As a whole, Portugal is not the easiest place to get by as a vegetarian. Restaurant vegan menus are pretty sparse across much of the country, where almost every traditional dish is based around meat or fish.
Portuguese cuisine may comprise some of the most fantastic fruits and vegetables on earth, but the emphasis has always been on local meats, fish and seafood.
Mercifully, things are starting to turn around in the country’s bigger towns and cities. Lisbon in particular has adapted its traditions to cater to the growing popularity of plant-based living. Tracking down an exquisite vegan restaurant in Lisbon is no longer a challenge.
Vegetarian-Friendly Traditional Portuguese Dishes
Traditional Portuguese cuisine is, by its nature, not particularly accommodating for vegans or vegetarians. In response to skyrocketing demand among locals and visitors alike, Lisbon’s more innovative chefs are putting their own signature (and 100% plant-based twists) on a wide variety of Portuguese classics.
Alongside which, you’ll encounter a selection of quintessential Portuguese staples that are indeed suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians. Examples of which to be on the lookout for while exploring Lisbon include the following:
Take a seat at a traditional Portuguese restaurant and you’ll often be presented with a ‘couvert’ - a platter consisting of bread, butter, olives, carrots and cheese. Sometimes accompanied by sliced ham and tuna paste, which can be avoided by letting the staff know you’re vegan when you arrive. The couvert is almost always added to your bill (though is usually cheap enough), but can be declined politely when it arrives at the table, without causing offense.
The quintessential Portuguese green soup, Caldo Verde can be vegetarian or quite the contrary. It depends entirely on whether the chorizo is added as a garnish at the end, or whether it is used as an ingredient for the actual soup itself. If in doubt, simply ask your server to clarify whether the soup itself contains chorizo. If it is added after the soup is prepared, you can ask that it be omitted and enjoy a fantastic plant-based appetizer.
A superb choice for vegetarians and vegans, pesticos is Portugal’s take on tapas. Any traditional pesticos menu will usually feature a long list of vegan and vegetarian options, which when combined with bread and olive oil can make for a fantastic light meal. Some of the tastiest options to set your sights on include pimentos padron (grilled peppers), cenouras à algarvia (marinated carrots served with coriander), tremoços (preserved lupini beans) and ovos com espargos (eggs with asparagus) for any vegetarians in the group.
These traditional Portuguese dumplings are vegetarian in nature, though don’t technically constitute a main dish. They’re more of an accompaniment, traditionally served with meat though equally fantastic with grilled vegetables, fried eggs or marinated tofu. What’s great about migas is how the dish can be enjoyed at any time of day - some of the more creative twists on breakfast migas can be particularly satisfying.
Vegan Pastel de Nata
The traditional Pastel de Nata is not vegan-friendly, but a handful of bakeries across Lisbon have begun serving their own 100% plant-based versions of this classic local staple. Many of which are every bit as decadent as the original, with no indication you’re eating a vegan-friendly snack. Vegan bakeries in general are a good place to head for something sweet, given how most Portuguese desserts contain eggs. Exceptions to the rule include Maçã Asada (baked apples) and Peras Bebedas (poached pears), which can be fantastic for rounding off a delicious meal.
Last up, track down a place selling vegetarian francesinha in Lisbon and you simply must try it out. This notorious sandwich from Porto is traditionally loaded with at least three kinds of meat, before being smothered in cheese and beer-infused tomato sauce. Here and there, you’ll come across innovative variations on this concoction, comprising mushrooms, tofu, seitan, and other vegetarian-friendly ingredients. All the decadence and satisfaction of the original, with none of the guilt and far fewer calories.