I’ve been in Lisbon for the past week; hiking up hills, hurtling up and down cobbled streets on the 28 tram, and admiring the view from 16th century palaces and castles.
Oh, and eating as many gluten free portuguese custard tarts (‘natas’) as possible.
I was holidaying with my boyfriend, David. We stayed in a cute little Airbnb in the up and coming former sailor’s playground of Cais do Sodre. Think bars that used to be brothels mixed with pavement pastelarias, stout old ladies peeking out from their balconies watching the young hipsters move in.
We fell in love with Lisbon. It has a brilliant mix of old and new; centuries-old monuments and fortresses but also a bang up to the minute food scene, and more nightlife than you can shake a nata at.
I’ll be honest, I found eating gluten free in Lisbon quite a bit harder than eating gluten free in London. Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet do not seem to be all that well known in Portugal, and it is not common for restaurants to have a gluten free menu, or even allergen labelling. However, there are some exciting options for coeliacs if you know where to look.
WHERE TO EAT
Timeout Market (Mercado da Ribeira)
Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-376 Lisboa
This would be my top recommendation for eating out in Lisbon, whether you are eating gluten free or not. A delectable selection of food and drinks from the cream of Lisbon’s restaurants, all under one roof and with a great buzz. We ended up coming here multiple times during our stay. Miguel Castro e Silva had two gluten free savoury options (duck or cod in a kind of julienne potato risotto) plus a divine flourless chocolate cake. Cozinha da Felicidade was the only stall I saw with gluten free labeling on the actual menu. I had codfish on a bed of sweet potato crisps and cream sauce – more delicious than you would think.
Rua Bernardino da Costa 21 23, Lisboa
This is a fairly new bakery/cafe/restaurant that specialises in gluten free portuguese food; desserts, as well as gluten free sandwiches and pizza. They are not a 100% gluten free venue, but the gluten free food was displayed separately and they seemed to understand about cross-contamination. The owner’s wife is coeliac. I really rated the desserts (the filled donut in particular) but the bread, not so much. I didn’t get around to trying the pizza.
Telepizza seems to be the Portuguese equivalent of Domino’s, except they have a brand-wide cross-contamination procedure for their gluten free pizzas. The pizza was pretty average (I prefer proper Italian!) but a good stop gap.
The surprise hit of the trip, McDonalds! It’s not somewhere I consider eating at in the UK, because there are not really any safe gluten free options (and they can be a bit grim). In Portugal however, McDonald’s offer a safe gluten free menu at no extra cost. Therefore, I ate my first ever cheeseburger and fries! (If it wasn’t apparent before, this is not a #cleaneating blog.) Though I wouldn’t want to eat one too often, I rather enjoyed it. Typical Brits that we are, we also liked the fact that you can order in English at the self-service machines.
Tv. de Santo Antão 11, 1150-312 Lisboa
A forum acquaintance of mine said of Bonjardim: “go for piri piri chicken and cheap rose! It’s tacky and cheap and we love it.” I can’t sum it up better than that. A bit more touristy than our other choices, but the greasy chicken and rose went down a treat after walking the hills of Bairro Alto. Gluten-free-wise, it was a little tricky as the waiters did not speak much English. I showed them my coeliac language card, they read it carefully and pointed me to the piri piri chicken, fries and salad. We took the chance and fortunately I didn’t suffer any ill effects.
A couple of things for coeliacs to look out for (thanks to a lady called Audrey on the Coeliac forum):
– Sangria. For some reason most Portuguese establishments put a little beer in their Sangria – so do check before ordering.
– White rice. Check with the chef that he/she hasn’t put Knorr (pronounced C-nore, ‘c’ as in cat) in the rice. Apparently this is common practice now in many restaurants and it is not gluten free.
Places that I didn’t get around to visiting, but found recommended online:
El Corte Inglese – for GF supplies. Av. António Augusto de Aguiar 31, 1069-413
Choco & Mousse – GF pastries and cakes. R. Mário Cesariny Lote 3, 1600-313
Pois Cafe – gluten free bread & sandwiches. R. de São João da Praça 93-95, 1100-521
Da Vinci – gluten free pasta cooked separately to avoid cross contamination.
La Trattoria: Italian restaurant with a separate gluten free menu. R. Artilharia 1 79, 1250-038
Open Brasserie Mediteranica: The menu is set up to clearly show which items are gluten free, vegetarian, etc. so that it’s easy to know what’s safe to order. Rua Santa Marta 48, Lisbon
Princesa do Castelo – A vegan restaurant with some gluten options (and possibly low FODMAP?) options available. Rua do Salvador 64A, 1100-466 Lisboa, Portugal.
WHERE TO BUY GLUTEN FREE FOOD
In the UK, all the major supermarkets now stock a decent gluten free range, and even smaller branches will usually have a shelf or two of basics like bread, pasta and flour. This is not the case in Lisbon. There were ‘dietary’ sections in supermarkets, but they seemed more dedicated to lactose free, sugar free, and general digestive issues than coeliac-safe gluten free food. Nevertheless, there were some good options around the city.
R. Bernardino Costa 36, 1200 Lisboa
Leitarias Canecas is a bakery directly opposite from Zarzuela that also does a selection of gluten free products. When I visited, they had bread (which looked much better than Zarzuela’s), biscuits and traditional ‘natas’ – custard tarts. I was only able to try their gluten free portuguese custard tarts, which were absolutely delicious, and a frankly bargainous 1 euro 10. They are predominantly a regular bakery, so there may be some risk of cross-con-tam-tam.
R. 1º de Dezembro 51, Lisboa
Celeiro is a Portuguese health food chain similar to Holland and Barrett in the UK. This was the only shop in Lisbon where I found an extensive selection of gluten free products. There was lots of Dr Schar, as well as some interesting-looking brands not sold in the UK, such as Bauerhof. I didn’t actually buy much here, as it was expensive and I was keen to eat local food where possible.
Pingo Doce and Mini Preco
Our local Pingo Doce (in Cais do Sodre station) stocked gluten free ciabattas and croissants (the essentials). I read that larger ones sometimes stock frozen gluten free portuguese custard tarts. Both of these Portuguese supermarket chains label their naturally gluten free foods with the Portuguese Coeliac Society symbol (see APC, pictured), but don’t have much specifically GF.
Visit the Portuguese Coeliac Society’s website for more info about eating gluten free in Lisbon.
In general, I would say don’t expect to find gluten free food as easily as you would at home, but don’t let that put you off visiting this awesome city.
The trend for the gluten free diet has not caught on in the same way it has in the UK, so it felt a bit like going back in time, in coeliac terms. But with a little research, resourcefulness and a gluten free language card (!), it is perfectly possible to eat well gluten free in Lisbon.
I urge you to visit Lisbon if you get the chance. It’s a brilliant place to have fun and explore European history, food (wine) and culture on a budget.
Do you have any gluten free recommendations for Lisbon? Let me know in the comments if I missed anywhere.
P.S. If you’re tempted by a trip to Lisbon (do it!), I am happy to recommend our host Frederico’s cosy and bargainous Airbnb apartment.