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Can You Find Yummy Vegetarian Fare Abroad? I Tried, In Lisbon

The key is to make anywhere your home, and my A Vida Vegetariana truly came full circle in dear old Lisbon.

Published
Food
5 min read
Black rice and artichoke salad.
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The air was thick with the smells of fish, smoke, candied fruit, freshly brewed coffee, and freshly harvested produce, as I set foot in the Mercado Da Ribeira – a traditional market with food stalls – in Lisbon, Portugal.

Having a day all to myself in Lisbon was a golden opportunity, and I had envisioned it even before my tickets were booked. Travelling can be such an rewarding experience if one stops to pause, ponder and take in the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the place.

And what better way to do this than at a local market, where, if one submits oneself entirely to the experience without biases of any kind, one can come off feeling enriched, rejuvenated and culturally attuned. I can’t think of a better way to travel mindfully, than to delve deep into the lives of the locals and their everyday affairs – including getting up close and personal with the food they eat and the stories they tell.
Mercado Da Ribeira.
Mercado Da Ribeira.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)
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Like Summer Itself

Having left my hotel room (where I stayed for the first few days, for a conference) at half past nine, my first stop at the Mercado Ribeira was a little organic shop where I bagged a bunch of the juiciest cherries for a Euro. I was chatting with the lady at the shop about the produce in her shop, and she told me how much she appreciated someone who cared about how their food grows, when it’s so easy to reach out for processed food.

The smell of freshly cut flowers – like summer itself – was rather inviting, and so I stopped for a minute at the florist across, just to take it in. The fresh produce in the market was particularly interesting, with mounds of sweet cherries and tart lemons to pick from for summer baking.

Dehydrated carrots salad.
Dehydrated carrots salad.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)
I could imagine them going into a light and airy tea cake, pastel yellow with rivers of wine, sugar-dusted and soft as a pillow to the first bite, peaches, figs and strawberries (also great for baking), leeks, beets and carrots (would be great in a gazpacho, I thought), turnips and potatoes (great for sides).

Giving Myself a Sugar High

At the food court, seeing that I hadn’t had a proper breakfast and that it was nearly noon, I made a quick assessment to finalise what would best suit my vegetarian appetite.

Even with the glazed, searing steaks at Café de São Bento and the fish in Madeira bread at O Prego da Peixaria right in front of my eyes, I was able to narrow my choices down to the Asian Lab where I could pick from fairly familiar items on the menu, like Gyozas, Noodles or Fried Rice, or Ground Burger (yes, you heard that right) – which had an interesting side of a salad, comprising salad greens, dehydrated carrots, cherry tomatoes and cheese in a basic balsamic vinaigerette, and a nutty topping. I chose the latter, to get a taste of something new, and even though the portion was small, it was bursting with delightful flavours and textures.

Vegan pizza.
Vegan pizza.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)

For dessert, I had the choice of going crazy with the array of cakes at the Nos E Mais Bolos, or diving face down into the custardy depths of the Pasteis De Nata at Manteigaria. Again, I went for the latter, and couldn’t stop at just one.

(Let’s just say I was on a sugar high at half past noon, and the evening was long enough to entertain my hyperactive demeanour.)

Pasteis De Nata.
Pasteis De Nata.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)
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Too Many Choices

I picked up a few Pasteis to get me through the next couple of days, too, along with some nuts and dry fruits at the Frutos Secos Do Mercado. A Vida Portuguesa was a delight, too, offering so many varieties of chocolates, olive oils, preserves and sauces, all perfectly tailor-made for a vegetarian cook and foodie.

I learnt quickly that a croissant and Galao coffee was my best bet for breakfast in Portugal, if I wanted to save my sugar fetish for the latter half of the day.

Spinach Feta Quiche.
Spinach Feta Quiche.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)
Also, waiters and chefs are happy to fix you a vegetarian meal on request, (of course using the magic word – obrigada – helps) with shreds of lettuce and halved cherry tomatoes alongside a bed of hot rice, fries, and some grilled peppers and zucchini. I made do with this combination on more occasions than I care to remember, when I wasn’t choosing a Spinach and Feta Quiche or a Quinoa Salad (which tasted so close to our very own Upma).

Rajma-Chawal in Pardes

In Sintra with kind friends who ensured I didn’t go hungry, I chose pastries for lunch, simply because they were so delicious and filling. The Queijadas and Travesseiros were an absolute delight, and the freshly pressed orange juice offered the right amount of tang to balance out the sugar.

Travesseiros.
Travesseiros.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)

In Porto, I chose a pizza with lashings of port wine at an Italian cafe right around the corner from the Livraria Lello, and of course a Bola De Berlim with coffee to recharge myself, at the legendary Café Porta do Olival (the oldest coffee shop in Porto).

As is customary, towards the end of my trip, when I’d had my fill of sickly sweet pastries, I turned to a local supermarket for help: I scrambled up and down the aisles picking out a can of beans, tomato paste, rice, onions, and cucumbers – all for under €10.

With a little help from the well-stocked pantry in my AirBnB kitchen, I made myself a hearty down home meal in no time. Rajma-chawal (finished off with a tadka in olive oil, with garlic powder and paprika), and a basic salad.

Pizza and port wine.
Pizza and port wine.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini Rao)

After all, the key is to make anywhere your home, and this is how my A Vida Vegetariana came a full circle in dear old Lisbon.

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(Ranjini is a mom, writer, teacher, head-hasher and a whole lot of other things rolled into one. She finds her chi in her little Bangalore kitchen, amid arrays of spices, frayed napkins and stainless steel kettles. She blogs at Tadka Pasta with a partner. She tweets @leftofwrite.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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