In general, Lisbon isn’t considered very vegetarian-friendly. This is what the few people who had some idea about it told me. People generally don’t know much about Lisbon because it is not one of the top must-visit cities in Europe. But after spending over 3 weeks here, I wouldn’t really call Lisbon particularly difficult for vegetarian or vegan food. Here is my experience, and if you are looking for vegetarian or vegan food in Lisbon then this should help you out.
Vegetarian or Vegan?
Firstly, to clarify what these words mean.
Vegetarian typically at least in the European sense means foods that are plant-based or animal products (not animals but their products – milks, eggs, honey and so on). It doesn’t include fish, sea-food or any meat.
Being Indian, I subscribe to the typical Indian vegetarian diet which allows dairy milk but not eggs. So I have to either ask for ‘vegetarian food without egg’ or simply Vegan. I usually just say Vegan – because it is easier.
Vegan means no animal origin products at all – no dairy, wax, honey, eggs or anything else. In fact, there are also non-food products which are vegan – like shampoo, clothes, soap etc.. this means that animals have not at all been harmed or used to manufacture these items.
The other thing is that sometimes cheese or bread or noodles and such stuff contain gelation or rennet or some such ingredient which can be animal-origin or plant origin (for example the marshmallows we got in Dubai had fish eggs in them). Figuring this part out is really tricky, because in a lot of local restaurants they may simply not be aware and hence their “vegan” stuff has these animal-origin products in them.
So, ideally, I try to have even vegetarian or vegan food in places that show this level of awareness. Big chains like Starbucks or Padaria Portuguesa would have some policy in place across their outlets – it is possible to check this online, but a local shop won’t have one (unless the specific owner is particular about this).
So now, let’s talk about vegetarian or vegan food in Lisbon 😉
Vegetarian Restaurants in the Lisbon city center:
As with most international cities I have visited, usually, the hustling bustling and touristy city-center is where all the vegetarian and vegan food goodness happens. The tourists, specifically the vegan tourists – are willing to spend and hence the industry thrives. In the quieter suburbs, generally, one doesn’t find dedicated vegetarian restaurants.
So in this regards Lisbon is pretty much the same. The city center does have quite a few vegetarian places. And again I mean dedicated vegetarian restaurants and not mixed ones where we get veg and non-veg food. Here are a few,
Jardim Dos Sentidos
One of the best vegetarian and vegan places in town, it seems from the ratings and also my experience. I have eaten twice here and it was pretty good. Of course, me being Indian which has a majority vegetarian population – I have been spoilt with vegetarian food choices. So for me personally, it was just alright. But comparing it with the options generally available in other countries, it is one of the best. Good for them.
Surprise, surprise – you also get no-onion & garlic food here. Jains welcome 🙂
Jardim Das Cerejas
The owner is an Iskcon follower and so very Iskcon-style he has set up a vegetarian buffet restaurant which also has some vegan and gluten-free options. The food, honestly, doesn’t fit any cuisine. It is a total fusion. It is the funniest food I have eaten. But it fills the vegetarian tummy and I am glad. And the vegan mango cheesecake I had here was great!
There is also a true-blue Iskcon buffet place a little bit higher up… I haven’t been here.
Apart from these places, you will find many more dedicated vegetarian places in the city center. And then, of course, there will also be places which are vegetarian-friendly along with non-veg food. Being Indian and so a lot more particular about the food being cooked without any mix up with the non-veggie stuff, I don’t generally prefer mixed (veg and non-veg) places. So I don’t have much idea of these veg-friendly places. I did go to a few because I had work meetings and so had a few meals with my colleagues, and the places were ok. They would have one or two vegetarian food choices along with the meat stuff. But again if you removed the dishes with egg in them, you are usually left with Couscous or salads. The only time I could have a vegetarian burrito (and not opt for a salad) was because I was ok with dairy cheese. If you were strictly vegan – these mixed restaurants would have very few options for you.
Availability of Vegetarian Outside the City Center:
Here is where the stuff gets tricky, and as far as I understand that is the case for most cities. So in Belem center which was closest to my apartment, there was no dedicated vegetarian restaurant. Kind of a bummer because I did feel like going to a cafe at times, but I generally wouldn’t, at least not for a meal, as I am not comfortable in a mixed one.
Padaria Portuguesa to the Rescue : Vegan Sandwich
This is a bakery chain with many outlets all across the city, including Belem center and a lot of other places. And they have a couple of Vegan sandwiches, which I have had on multiple occasions. Very tasty but filling only as a snack. And yes, once you go there, you may want to have a dessert. But unless you have egg (I don’t), there is nothing for you. (Though I guess you are used to that?)
“Sopa” or Soup of the Day
This is your best friend – if you need to dine at a typical Portuguese restaurant (I had to because I had come down for work meetings). Usually, even the most authentic Portuguese cafe has a ‘Soup of the Day’ and it is vegetarian (probably vegan). It is kind of the only vegetable-based food that is part of the Portuguese diet, which is otherwise heavy on meat and fish. Even in the Padaria Portuguesa they have Soup of the day (I haven’t asked about it yet), it is probably vegan.
So, in a typical Portuguese restaurant, they will offer you bread, olives and olive oil at the beginning, before you order. You might think it is complimentary, it is not. But it is usually vegetarian. The bread is generally egg-free but it might have dairy butter or milk. So along with this bread basket and olives, you can order the soup of the day (which is a fairly thick vegetable soup) – it is a decent meal on which one can survive. If you are super hungry just have two soup bowls, that should be filling enough.
Portuguese Bread is usually Vegetarian
The bread is awesome. I mean it is really tasty and it is very often egg-free and it became kind of my staple. Vegan bread is also available, but I don’t know how common it is in cafes and restaurants – because I would only check whether it was vegetarian and no-egg. I didn’t check if it was ‘vegan’ (no milk also). There is this blog where a lady has done some in-depth research about breads available in Lisbon. It is very useful.
From my experience and I think from hers too – Pingo Doce (a common supermarket chain) isn’t very friendly for vegan bread. But in small Super Mercados (markets) I had a better experience. Lidl and Padaria Portuguesa are also good.
Cook a few Meals!
Since I was staying here for a month, I carried utensils from India.
Why? Weren’t there any utensils in my apartment?
There were, but not a pressure cooker.
Yep, I carried a small 1.5 kg induction cooker from Mumbai. Because healthy vegetarian diet as in India consists of a lot of lentils. And cooking lentils without a cooker is too long and tiresome process. So that cooker made my life easy. There was the matter of the cooker-whistle being ridiculously loud for the quiet and thin-walled Belem apartments, but I managed by removing the whistle and cooking food. Even then, the pressure cooker is still better than a normal pot.
Note: I carried this cooker, because I travel a lot … and I have realised that I can’t keep doing a ‘quick job’ with my meals. I need to ensure I eat well. But if you don’t travel much and have come for a one-off 2 or 3 weeks trip, maybe you don’t have to carry a cooker all the way from India. You could just make do with quick food packets (I find the GITS ready to eat packets very good) or instant noodles or some such thing.
But nonetheless, you still need access to a kitchen to use these packets or make instant noodles. If you aren’t planning to or haven’t arranged to have access to a kitchen, then honestly I don’t know you can manage vegetarian food with ease. In such a case, I suggest making the vegetarian restaurants in the city center your best friend.
This is the other thing. These vegetarian restaurants cost like 10 – 12 Euros typically for one plate. Sometimes the plate isn’t filling enough. I think it is to be eaten with a round of appetizers or bread and olives. So this means almost 30 Euros for two meals every day. 2250 INR / day. Ulp. This is ok for a few days quick trip. But for anything longer than say 1 week – I would consider it pretty extravagant.
This is where I think Lisbon takes a hit with regards vegetarian food – there are not many cheaper vegetarian options. I remember in Berlin I used to eat 2 Euro huge Falafel and it was enough as 1 full meal. I have not found any such stuff here as of now. Possibly, there are such meat options, but not Vegetarian.
If you go with the Soup of the Day + Bread combination, it is a bit cheaper. The soup may cost 2-3 Euros plus bread could be another 2 Euros. So then you can bring the bill to 6 Euros. But as I said earlier, this can only be one meal in the day…. I don’t see someone having this as all their meals 😀
So I would suggest having some kind of cooking access. Even if you can just manage a quick Daal (lentil soup) and rice. Or pasta with vegetables. Or khichdi (besto). A lot of hostels, guest houses – usually have a community kitchen. And even if they don’t have one, you can request them – the people are usually very friendly (the best part! 🙂 ).
Home Delivery Services in Lisbon
Aah the silver lining…. I have been meaning to try this in many other cities but I never managed because we need an address and local phone number – and this is tricky at times. There are a couple of home delivery services in Lisbon like nomenu.pt and telepizza.pt and probably others too. Thankfully, NoMenu.pt has 3 vegetarian restaurants on its list. Particularly, Vegana burgers and above mentioned Jardim dos Sentidos are the ones I have ordered from. Navigating the website is tough as the translations of Portuguese into English is kind of crappy and they take an hour or so to deliver, but on days when I want to do other stuff instead of cooking I did use these. And it is quite reliable.
The minimum delivery order is 10 Euros and they charge about 3 Euros delivery charge for my location in Belem. Maybe if you are more centrally located, the delivery charge would be lower. It is also possible to order 2 or 3 meals at one time and then store it in the fridge (No, I didn’t actually do that :p)
And a last note – vegan desserts – because this is the toughest I feel. We generally just don’t get any dessert that is without egg (and milk!). But thankfully, I managed to have quite a lot of dessert here. Jardim dos Sentidos had a really tasty raw cake of the day – the ingredient was cacao on the day I went there. This was vegan. I also ordered the Passion Fruit mousse which was also decent and also vegan. Vegana burgers offers “the world’s best vegan chocolate mousse” and it is pretty good, not the world’s “best” but pretty good nonetheless 😀 The vegan cheesecake at Jardim Dos Cervejaria as mentioned earlier was pretty great too.
So all in all, I am happy with Lisbon. I found Lisbon OK in terms of vegetarian food. Most other cities I have been to, have been pretty much the same. If you are OK eating in mixed restaurants then you might find Lisbon tougher than other places because there could be a lot more meat and sea-food dishes than vegetarian ones. But I can’t comment on this, as I usually don’t frequent these mixed places.
Special note for Taiwan, because I think in terms of places outside India, it has so far been the most favourable city for Vegetarian food.
And in case you haven’t been to India (I meet many foreigners outside who haven’t), India is probably the only country in the world with a majority vegetarian population. As mentioned earlier, this vegetarian diet typically includes dairy products but not egg. The kind of food variety and entire cuisine of vegetarian food you get here is truly brilliant compared to any other country. Due to the heavy usage of dairy products, one may feel that being strictly vegan is difficult, but in comparison to the sheer lack of choices in other countries, I think being vegan also is much easier in India. You just have to restrict yourself to the few cuisines which are more vegan-friendly (south Indian, Chinese and such). And it may seem harsh at times, because there is so much vegetarian food just that it contains dairy. 🙂