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The Portuguese capital seems to have gone overnight from being a sleepy, almost forgotten city of crumbling buildings on the edge of Europe to a crowded tourist destination and a hotspot for property developers. The rapid change couldn’t be more jarring for Lisbon locals: It was as if Lisboetas had woken up from an exceptionally long slumber to find out that while they had been sleeping the rest of the world had suddenly become interested in their country and – as importantly – its food.
By publishing the stories of our local heroes, visiting them on culinary tours, or directly fundraising for them when they are in need, we attempt to honor their work and their essential role in maintaining the fabric of the city. Our purpose is twofold. Yes, we want to get travelers to some good places to eat. But we also want to make sure that some of these spots and the artisans making food there find a new audience and get the recognition and support they deserve. They are holding back the tide of globalized sameness, which is not easy work – even if it’s done unknowingly. But we believe that every meal counts and, with the help of our audience, they will add up. We are committed to their perseverance and hope that our modest efforts encourage them to keep at it. Our work is also guided by a belief in: Honest Tourism: The places where we eat and craftsmen that we feature on our culinary tours are all selected with this purpose in mind. We’d never accept a free lunch or consider a discount for our tour groups, because that would contradict our central goal, to support them. Nor do our guides receive any commissions from shopkeepers. Honest Journalism: The same principal is applied to the publishing of stories. There are no sponsored posts or even advertising on CB. The writers and photographers are paid fairly for their work on stories that we all believe in.
The cities we are drawn to all have a culinary tradition of untold richness as well as a certain tension, be it political instability, the tug between East and West, the clash between modern and ancient identities, migration, rapid gentrification, bankruptcy, or a post-colonial hangover. Our decision to get started in a city is always the result of a trip filled with many meals where we are given in intimate view of that tension, right there on the table. By getting lost in this warren of independent food purveyors struggling to preserve or adapt tradition in fast-paced urban life, we start to discover the deep complexity and true flavor of the city. At present, you’ll find our regular dispatches from Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Marseille, Mexico City, Naples, Porto, Queens (NY), Shanghai, Tbilisi and Tokyo.
As travel to most of the cities where we work has resumed, Culinary Backstreets is working with a new set of safety guidelines designed for the physical well-being of our guests, guides and members of the local community that we encounter. These guidelines have been developed in line with the best practices published by governments and health officials in the countries where CB works with regard to restaurant and tour and trip operation. With these procedures in place, our guests — led by our team of professional guides, who are being trained accordingly — can explore with peace of mind. The new procedures we are instituting include:
Culinary Backstreets’ mission has always been to preserve, protect and celebrate local culinary traditions and the unsung heroes of the kitchen. Now, more than ever, we remain focused on this goal. These days, we are paying close attention to the physical, economic and psychological well-being of the local communities and the people who keep them fed. We view this as an opportunity for cities to develop a tourism model that makes sense for them and that avoids the mistakes of the past, and for companies like Culinary Backstreets to be part of that process by renewing our commitment to a more sustainable way of traveling and working. By joining our tours and trips, you are contributing to this effort, which includes:
Culinary Backstreets is offering maximum flexibility for our guests, as we realize that travel this summer and fall might involve unexpected cancellations or postponements. So that our guests can book with confidence, we are putting in place the following cancelation policies:
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Tour the Backstreets of Lisbon With Us
Beyond Bacalhau: Neighborhood by Neighborhood, Bite by Bite
Our Backstreets Envoys, always searching for the next hidden gem
Angela, Lisbon Walk Leader
Born in the south of Brazil, Angela came to Lisbon to study visual anthropology, focusing specifically on the experience of migrants in Lisbon. Having fallen in love with the city, she hasn’t left since. She is fascinated with the interconnections between Brazilian and Portuguese cultures, those existing in many aspects, food included, of course! Her favorite spot to take a coffee is Praça das Flores and neighborhood for a stroll, Graça.
Austin, Lisbon Correspondent
Austin is an American writer and photographer based in Lisbon, Portugal. He was previously based in Bangkok, Thailand, for more than 20 years, from where he contributed to just about every major food and travel publication, as well as to more than 30 guidebooks for Lonely Planet. In 2018, he wrote and photographed the James Beard Award finalist, The Food of Northern Thailand. His next book, The Food of Southern Thailand, will be out in 2023.
Célia, Lisbon Bureau Chief
Célia is a journalist, writing mostly about travel and food, and is the co-author of the book “Eat Portugal”, winner of a Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Her work can be seen in such publications as The Guardian and Eater and she appeared on the Netflix program “Somebody Feed Phil”. A proud Lisboeta with a wicked sweet tooth, Celia keeps searching for the best pastéis de nata so you don’t have to.
Cheila was born and raised in Lisbon. Her mother is half Guinean and half Cape Verdean, her father half Angolan and half Portuguese. Due to her heritage Cheila has always navigated her family’s culture through food traditions and became therefore passionate about gastronomy and different cultures.
Cheila got a Bachelor Degree in Communication but found her passion in Hospitality through her many travels. She is a bartender who also dreamt of chefdom and finds meeting people and exchanging stories through food one of the most enriching experiences to be had after travelling.
Gisela, Culinary Guide
Gisela’s curiosity is what set her on a path to become a tour guide 2016, with the entire city of Lisbon as her beautiful “office.” She loves learning from her clients, who come from all over the world, and to share with them her knowledge. Her biggest reward is to see them learning and smiling with her. Defined by her joy and smile, she is most passionate about people and their stories, along with history, philosophy and culture. Gisela believes communication is a super power that keeps the world spinning and that there’s no better way to communicate than seated at a table tasting good traditional food!
Ines, Lisbon Walk Leader
Inês sees life as a big banquet, she loves to try new things. She studied European Studies and she is a storyteller, a singer and a poet who paints in many colors the way she feels inside. Always with a big smile, she enjoys sharing some of the things she loves the most: great food, great places and beautiful people who make our town even more special.
Irene, Lisbon Walk Leader
Though native to Italy, Irene is European vagabond at heart and has called many of the continent’s greatest dining cities home before settling in Lisbon. Her standards are understandably high. But her affair with food began at her grandmother’s elbow as a little girl in Italy. Her grandmother, a trained chef and restauranteur not only taught her how to cook but how to love food, a defining characteristic of Irene’s life ever since. Always interested in new culinary experiences, an avid and curious cook and traveler, Irene has set roots in Lisbon and dug deep into its culinary life. She’s eager to share all that she has discovered.
João, Lisbon Walk Leader
After finishing his studies in business management, João landed a job running Street Food events which led him all over europe, with a spatula in his hand. Settling back into his hometown Lisbon, he focused on his three greatest passions, urban studies, Portuguese winemaking and the Benfica soccer club. Nowadays, along with his own research, he’s constantly experimenting with unusual wine pairings for good, old Portuguese home-cooking.
Kika, Lisbon Walk Leader
Born and raised in Lisbon, don’t get Kika started about the city’s charms- the light, tile-clad buildings, the history, the beaches and, of course, the food. A professional tour guide and talented home cook, Kika is a natural ambassador for her city’s cuisine. When she’s not leading tours in the backstreets, she’s probably in one of her favorite pasteleria trying to satisfy her addiction to Portuguese pastries.
Martim, Lisbon Walk Leader
Martim, born in Lisbon and raised in the Chiado district, has been rambling in backstreet eateries since before he could reach the counter of the corner tasca. He got a bachelor in Law and worked as a lawyer for a few years, but recently decided to take a chance out of the corporate world. Passionate about the richness and history of the Portuguese gastronomy, Martim loves the Portuguese people’s way of life and their deeply entrenched habit of spending long hours around a table with family and friends.
Patricia, Lisbon Walk Leader
Patricia Brum is an archaeologist with a special connection to Portuguese gastronomy through her work in the ruins of Troia, where the Romans produced salted fish and fish sauces, like garum. Unlike almost all Portuguese, bacalhau is not her thing, but she’ll wax poetic over a plate of fresh clams with garlic and cilantro.
Rodrigo, Lisbon Photographer
Photographer Rodrigo Cabrita was born in Oeiras, Portugal in 1977. He started his career at the daily newspaper Diário de Notícias in 2001 and has worked at a variety of publications since then. He is now a freelance photographer and takes part regularly in exhibitions. Rodrigo has won several photojournalism awards, most notably the Portuguese Gazeta award.
Tiago, Lisbon, Correspondent
Born and raised in Lisbon, Tiago Pais has been eating for as long as he can remember, and writing about what he eats for the last 8 years. He did it for Time Out Lisbon and more recently for Observador newspaper. Between meals, he also wrote a book about his favorite tascas, the typical no-frills restaurants one can find on every corner of the city, which is unimaginatively entitled The 50 Best Tascas in Lisbon.
CB’s work was started in 2009 by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer as a humble food blog called Istanbul Eats. The following year we published a book of our reviews, now in its fifth edition. That year we also launched our first culinary walk in Istanbul, a route we are still using today. In 2012, we realized that what we built in Istanbul was needed in other cities we knew and loved. We started CB that year with Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai as pioneering members of our network. In 2013, we added Rio and also launched our iPhone application in Istanbul. In 2015, Tokyo and Tbilisi came into the fold. That year we published mini-guides to Barcelona and Athens and also launched an iPhone application in those cities. Our Eatinerary service, which provides travelers with tailor-made culinary travel itineraries, was also launched in 2015. In 2016, Lisbon – the latest city to kindle our curiosity – joined the CB network. In 2017 we added Naples and Queens, NY – two places with very compelling stories to tell – to our roster and also published full-size eating guides to Athens and Barcelona. In 2018, Porto joined the list of cities we cover.
Visual Dispatches from the Frontlines of Local Eating
Where is Lisbon?
Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal located in the far southeastern corner of the European continent in the European Union. Lisbon is situated on the river Tejo or Tagus, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean a couple of kilometers from the city center.
What are the best things to do in Lisbon?
The best things to do in Lisbon are visiting its historic neighborhoods, medieval castle, public squares and palaces strewn throughout the city. While many tourists pack into the 28 Tram, we suggest following the rails on foot, saving the seat on the tram for locals who need it for their daily commutes. The city’s dining scene has much to offer and we’ve chronicled much of it here. The city is a great base for beach and nature trips in the region as well.
When is the best time of year visit Lisbon?
The best time to visit Lisbon is May-June to attend the festivals and September-October when the weather is best. July and August are the hottest month when much of the city slows down as locals leave on vacation.
What is the weather in Lisbon?
The weather in Lisbon is very good. Lisbon has more days of sunshine per year than any city in Europe. Average temperatures are 53F/11C in the coldest month, January up to 74F/24C in the hottest month, July.
Is Lisbon expensive?
Compared the other European cities, Lisbon is not expensive. A good cup of coffee rarely costs more than 1 EURO, nor does a glass of local beer. Portuguese food and wine is very high quality and inexpensive. The cost of living is quite low, though real estate prices are increasing rapidly.
Is Lisbon safe?
Compared to other European cities of its size, Lisbon is unusually safe. Incidents of violent crime are very rare though petty crime such as pickpocketing is a nuisance.
What is the best food in Lisbon?
The best food in Lisbon is fresh fish and seafood as well as Iberian pork. You can find all of this at simple neighborhood restaurants known as tascas.
Where is the best place to stay in Lisbon?
Lisbon is fairly small and walkable, so there are many good areas to stay in. The neighborhoods Principe Real and Chiado are very popular and central. Anjos and Graca are more up-and-coming and hip. For a good look at a really local neighborhood with a great dining scene, check out Alvalade.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Lisbon?
The COVID-19 situation in Lisbon is among the best in the world. The vaccination rate is one of the highest and current infection/hospitalization rates among the lowest. For the latest information please check.
Can Americans travel to Lisbon?
American citizens with a negative COVID test result or a valid proof of vaccination may travel to Portugal.
Can I fly directly to Lisbon?
You can fly directly to Lisbon from many locations worldwide. Check TAP for any new routes.
What is the best restaurant in Lisbon?
Lisbon has a very diverse dining scene from the traditional to the trendy that is changing all of the time. Please check our top 10 essentials list for our latest tips.
Are there beaches in Lisbon?
There are Atlantic beaches very close to Lisbon including Carcavelos which is a short train ride from downtown Lisbon and Costa Caparica which is a short drive across the river. Though not technically on the Ocean, Lisbon is very much a “beach town” culturally.
Is Lisbon suitable for children?
Lisbon is a great city for families with children. Public safety is among the highest in European cities, the people are warm and welcoming and there is a bakery selling custard tarts on nearly every corner.