from different countries if there is a compelling reason. For example the Angolan restaurant I went to during another food tour in Lisbon made sense because Angola is a former Portuguese colony that has culinary connections between the two countries.
The decor and vibe of this Belgian restaurant was modern, but felt clinical. The restaurant had just opened and with just one other table it felt quiet, too quiet as if the locals knew something that we didn't.
17. Muscles & Porter Beer
After sitting down we were presented with a porter style beer (which was thankfully Portuguese!). Maybe it was the name (which translated to 'Slut') or the sexiest label but I was unimpressed before I had even tried the beer.
On taking my first sip I was equally disappointed with the taste, too watery and sweet.
I tried to keep an open mind for the muscles but again I was disappointed. The majority of the muscles remained worryingly closed. The best part of the meal was the sauce, which I poured into my bowl and mopped up with bread. The sauce had a full flavor of garlic, cilantro and the juices from the muscles. However I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that the juices were coming from the muscles that didn't open.
I was glad to leave this restaurant, it didn’t have a good vibe and it was quite the anticlimax compared to the other places we had been.
Stop 5: ALOMA Cafe
Things were hopefully about to get sweeter on our final stop, with our (second) dessert!
Nothing can be more Portuguese than the Pastel de Nata, the famous egg custard tart that is known the world over.
Before we crossed the road to enter cafe ALOMA. Madeline stopped us to tell us that this cafe had won the award for the “Best Cream pastry” not once but twice. My expectations were high as I was on a mission to find the best Pastel de Nata in Portugal and this cafe would now be in the contention.
So onwards we went, crossing the road and entering the cafe with much hope and expectation.
20. Pastel de Nata
As we huddled around the small tables, trying to find enough space, Madeline ordered and then distributed the world-famous Portuguese pastries.
As I took my first bite into the pastry I knew instantly that the tart wasn’t fresh. It was cold and stale in comparison to other bakeries that I have been to. At Manteigaria you need to be careful not to burn your mouth, a mistake I have made on numerous occasions because the pastries are so fresh.
I took a moment to reflect on this egg tart with its lemony taste and creamy texture. It was good but nothing compared to other Pastel de Nata’s that I’ve had in Portugal.
(Later at my laptop I did a little research into the “Best Cream pastry” award that ALOMA won. After a little digging, I found that there were only 15 participants, and my personal favorites (Manteigaria and Pastéis de Belém) did not participate which makes me question the objectivity of this award)
I’m a little disappointed that we were taken to Aloma. Lisbon has so many wonderful options for a Pastel de Nata and we ended up here.
Madeline was knowledgeable about the food and especially the wine (she has her own farm where she grows grapes). I asked what her favorite wine was and she said, half-joking said her own, which was interesting but it didn’t help a tourist looking to buy a bottle of good wine. I asked Madeline what her favorite restaurant was in Lisbon, something I ask all guides, and she said she would have to think about it and get back to me. She never did which was a shame.
Madeline had a good knowledge of Portugal and she gave us an interesting perspective on both the difference in culture between Spain and Portugal and the historic feelings of the locals towards the former dictator Salazar. She told us the story of a small town which was the birthplace of Salazar where they had built a controversial museum in his honor.
Protestors wanted the museum taken down, which was quite ironic because his suppression (of free speech) was now going full circle with the prohibition of the museum.
One of the reasons I love food tours is because not only do you get a taste of the food but you also get a taste of the people. Madeline told us a number of stories, including: once when was younger she went on a road trip into the country with some of her friends. As they were hungry and had not eaten they stopped and asked an old man for the directions to a restaurant. The old man ran alongside the car, despite the girls encouraging him to get inside. He ran right into the restaurant, telling the chef that he had 4 hungry travelers needing a table. He then ran out, up the hill and into his house with a wave goodbye to the girls. It was a lovely story which I could vividly picture and it really highlighted how friendly the Portuguese people are.
The cost of this food tour is 75 Euros. It is the 7th (out of 18) most expensive food in Lisbon. However, It's too simplistic to compare the price of tours because they are all so different.
If cost is important to you when booking a food tour, my preferred method is to break the tour down into 4 categories:
The Number of Tastings
The Duration of the Tour
The Number of Guests
The Cancellation Policy
1. The Number of Tastings
Despite being advertised as 18 tastings, I counted 20 on this tour, which exceeded my expectations.
If we take the 20 tastings and divide it by 75 Euros =
3.75 Euros per tasting
Which ranks as the best value of all the food tours in Lisbon.
2. The Duration of the Food Tour:
This food tour is 4 hours. If we divide the duration of the tour into the price we can calculate the price per hour which makes it easier to compare to other tours of different duration.
This tour is 18.75 Euros per hour which is 2nd cheapest food tour in Lisbon.
3. The Number of Guests
We were lucky that we only had 7 people on the tour but the maximum number of people that could be on your tour is 12. As we were walking around a very quiet area of Lisbon our group size felt very small and even 12 people wouldn't be a problem.
With 12 people, this tour ranks 10th/18 for the largest group size.
4. Cancellation Policy
Your plans can often change when you are traveling. Maybe you miss a flight, the weather forecasts calls for storms or maybe you no longer feel like traipsing around a city. A flexible food tour is one that is worth paying more for. The cancellation policy for this food tour is quite strict and here is what you should know:
3 weeks before the scheduled date: free of charge / fully refundable
Until 1 week before the scheduled date: 50% chargeable / 50% refundable
Less than 1 week before the scheduled date: 100% chargeable / non-refundable
No shows: 100% chargeable/non-refundable