As forty three countries get ready to compete in the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, the crowds have descended upon Lisbon. The city has the privilege of hosting this year’s contest because in 2017 the young Portuguese singer Salvador Sobral was crowned the winner of Eurovision with his melancholic love song “Amar Pelos Dois,” which was written by his sister, Luisa. Paying tribute to Portugal’s folk traditions, his stripped-down performance was a far cry from the kitschy bombast normally presented on the Eurovision stage.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the bad hairdos and costumes and the usually uninspired songs that range from camp to downright strange, Eurovision is one of the world’s longest running and most popular music competitions. It’s estimated that over 200 million people in Europe and beyond watch the program. Eurovision became so popular in Australia that the country began sending contestants to what had started off as a strictly European competition.
The competition consists of not one but three major live shows: two semi-finals on May 8 and 10, and the big final on May 12. Thousands of people are visiting the city to watch these shows either at the venue – Altice Arena in Parque das Nações on the east side of the city – or at the centrally located Praça da Comércio, by the river in Baixa, where a “Eurovision Village” with giant screens and a fan zone with live concerts and events has been set up.
In between all that singing and dancing and whatever bizarre stage antics will go down this year, those visiting Lisbon to catch the shows will need some fuel to help them cheer on their favorite contenders. For those Eurovision fans who have made the journey to Lisbon, we’ve put together a guide of prize-worthy places to eat during the competition.
Start with a Ginjinha
In Praça do Comércio, where the Eurovision Village is located, it’s relatively easy to find places to eat or drink, but most of them are subpar, with the exception of the cod cakes at Martinho da Arcada, the oldest café in the city. Walk in the direction of Rossio instead, and stop for a ginjinha, a small glass of sour cherry liqueur (called ginja), at Ginja Sem Rival, open since 1890 – be sure to ask for a little glass com elas (with them, referring to the sour cherries). Ginja is the most traditional drink in Lisbon, and you can’t go wrong if you get it from this hole-in-the-wall that makes its own.
Close to Ginjinha Sem Rival is a great spot for lunch: A Provinciana, an old-school tasca, decorated with barrels and an impressive collection of clocks on the wall, all handmade by the restaurant owner in his spare time. While you count the clocks make sure to taste some traditional food like the daily specials chanfana (goat stew on Tuesdays), feijoada (bean and meat stew on Wednesdays) or caldeirada de bacalhau (salt cod stew on Saturday).
Chicken and Piripiri Sauce
Not far from A Provinciana is O Churrasco, a true diamond in the rough, located as it is on the most touristy food street in Lisbon, Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, where every half-meter you’re approached by people throwing menus at you and promising the seven wonders inside their restaurants. But it’s worth slaloming through the touts to get a seat at this chicken joint, which is classier than most, with impressionistic paintings hanging from its wooden walls and waiters in bow ties. A particular favorite of middle-class families and theater lovers, the restaurant is perhaps best known for its homemade piripiri sauce.
The Surprising Casa do Alentejo
If you can’t get a table at O Churrasco or if you just want to relax with a drink before the emotional highs and lows of Eurovision, we highly recommend a visit to Casa do Alentejo, one of the most iconic associations in Lisbon. Once the first casino in Lisbon, this building is now the home away from home for those locals who trace their roots to Alentejo (the region south of Lisbon), with a restaurant, bar, reading room, grand banquet halls and a surprising and beautiful Moorish patio.
Straight up the touristy road, you’ll find yourself on a quieter street, Rua de São José. There you’ll notice the window of one of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon: Jesus é Goês. Led by the charismatic chef Jesus, the restaurant’s Goan and Portuguese cuisines meet in a very creative fusion. The menu changes often, but we recommend not even looking at it – go with sugestão do Jesus (Jesus’ recommendations), which is the password for a Goan dining experience like no other.
If you’re into more tropical flavors, head to Bairro Alto, a quick walk up the hill from Baixa, to try some Brazilian specialties at Brasuca, the first restaurant serving Brazilian food in Lisbon that was also opened by a Brazilian. The Bahia-style prawn moqueca is our favorite dish there, with the prawns cooked in palm oil, peppers and coconut milk.
Petiscos at Zé Varunca
Another culinary treasure in Bairro Alto is Zé Varunca, a restaurant dedicated exclusively to the cuisine of the Alentejo region, which is best known for its excellent wine and olive oil. We love the migas (a bread dish) or the petiscos (small plates) to share, like casadinhos (deep-fried potato and cured pork loin) or torresmos (pork crackling) with some vibrant Alentejo red wine. This is hearty comfort food that will keep you full all night long.
As Easy as Aziz
Head up from Rua da Madalena in Baixa and you’ll find yourself in the neighborhood of Mouraria, with its many multicultural offerings. It’s easy to get lost in these streets and alleys even if you’ve lived your whole life in Lisbon. On such occasion, we were happy to stumble on Cantinho do Aziz, where crab curry is one of the star dishes. With a strong influence from Mozambique, the cuisine here is described as “Indo-African” reflecting also the Goan heritage.
Going East for Salt Cod
There aren’t many interesting eating options out near the venue in Parque das Nações. So we recommend a strategic stop at Casa do Bacalhau in Beato, halfway between the city center and Parque das Nações. Make sure to order the award-winning cod fritters (pataniscas de bacalhau). From the less traditional dishes on the menu we will never tire of the salt cod loin cooked at a low temperature with sides of citrus fruit and a carrot puree.
Chocolate and Coffee
How about something sweet? You’ll find many custard tarts all over the city, and we like to have them with our morning coffee. But during the day when you’re tired of the busy city center and just want to relax, we can’t imagine anything more special than grabbing a coffee and a piece of chocolate or the amazing chocolate sorbet from Bettina & Niccolò Corallo and to sit down in the nearby Príncipe Real Garden, watching the world go by.
Visit the City Hall website to see the full program for the Eurovision Village in Praça do Comércio.