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Meghan McCarron

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How to Eat Your Way Through a Single Perfect Day in Lisbon

Walk, eat, repeat

Lisbon is one of Europe’s last bastions of culinary independence, where stubborn traditions, thankfully, have not given in to the food court model. Sure, there are places in step with the latest gastronomic trends worldwide, and, for a small city, Lisbon has racked up a lot of Michelin stars — but the vast majority of Lisbon’s eateries are marching to their own, distinctly Portuguese rhythm, seemingly oblivious to anyone’s Instagram feed. So get ready to climb some hills, get lost in the backstreets, and wander into the daily celebrations of Lisbon’s kitchens.

7 a.m. Coffee at the Mercado da Ribeira

Long before the touristy Time Out food court opens, workers of the produce market at the Ribeira are well into their shift. Many break for a coffee and snack at Cacau da Ribeira, a cafe/bar that fronts the produce hall. The Portuguese coffee tradition is straight and to the point: Café is a shot of espresso, and a pingado is the same with a little steamed milk. You wouldn't be the only one to order the small eyeopener known as café com cheirinho, or coffee with a “scent” (brandy). Slightly sweet línguas de veado (“deer tongues”) cookies are a great match for dark Portuguese roasts.

Now, make your way through the fruit and vegetable stands and stock your bag for later. Those Rocha pears are singularly luscious, the cherries irresistibly sweet. How about a custard apple from the island of Madeira and a handful of briny and bright tremoços (yellow lupini beans), the preferred beer snack of Lisbon? Visit the cheese shop at the northeast corner of the market for a small round of mild sheep’s milk cheese, and don’t skip the fish stands and butcher shops. Nearly every restaurant in town serves up fresh fish — from the iconic sardine to fat monkfish — and much of it comes through this market.

At the southeast corner of the market, pop into the grocery store, which specializes in foods from Portugal’s former colonies: palm oil from Angola, hominy for Cape Verdean cachupa, beans for a Brazilian feijoada, fresh okra for stews, and, of course, dried chiles for piri piri hot sauce. 481 Avenida 24 de Julho | +351 21 346 1199

Before you leave the market, swing by the counter of Manteigaria for one of the city’s best pastéis de natathe famous egg tarts — baked fresh onsite, from 8 a.m. onward.

Bread at Padaria Gleba
Francesca Savoldi/Culinary Backstreets

9 a.m. Breakfast at Padaria Gleba

Breakfast is not a complicated affair for most Lisboetas — coffee and fresh bread or a pastry. But when the loaves of Padaria Gleba are on the table, the breakfast experience takes on a whole new meaning. Here, baker Diogo Amorim is reviving the use of nearly lost Portuguese grains in his seminal sourdough breads. Grab a half-loaf of broa de milho (cornbread) or the pão de noz (walnut bread), and walk over to the Museum of Antiquity. You don’t have to pay for a ticket to visit the garden of this former palace, which has incredible views. Get a table overlooking the river, and enjoy the best bread in Lisbon with fruit and cheese from the market. Rua Prior Crato, nº 14, 16 e 18| +351 966 064 697 | website

10 a.m. Pastry at Boutique Doce

Now is the time for a midmorning pastry, and a neighborhood pastelaria like Boutique Doce is the perfect setting. Squeeze in at the counter of this tiny institution favored by residents of the old, bourgeois district and order an empada, a mini chicken pie. When fresh from the oven, the chicken filling of this savory pastry is almost soupy. Rua Lapa 22, 1200-700| +351 21 396 7858

11 a.m. Ginjinha at Sem Rival

Baixa, Lisbon’s old downtown, is the battlefield between traditional Portuguese businesses and tourist trinket shops. Both sides, however, seem to agree that a quick ginjinha at Sem Rival is a crucial part of life around here; throughout the day, locals and visitors share the worn marble counter for a shot of the sweet cherry liqueur. Rua Portas de Santo Antão 7 | +351 21 346 8231 | website

11:30 a.m. Ham at Manteigaria Silva

Unlike in Spain, where the cult of jamón Ibérico rivals the Catholic church in devotees, Lisboetas don't fuss so much over the stuff. You won’t find award-winning slicers or other ham esoterica, but at Manteigaria Silva, a century-old purveyor of Portuguese culinary divinity, the aged ham of acorn-fed black hoof pigs rivals anything venerated across the border. Rua Dom Antão De Almada 1 | +351 21 342 4905 | website

Renovar A Mouraria
Francesca Savoldi/Culinary Backstreets

12:30 p.m. Support the Cause at Renovar A Mouraria

The narrow streets of the historic Mouraria district are quickly gentrifying, and the diverse communities of the area are being displaced. Renovar A Mouraria, a community center and cafe, is working against that tide with social and cultural activities, performances, and exhibitions. Grab a table on their charming patio out front and enjoy a cold drink from their cafe. Beco do Rosendo 8l | +351 21 888 5203| website

2 p.m. Take in the view at Ponto Final

The excellent food at Ponto Final is worth the trip across the river, but the setting may be even better. Situated on a wharf at the very end of a defunct industrial waterfront, a table in the sun offers a panoramic view. Pair it with starters of olives, chickpeas, salt cod, and chilled octopus salad, and a cold bottle of Muralhas Vinho Verde. For a full lunch, don’t overlook the fried horse mackerel (carapau), rice with monkfish, or the excellent pataniscas (cod fritters), served with a side of rice and beans that come bubbling in a giant clay pot. Rua do Ginjal 72 | +351 21 276 0743

4 p.m. Samosa at Ibo Cafe

You could easily justify a full-fledged meal at Ibo, a white-tablecloth riverfront restaurant offering the curry-rich cuisine of Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. But Ibo Cafe, located just next door, serves drinks and snacks, including their delicious chicken-and-vegetable-loaded samosa, an ideal quick bite. Armazém A porta, Cais do Sodré 2 | +351 21 342 3611

Rodrigo Cabrita/Culinary Backstreets

5 p.m. Caffeinate at Corallo

Unless you are a geography buff, São Tomé e Príncipe might not ring a bell. To the Portuguese, though, these words mean coffee and cocoa of supreme quality. Bettina & Nicola Corallo, an austere coffee shop in the hip Príncipe Real district, maintains a direct line to their producers down in the islands. Roasted in-house, their coffee is a rare chance to taste the small-batch product of São Tomé, and the chocolate sorbet puts to shame any gelato in town. Take one of each and enjoy them on a bench under the centenarian cedar tree in the park across the street. Rua da Escola Politécnica 4, Príncipe Real | +351 21 386 2158

6 p.m. The Kiosk Comeback: Praça Das Flores

Lisbon is bejeweled with fin-de-siècle kiosks, whimsical little excuses to stop for a drink. Once popular meeting points for a drink, then mostly shuttered and forgotten as Lisbon trudged through hard times, the kiosks are now experiencing a revival along with the city center. The kiosk of Praça das Flores, a lovely pocket square, is, once again, a focal point for the neighborhood even as the area reinvents itself in a newly global cast. The traditional go-to order is almond liqueur (amarguinha) or horchata. Praça das Flores, Príncipe Real

7 p.m. Petiscos and a beer at Matateu

Lisbon’s great architectural monuments in Belém are a must-see for many, and hordes line up every day to get a look. But fans of the second-tier Belenenses soccer club know that the best place to appreciate the Jerónimos Monastery is up the hill, beside the team’s field at the petiscos bar Matateu. The petiscos, small bar snacks, are made to order and quite good, the beer is cold, and the views are unmatched — it’s hard not to leave a diehard Belenenses fan. Matateu is crowded on match days and it’s also known to close unexpectedly, so call ahead to make sure it’s open. Rua Pêro da Covilhã 16, | +351 213 011 188

9 p.m. Cozido à Portuguesa at Zapata

Zapata, with its stainless steel counter and harsh lighting, has the ambiance of a prison cafeteria, and the service can be a little gruff. But in Lisbon, it’s in no-frills tascas like this that down-home Portuguese cooking lives on. Filetes de polvo, octopus breaded and fried, and fresh seafood are always on offer, but check the daily specials — you might be lucky enough to get the cozido à Portuguesa, a soulful meaty stew with beans and vegetables. Rua do Poço dos Negros 47, 1200-038 Lisboa | +351 213 908 942

Jesus é Goês
Rodrigo Cabrita/Culinary Backstreets

11 p.m. Bebinca at Jesus é Goês

Jesus é Goês, aside from serving great Goan standards, offers the rare chance to understand a bit about the contemporary relationship between the former colony of Goa and Lisbon. In the kitchen, Jesus creatively blends the flavors of his Goan heritage with local Portuguese products and recipes. If not for a full meal, wander in just before closing for a slice of bebinca, the eggy, spicy delicious layered cake that is at once Goan and Portuguese. Rua São José 23 | +351 21 154 5812

12 a.m. Cape Verdean punch at Tambarina

At the Cape Verdean restaurant Tambarina, Senhor Domingos holds court behind the bar for a crowd of both locals and fellow expats from his home island of Santiago in Cape Verde. There’s a full menu featuring a very fine cachupa, the hearty Cape Verdean hominy stew, but don't leave here without having a taste of the housemade “punch” made with Cape Verdean grog, a kind of sugarcane liquor. You can also catch live music here most nights. Tambarina could be the perfect stop for a nightcap or the turning point for a night that has just begun. Rua do Poço dos Negros 94, São Bento | +351 21 395 1111

Ansel Mullins writes and develops culinary tours for Culinary Backstreets, which he co-founded. His work has also been published by Saveur, Monocle, The Guardian and the New York Times. Formerly based in Istanbul and now set up in Lisbon, he’s thrilled about the grilled sardines. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For on-the-ground tours of Lisbon's culinary culture, off the beaten path, join a Culinary Backstreets tour.

Read next: How to navigate the city’s secret Chinese restaurants →

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