Christmas in Lisbon is a magical, tasty time of year. While the city is full of Michelin starred eateries and innovative chefs offering delicious food year-round, during the festive season, it’s the time-honoured, traditional food that you’re going to want to try. From bolo rei and sonhos to bacalhau de consoada and leite crème, whether you have a sweet tooth or you prefer savoury festive fare, here are five of the best foodie treats to sample during your seasonal trip to the Portuguese capital.
Any rundown of Christmas food in Lisbon has to include the King of Portuguese Christmas treats, Bolo Rei, or “King Cake”. Aptly named, this cake is traditionally the centrepiece of any Portuguese Christmas feast, eaten between Christmas Day and Epiphany. Not unlike Italian panettone, this is a sweet, bread-like cake, made with nuts and dried, crystallised fruits.
But what would a King be without his Queen? Made with more nuts than her kingly counterpart, Bolo Rainha, or “Queen Cake”, appeared on the scene in the 1990s as an alternative to King Cake. Although King Cake tends to be the more popular, these royal cakes reign supreme over Christmas food in Lisbon and can be found in bakeries all over town, so perfect your curtsey and get eating.
A centre for cod consumption and trading since the 15th century, it should come as no surprise that this fish, and its salted incarnation (known as bacalhau), form an important part of food in Lisbon. During the festive period, the humble salted cod appears in the guise of Bacalhau da Consoada or “Christmas Eve Cod”. As the name suggests, Bacalhau da Consoada is traditionally served on Christmas Eve, though you’ll also likely see this much-loved dish on many restaurant menus across the capital.
Nowhere does custard desserts and pastries quite like Portugal, as evidenced by the delicious pastéis de nata on offer at Pasteis de Belem. Rich, creamy, and decadent, leite créme is another popular custard treat, which really comes into its own around Christmas, when it’s sprinkled liberally with brown sugar and then finished off with a blow torch to make it extra crispy. Very similar to the French crème brûlée, leite créme is a custard dessert cooked on the stovetop, rather than baked, and makes a delicious finale to a festive meal.
Practically guaranteed to give even the Grinch visions of sugar plum fairies, sonhos, which translates to “dreams” in English, are deliciously light, sugar-coated pastries that are not too dissimilar from doughnuts. They’re easy to find around Christmas in Lisbon, and while the original versions are mouth-wateringly good, the seasonal variations involving pumpkin (abóbora) and carrot (cenoura) make the perfect Christmastime treat.
Speaking of doughnut-like deliciousness, massa de filhós are, in fact, Portuguese Christmas doughnuts. While sonhos can be found year-round in pastry shops, the massa de filhós are specific to the Christmas period, and are well worth the wait. Traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, the dough would be made and left to rise while the family went to Midnight Mass, meaning that all that was left to do when they returned from church was to cook them, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and enjoy. Thankfully, with cafés, bakeries and pastry shops anticipating demand for this delightful Christmas food in Lisbon, there’s no need to cook up your own batch.