In contrast, struggling to find something decent to eat when exploring the European continent doesn't bode well for a vegan lifestyle.
In general, Portugal is not the easiest place to live as a vegetarian. Vegan restaurant menus are quite sparse in most parts of the country, where almost all traditional dishes are based on meat or fish.
Portuguese cuisine may include some of the most fantastic fruit and vegetables in the world, but the emphasis has always been on local meats, fish and seafood.
Fortunately, things are starting to change in the country's biggest cities and towns. Lisbon, in particular, has adapted its traditions to cater for the growing popularity of plant-based living. So finding a vegan restaurant in Lisbon no longer has to be a challenge.
Traditional Portuguese Dishes for Vegans and Vegetarians
Traditional Portuguese cuisine is not, by its very nature, the most inviting for vegans and vegetarians. In response to growing demand among locals and visitors alike, Lisbon's most innovative chefs are putting their own signature (and 100% plant-based reinterpretation) on a wide variety of Portuguese classics.
Alongside these, you'll come across a selection of choice, truly Portuguese delicacies that are actually suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians. Keep an eye out for these delicacies the next time you decide to explore Lisbon.
Couvert or "Entradas"
When you sit down at a table in a traditional Portuguese restaurant, you will often be presented with a "couvert", also known as "entradas" - a platter consisting of bread, butter, olives, carrots and cheese. Sometimes accompanied by sliced ham and tuna paste, which can be set aside once you've told the staff about your dietary restrictions. The couvert is almost always added to your bill (although it's usually reasonably cheap) and can always be politely refused when it arrives at the table, which usually doesn't cause any embarrassment.
The green soup par excellence in Portugal, Caldo-Verde may or may not be vegetarian, depending entirely on whether the chorizo is added as a garnish at the end, or whether it is used as an ingredient in the soup itself. If in doubt, ask a waiter to clarify whether the soup itself contains chorizo. If it is added after the soup has been prepared, you can ask for it to be left out so that you can enjoy a fantastic plant-based appetizer.
A superb choice for vegetarians and vegans are "petiscos", the Portuguese version of the famous Spanish "tapas". Any traditional petiscos menu will usually feature a long list of vegan and vegetarian options, which when combined with bread and olive oil can become a fantastic light meal. Some of the tastiest options for vegetarians include pimientos padron (grilled peppers), carrots à algarvia (marinated carrots served with coriander), lupins (pickled lupin beans) and eggs with asparagus.
This bread-based dish is vegetarian in nature, although technically it is not a main course. They are more of a side dish, traditionally served with meat, although equally fantastic with grilled vegetables, fried eggs or marinated tofu. What's great about migas is that the dish can be enjoyed at any time of the day - some more creative versions of migas for breakfast can prove particularly tasty.
Vegan Pastel de Nata
The traditional Pastel de Nata isn't vegan, but a handful of bakeries in Lisbon have started serving their own 100% plant-based versions of this classic, Lisbon-based product. Many of them are just as decadent as the original, and don't even seem to be vegetarian. Vegan bakeries in general are a good place to head for something sweet, given the way most Portuguese desserts contain eggs. Exceptions to the rule include Baked Apple and Drunken Pears, which can be fantastic for rounding off a delicious meal.
Finally, look for a place selling vegetarian francesinhas in Lisbon and don't miss the chance to try this famous traditional Portuguese dish. This famous sandwich from Porto is traditionally made with at least three types of meat, before being bathed in tomato sauce with cheese and beer. Here and there, you'll come across innovative variations on this mix, including mushrooms, tofu, seitan, and other more vegetarian-friendly ingredients. All the decadence and satisfaction of the original, without any of the guilt, and with far fewer calories.