A week in Lisbon

Baked beans, buffet strategies and more black coffee

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I couldn't reach the shelf without a stool, so when I finally did manage to heave the tome of Portuguese Traditional Cooking down, I was pretty intrigued as to what I might find within its pages. So far, my few days in Lisbon had told me this: that similarly to England, Portugal's old school cuisine didn't quite have the flashy, your-reputation-precedes-you vibe going that other southern-European countries, like Spain and Italy, have spent the last hundred years mastering. Apart from seeing what I stupidly thought were a lot of Nandos signs everywhere (actually the national emblem of the Cockerel), and obviously what we call a Portuguese tart (a pastel de nata) I had no clue what to expect.

But I was reminded of my own food heritage while flicking through the Portuguese cook book. Dishes like celebratory rice pudding for weddings and what I think was a sweet, pudding-variation of a dish of poached eggs seemed like a strangeness that was all-too familiar. Toad in the hole, suet pudding, mince pies, Cornish pasties with sweet and savoury ends- if you plonked all that in a translated book you'd get a pretty funny impression too. 

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Portugal, and specifically, where I stayed for the majority of the time, in Lisbon, was a pretty tricky place to be vegan if you were just winging it. Because of the rich seafood and fishing traditions, most menus you'll come across are either focused on red meat, chicken, or fish. So in the daytime, I stuck with my time-honoured carb and tomato diet, which can be any carb you chose, bread, crisps, chips, plus any type of tomato you fancy, like plum tomatoes above on a picnic in Cascais, or ketchup. Obviously this isn't ideal, but when there is seriously just no choice, you gotta roll with it. I also got pretty creative with the side dish options at any restaurant we ended up in- a side salad plus bread and olives, or salad with chips. Because my boyfriend chose the more expensive meat options, like a spit-roasted chicken or whatever, none of the places we went to minded that I was just eating about 7 euros worth of food, but I think it could be more of a problem if you are in a group of vegans- but then you probably wouldn't be in a Piri Piri chicken and chips joint in the first place!

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To counter what soon becomes a pretty tedious routine of tomatoes and chips, I made sure I got plenty of protein in my breakfast, seen here and at the top of this post. I've always preferred staying self-catering to hotels or hostels, so it was easy to cook up some homemade baked beans, spinach with toasted pine nuts and a bit of a salad. I made three batches of these while we were staying in Lisbon, so if we had an early start one day, it wouldn't really matter what I ate for lunch. The supermarkets we went in were all pretty basic but I did spot soy yoghurt, margarine and milk in each one, and even at the airport, so if you're eating soy there would be a bit more choice too.

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Luckily, I did manage to find a handful of restaurants where I was able to work out a vegan option. On the first night, we headed over to O Prego da Peixeria, where the waiting staff told me the Punk burger (not the Hippie burger, which I guessed it could be) was vegan. It was the tastiest burger I've had in ages- just chopped mushrooms and herbs formed in to a bun patty with salad and a bright orange roll. I also tried the vegetarian burger at Honorato Hamburgueres, which is also vegan if you ask for no brie, and was a really hefty chickpea burger with salad, tomatoes and amazing fries. Finally, for pizza, I would head to Esperanca in Bairro Alto, where you could ask for no cheese on a lot of the vegetarian pizza options, and the olives, beer, bread and limoncello are pretty great too. 

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All of those places are awesome if you're looking for restaurants that do meat and vegan options, but the best meal I ate in Lisbon (twice by the end of the week!) was at Terra. Billed as a vegetarian buffet, after speaking with the waiters it's actually a mostly-vegan buffet with a few obvious cheese-y extras in some of the dishes. Although it sounds expensive at first- 15.90 euros per person- after five days of tomatoes and chips it was worth it. There were about 20 different dishes when we turned up for dinner on a week night, including tempura aubergine, bean casserole, potato and cabbage soup, coleslaw, broad beans, stewed mushrooms and savoury rice. As I'm not eating soy I steered clear of the faux-cheese pasta bakes and tofu cannelloni, but if you are in to soy there'd be even more to chose from. I went up three times and made a very slow navigation of the hills of Bairro Alto home, fuller than I had been all week. 

It was actually so good we went back on the day of our flight to get a good meal instead of trying to work with airport food. Lunchtime on a Saturday was much busier and meant a bit of elbow nudgy/strategic buffet action was going down with some of the regulars, but it was just as tasty and the falafel, vegan pizza slices and stewed runner beans hit the spot. If you're headed to Lisbon any time soon, I'd definitely check out some of the new burger places opening up, especially if you're with someone that likes fish, but head to Terra when you get hungry.