What's a hungry, animal-loving plant-eater to do when living in Portugal?
Wandering Lisbon's steep, twisty and potentially ankle-breaking cobbled streets, every restaurant I peered into was proudly offering, from either a handwritten sign in the window or a makeshift menu board outside, bacalhau à brás as the special of the day.
One of the most traditional Portuguese dishes, bacalhau à brás is made with the ubiquitous salt cod, eggs, and potatoes. And while I'm sure it's delicious, it's not a dish that works for me or other vegans living in or visiting Portugal.
Since moving to Portugal, one of the most common questions I get asked is, "how hard is it to be vegan in Portugal?" My typical answer goes something like this: I can't even make my way through all the vegan in Portugal options in Lisbon!
Vegan in Portugal? Lisbon Is Plant-Based Paradise
Ah yes, Lisbon. It's easy to be an eater of plants in Portugal's breathtaking and hilly capital city.
Lisbon is the current darling on the tourism circuit, and with new restaurants cropping up every week to meet visitors’ demands, there are plenty of options to satisfy a variety of palates.
In fact, there are so many vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and restaurants that offer veggie or vegan options, that it's not hard to be vegan in Lisbon. And although I haven't yet eaten my way through all the veg and vegan establishments, I will certainly make a valiant effort to do so (such hard work!).
But About The Vegan in Portugal Challenges
I don't live in the city proper; I live a pleasant 10-minute ferry ride across the Tagus River (Rio Tejo). So as a vegan in Portugal, my experience centers on the Lisbon region.
Where I live, it's like another world from the cosmopolitan city. My neighborhood is a typical Portuguese neighborhood; vegan and vegetarian options are slim. We don't see foreigners or tourists too often over here, except along the charming main street and restaurant row of Cacilhas.
Cacilhas is a small town with a big shipbuilding and industrial past. Nowadays, though, it is the place where day-trippers come to dine at the traditional fish restaurants along the waterfront (pro tip: the best views of Lisbon are from here). The moment you step off the ferry, the smoky smell of grilled fish, and the din of street merchants trying to shout above one another to advertise their wares, overtakes your senses.
Although you won’t find many vegan or vegetarian restaurants where I live, a notable exception is Veg-e-tal and their cute hidden garden. That’s nice once in a while, however, if you enjoy cooking as I do, read on.
Portugal, A Vegan Cook’s Delight
Portuguese cuisine is heavy on seafood, meat, and eggs. Still, the silent stars of the local fare are the bounty of beautiful veggies and fruits grown right here in this little Western European country. If you enjoy cooking, even making simple salads and pasta dishes with fresh vegetables, you will absolutely not starve as a vegan visiting Portugal.
Fresh citrus of all varieties, especially lemons, clementines, and oranges, enchant the senses. Plums, pears, apples, cherries, melons, passion fruit, and blueberries—all grown locally, and are abundant when in season. And figs! Did I mention the figs? Some of the most decadent fig varieties I’ve ever tasted are from Portugal.
The local mercado, supermarket, or corner frutaria is where you’ll find all kinds of fruits and vegetables.
I like to experiment with locally-grown veggies like the little heart-shapedcouve-coração, which I use in a vegan version of caldo verde (green broth) soup.
In addition to curious cabbages at the mercado, you'll find the usual kitchen staples like carrots, tomatoes, onions, leeks, garlic, and potatoes of all varieties, including delicious sweet potatoes from Aljezur. There they even have a 3-day festival dedicated to the humble tuber.
If you shop for your produce in season, you’ll get the tastiest selection and the best prices.
By Shanna Trenholm, A Vegan In Portugal
Now booking So You Want To Move To Portugal sessions
Shanna, A Vegan in Portugal, is a writer and creative strategist from San Diego, CA who decided to pursue her lifelong dream of living in Europe. Thinking that she'd settle in France or Spain, Portugal won her
heart. The climate, people, cost of living, quality of life, and healthcare were some of the many reasons she chose Portugal—oh, and the coffee, too.
Her one-hour So, You Want To Move To Portugal Skype sessions are designed to help you decide if a move abroad is right for you.