A Taste of the Sea

A Culinary Walk Through Lisbon’s Old Port Area


I can see smoke says Célia, our Culinary Backstreet’s guide, that’s a good sign! Confused, we follow her through the backstreets of Lisbon’s port area and enter an old, inconspicuous shop front where the smell of coffee greets us. We are here to see and drink coffee made from beans roasted in one of only two wood fired roasting ovens in Europe; a family business that has been operating for sixty six years.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

Mr Delmar, the gentleman shown here has been working for the family for 22 years.

Francesco, the owner’s son now runs the business and explains that the beans are roasted for thirty minutes between 150 and 250 degrees. They are then turned and cooled for ten minutes before being dried and strained so that any seeds or stones are removed. He mentions that local families also bring their beans here to be roasted. What a great idea. Not being a coffee drinker, I was not too sure of the difference everyone was talking about as we enjoyed our espresso but this was one of the few coffees I have tasted that I enjoyed.


Lisbon’s Old Port Area

Our Culinary Backstreet’s tour had started earlier with us buying pastries from a century old bakery and eaten in one of the oldest remaining communal laundries in the city. It has been in existence since 1785 and is still used by locals mainly to wash their carpets. This stop gives Célia a chance to tell us about the history of Madragoa, the area we are in.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area



Madragoa, means the Nuns of Goa. It is a traditional neighbourhood and as the name suggests, home to many convents. In 1834 the King closed the convents though the nuns were were allowed to stay until the last ones died. These beautiful old buildings have now been converted to public buildings.

In the 18th and 19th century, this neighbourhood was known for its fishing industry. Migrants arrived in the 18th century and settled here to be close to the markets and fishing port. The men would go out in the boats and the women, known as varinas, would unload the fish from the boats. They would then wander door to door selling from the baskets they carried on their heads.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area


Célia also told us the story of Deolinda, a lady she is hopes we can meet as she has a painting to give to her. At eight years of age Deolinda had started working with the fishing boats to help sort and sell fish. She met her husband on the boats and married him at seventeen. When their daughter was born, she was back working within days with her newborn at her side as her mother had done with her. She is now seventy three, both her husband and daughter have died but she lives a full and wonderful life. Her two sons and five grandsons also live in the neighbourhood.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

Luckily for us, Deolinda is home and pleased to see us. Much to Célia’s surprise she brings out old photos of herself and her family to show us and tells us, via Célia, of her life on the boats. Such a wonderful and special moment on our tour.

You can read more about Deolinda’s story here

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

From here we wander the narrow streets where Deolinda once sold fish, past the small houses similar to the one she lives in and past the tiled facades of the old convents. We soak up the atmosphere that made the fado singing of this area as soulful as it is until we stop outside a Goan restaurant.


The Goan influence

After Goa was invaded by India in 1961, many Goans moved to Portugal and Mozambique. Even more applied for a Portuguese passport after Portugal joined the European Union in 1986. Consequently there is a large Goan community here and the food of their heritage is now well and truly part of Portuguese food history.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

This tiny shop that we enter is known to have some of the best Goan food in Portugal. We try the chamucas or samosas which are well spiced and very tasty. The restaurant makes twelve thousand of these a week! We also try a piece of Bebinca cake, a traditional Goan seven layered cake made with forty eggs, sugar and coconut. Thanks heavens we have more walking to do!


Lisbon’s Port Zone

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area


Lisbon’s port was once a busy thriving part of the city but today it is just a shadow of its former self. It used to employ 3000 people but now only 300 work there.

The area is nearly deserted as we walk towards the old art deco passenger terminal that is no longer used. Hidden around the corner, surrounded on one side by container boxes, is this popular local restaurant known for its fresh fish cooked over coals.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

Plates of freshly barbecued red mullet (salmoretes) and grouper (garoupa) with bitter greens and rice in broth are placed on the table together with a green salad and a dish of beans and sausage. So fresh and so good!

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area



A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area


Further along the river from Lisbon’s old port area, we wander into the Alcantara. The name comes from the Arab word meaning bridge. The bridge is not the Alcantara Bridge that crosses the Tagas River today but an ancient roman bridge that was once here. Part of the area is a rundown collection of used warehouses and old shops but many of these are starting to take on a new life. There are still workers cafes called tascas dotted amongst the buildings.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

We stop at one that has been here for forty years to try Lisbon’s popular cod cakes. The area used to be known for its preponderance of seafood restaurants.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area
The cod cakes are excellent. They are made from salted cod…..fish preserved in salt that has become a national food even though the fish today is imported from Norway and Iceland.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

Also on the table is one of my favourite dishes, small sardines lightly fried and served with tomato rice.



Seafood and beer is a common combination for restaurants in Lisbon. These are called cervejaria and just around the corner we stop at one!

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area


We pass a fabulous selection of seafood as we enter: conquilhas (cockles), amêiyoas (clams), percebes (goose barnacles), crabs, the sweetest shrimps from the north and prawns of all shapes and sizes. .

Fishtanks house live lobsters and spider crabs. The open kitchen is a hive of activity. Huge pots of water are boiling to cook the lobsters and chickens are being defeathered over a lit hob.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area

Clams cooked in white wine, garlic and coriander

Célia shows everyone how to eat the goose barnacles. It’s easy once you get the hang of pinching the claw and and pulling the tube of meat from the scaly exterior. Of course, we have a beer with all this delicious seafood.

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area


Port and Cheese

There was still one stop to go….In the back room of a tiny little traditional grocery shop, we finish our day with a wonderful glass of old port and sheep’s milk cheese. I take the opportunity to buy a few souvenirs from here too!

A Culinary Walk through Lisbon's Old Port Area


Then it was off to dinner…..just kidding!



Once again, Culinary Backstreets have organised a delicious and interesting tour of an area not usually on the tourist map. They have introduced us to places we definitely would not have found on our own. Célia is an exceptional guide. Her knowledge of both the food and the history of the area is outstanding. We also loved her anecdotes about the locals. If you’re coming to Lisbon, I can highly recommend you do this tour

Web Site:
Song of the Sea: Fish Seafood and Tradition in Lisbon’s Port Zone. 


I was a guest of Culinary Backstreets on this tour. My opinions are my own. Culinary Backstreets happen to be one of my favourite food tour companies with good reason and I can highly recommend them wherever you are.


Other Culinary Backstreets food tours you may like:
A Culinary Backstreets Food Tour in Athens
A Taste of the Bosphorus
A Foodie’s Tour in Istanbul


If you’d like to learn more about Portuguese food , I can recommend Célia’s book:


I also loved reading Nelson Cavalheiro’s book before our trip to Portugal








Disclaimer: This post contains the above affiliate links from which I will earn a very small commission at no cost to you. We participate in the Amazon Service LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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27 Responses to A Culinary Walk Through Lisbon’s Old Port Area

  1. Carol Colborn April 10, 2017 at 10:50 pm #

    OMG this is cool. We will be in Portugal spring 2018! Thanks.

    • Jenny Freedman April 11, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

      It was a fabulous tour carol. Culinary Backstreets are one of my favourite food tour companies. I can highly recommend you do one when you go to Lisbon next year.

  2. Janice Chung April 11, 2017 at 7:31 am #

    If you had said you were really going for dinner, I would have been in disbelief. I can’t believe how much food you “experienced”! What’s nice is that most of the dishes were ones I would not have even been familiar with, which would make visiting Lisbon that much more interesting.

    • Jenny Freedman April 11, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

      It was a great eating day Janice! We did do a lot of walking as well which made us feel that we hadn’t eaten too much! Getting away from the main tourist areas was highlight. A tour I can recommend!

  3. Michele April 11, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    I wish I had seen this before our trip to Lisbon, good thing we are planning on returning one day. The food looks amazing and love the stories that go with each experience that is what traveling is about.

    • Jenny Freedman April 11, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

      Learning about another side of Lisbon certainly added depth to our visit and gave us a totally different perspective on the city Michele. Travel for us is all about meeting people and learning their stories and food tours are a great way to do this. Hope you get back to Lisbon soon.

  4. Cathy Sweeney April 11, 2017 at 9:47 am #

    A stroll through the old port district and a visit with Deolinda would have been enough of a treat, but add in all the wonderful food, sights, and that fresh coffee makes it sound amazing. Lisbon is an amazing city and next time I’ll have to follow in your footsteps on a Culinary Backstreets tour.

    • Jenny Freedman April 11, 2017 at 2:18 pm #

      This was a very special tour Cathy! We were very lucky that Celia had to give something to Deolinda and we could get to meet her this time. With her story we were taken back to these early days. Lisbon has some of the best seafood so it was great to taste it at different types of restaurants and cafes.

  5. Jackie Smith April 11, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    Well my mouth is watering and it isn’t even 7 a.m. here yet! Fabulous looking tour you took – we’ll keep it in mind for a future trip to Lisbon!

    • Jenny Freedman April 11, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

      It was a great tour Jackie. It’s definitely one to keep in mind when you visit Lisbon. The food was as good as it looks! Thank heavens for all the walking we did so we could try all of the dishes offered!

  6. Doreen Pendgracs April 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

    Thx for the fascinating post. I didn’t realize that there was an Indian connection to Lisbon! Would definitely like to indulge in the port and cheese. Will have to plan a visit to Portugal soon.

    • Jenny Freedman April 12, 2017 at 11:10 pm #

      From the early 1500s to 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony. After India took control in 1961, many left and took the opportunity to apply for a Portuguese passport. This is why I love food tours Doreen, you learn about the history of a city and how its culture has resulted. I hope you do get to visit Lisbon.

  7. Donna Janke April 11, 2017 at 10:09 pm #

    i can see why Culinary Backstreets is one of your favourite food tour companies. Looks fantastic!

    • Jenny Freedman April 12, 2017 at 11:12 pm #

      It was a brilliant tour Donna. I loved exploring an area we may not have visited and learning about its histoy. Of course the food is always great!

  8. Karen Warren April 12, 2017 at 12:53 am #

    This tour looks amazing! I’ve only ever had one day in Lisbon, and loved it (loved the salt cod I had for lunch that day too). I really need to go back and explore the back streets, and the food, some more.

    • Jenny Freedman April 12, 2017 at 11:13 pm #

      Yes, one day is not enough in Lisbon Karen. There’s so much more for you to see and eat! I hope you get back and enjoy this wonderful city

  9. Krista Bjorn April 12, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

    How wonderful! Although I lived in Portugal as a nanny, I never made it to Lisbon. I WILL visit there one day. 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman April 12, 2017 at 11:15 pm #

      It’s had when you’re young and working to travel freely throughout a country so I’m not surprised that you din’t make it to Lisbon. It’s waiting for you! I’m sure you will get back Krista.

  10. Sue Reddel April 13, 2017 at 4:18 am #

    What a wonderful food tour! We are chomping at the bit to get to Portugal. We’ve heard so many wonderful things about the destination, especially the food. Which you’ve also beautifully covered. Thank you!

  11. Charles McCool April 15, 2017 at 1:42 am #

    Wow, I love this. I would definitely look up this tour if and when I visit Lisbon again. Having a knowledgeable local show me off the beaten path, non-touristy places and yummy food. That is some kind of great dream!

  12. Agness of Fit Travelling June 20, 2017 at 3:43 am #

    I would love to experience this tour! A very inspirational post!

    • Jenny Freedman July 10, 2017 at 2:46 pm #

      It’s a fabulous tour Agness, one I can highly recommend. Culinary Backstreets are a fabulous company to deal with and Celia is a brilliant guide.

  13. Peggy June 25, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

    I’ve never had barnacles before! That’s so interesting!

    • Jenny Freedman July 10, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

      They are very tasty Peggy, once you have been shown how to eat them! Next time you se them on a menu, try them!

  14. Kathryn Burrington July 2, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

    I’ve done a couple of great food tours in Lisbon but this one sounds completely different. I came across goose barnacles in Cape Verde which was once Portuguese but I didn’t realise yuo could get them in Portugal too. Sounds like a fascinating tour.

    • Jenny Freedman July 10, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

      I can highly recommend this tour Kathryn. I loved that it explored an area of Lisbon that not a lot of tourists would go to but where history abounds and the food is simple and stunning. I first tasted goose barnacles in San Sebastian and loved them. These were fresh and delicious and available in most seafood places we saw in Lisbon.

  15. budget jan September 27, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

    I love port areas. They’re so gritty and real. I would love all of this food and would love to meet Deolinda. I’d love to do this tour next time we’re in Lisbon.

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