Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Portugal
Although most Portuguese food is either meat or fish based, the range of vegetarian and vegan options in Portugal has been increasing for a few years. In this article, we point you to ways in which you can veggie-fy traditional Portuguese dishes and restaurants where you can try them, plus a background on being vegetarian/vegan in Portugal.
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Being vegetarian in Portugal
As previously mentioned, Portuguese cuisine is very meat and fish centred. Many of these dishes are tied to history and tradition and include specific ingredients that can’t be exchanged (like chicken’s blood in cabidela).
However, many options are now available. In 2021, 9% of the Portuguese population was plant-based – a major increase from previous years. So you’ll definitely not be alone when you decide to move here! In fact, a legislation was passed in 2017 mandating that public facilities serving meals (like schools) provide at least one meat-free choice. The majority of dishes served in restaurants are still meat or fish based, but larger cities like Lisbon and Porto, especially, are offering an increasing number of vegetarian options.
Plant-based alternatives in Portuguese grocery stores
Portugal is a country of heavy agriculture, all throughout the year there’s many options of seasonal fruits and vegetables – so that’s something you can always count on! Although grocery stores are convenient, we recommend that you try to go to smaller fruit shops and farmer’s markets, which are still very common in Portugal. The produce is always generally better, cheaper and fresher there! Plus you’re helping local businesses.
The major supermarket chains in Portugal are Pingo Doce, Continente, LIDL, Mercadona, Minipreço, Intermarché, Auchan and ALDI. In the vast majority of them, even in smaller towns, you can find veggie alternatives.
The most popular items in Portugal are dehydrated soy, tofu, seitan and plant-based milks – you can find these pretty much anywhere. Something that’s also very popular is veggie hamburgers and meat-type frozen goods, such as vegetarian nuggets, lasagna, etc. Vegan ice cream is also increasingly easier to find nowadays, with many brands making cheaper versions of their own, like Pingo Doce. Vegan cheese is still quite difficult to find – only bigger supermarkets usually carry this product.
Vegan grocery stores in Portugal
‘Celeiro’ is a chain you can find all over the country, mostly in shopping centres. It’s a health store with a lot of veggie options and an integrated restaurant/café in many shops. Apart from ‘Celeiro’, most vegan stores are small and you can mostly find them in Lisbon and Porto. These are some options:
Making Portuguese dishes vegetarian and vegan
There are dishes with no way around them, like ‘cabidela’ (chicken rice with blood) or ‘anho assado’ (roast lamb). However, you can veggie-fy a whole lot of other Portuguese foods. Here are some popular examples:
A three-decker sandwich from the North, filled with various meats and covered in cheese and a self-titled sauce, accompanied by an optional fried egg on top and fries.
It can be easily turned vegetarian by using plant-based meats and vegetables (although meat is preferred, only veggies here simply don’t do the job). To make it vegan you can also easily use plant-based cheese. A lot of restaurants now carry this alternative! Some of the best ones in Porto (where the ‘Francesinha’ was created) are:
- Lado B
- Cervejaria Brasão
Bacalhau à Brás
Cod or ‘bacalhau’ is very typical in Portugal and, except for the simple ‘bacalhau cozido’, many of the cod recipes are easily made vegetarian.
The most popular example is ‘bacalhau à brás’ – shredded cod sautéed with potatoes cut in small pieces all mixed with eggs and topped with olives. This one is pretty simple, you just need to substitute the cod for a plant-based alternative. The most popular option is leek cut in small pieces- the so called ‘alho francês à brás’. Shredded firm tofu also works well! This is a very homely recipe that you don’t find too often in restaurants, making it perfect to try at home.
This is a very traditional ‘Feiras Populares’ on-the-go food. It’s pork wrapped in typical ‘bifana’ sauce in a bread roll, accompanied by a beer, most of the time. The best plant-based alternative here is seitan, cut in a steak-like way – the ‘seitanas’. Since this is predominantly a street food, there aren’t many restaurants we can point you to. You’ll just need to visit Portugal around ‘Feiras Populares’ time – June for Lisbon and Porto.
You can also take pretty much any Portuguese ‘petisco’ (rissól, croquete, pataniscas) and substitute the meat/fish for a vegetarian filling. The same goes for ‘enchidos’, like ‘alheira’. However, the effect here won’t really be the same.
Vegetarian cuisine in Portugal
Although meat-centred, Portuguese cuisine also has some naturally vegetarian dishes. These are some of them:
- ‘Peixinhos da horta’ – fried green beans, literally translated to ‘little fishes from the garden’
- ‘Ervilhas com ovos escalfados’ – peas with poached eggs
- A lot of soups, like carrot cream (also vegan)
- ‘Migas’ – made from crumbled bread and mixed with different ingredients, vegetables being a very typical one (can easily be vegan)
Eating out as a vegetarian in Portugal
Especially in the bigger cities, the vast majority of restaurants now offer at least one vegetarian option. Even when going out to eat at ‘tascos’ (typical local Portuguese restaurants), you can find veggie options, which are usually a variation of an omelette (with mushrooms, cheese, etc) with rice and salad; a vegetarian ‘alheira’ or a different play on mushrooms. Even if it isn’t on the menu, most people will be happy to whip up an omelette for you.
When you go to a café in the morning or afternoon for ‘lanche’ (snack), there is a vast array of veggie options.
Some popular things to order around this time are a ‘torrada’ (toasted bread with butter), a croissant (which is not your typical flaky French croissant, but a buttered version) and ‘tosta mista’ (toasted bread with cheese and ham – which you can kindly ask to get removed). Plus, you also have the many options of Portuguese pastries and sweets.
Portuguese Desserts and sweets
The grand majority of desserts and sweets in Portugal are heavy on eggs and milk. When you go out to eat, you can always expect to find some type of fruit or fruit salada for dessert, though, so that’s a plus. Other recipes that are originally vegan are ‘maçã assada’ (baked apple) and ‘pêras bêbadas’ (pears poached in wine, sugar and cinnamon).
However, vegan options for the rest of the Portuguese desserts are becoming increasingly popular. Many stores now carry the traditional ‘pastel de nata’, for example. Our recommendations are:
In a typical café, though, you are unfortunately most likely not to find vegan options for sweets, since everything usually contains dairy or eggs. Something that you can do is ask if the butter they use is plant-based. If it is, you can eat a simple bread roll with butter, a ‘pão com manteiga’, which is also common in Portugal.
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