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Vegetarian dining in Portugal

Eating out in Lisbon and Portugal as a vegetarian.

This article researches the possibilities for vegetarians to have a good time on holiday in Lisbon and the rest of Portugal, eat enough healthy food and even taste traditional Portuguese food without having to consort to eating meat.

We’ll give you some advice and tips on the best places to eat, get your nutrients and enjoy great meals dining out the way you should on holiday!
In the large Supermarkets all over the country vegetarian food has become easily available from the large choice of beans, lentil and nuts already much used in the traditional Portuguese Cuisine, you now also will find many soya meat imitations, Tofu, Seitan and other meat replacement products.

Going to restaurants you generally wont find these things on the menu.
If you don’t eat meat but fish there is no problem, fish is on just about every menu. Inland you’ll find less fresh fish but many Bacalhua (salted cod dishes) that make up a large part of the traditional menu all over Portugal.
You don’t eat meat or fish? Than eggs, cheese are often available but after that it gets more difficult.

Some vegetarian  facts

Vegetarianism is growing and growing worldwide and anno 2013 the statistics demand that we take vegetarians serious in our supermarkets and restaurants.

We already know countries like India and Taiwan to have a large percentage of vegetarians (respectively 40% and 10%)

Europe however has lower percentages but the amount of vegetarians are steadily growing due to more food and environmental awareness and the various meat scams of recent years.

The Netherlands has a percentage of roughly 5% vegetarians and most of the population eat meat only a couple of times a week.

The Uk scores higher roughly 10% of it’s population is fully vegetarian.

Germany has almost 8 million vegetarians making it one the most vegetarian countries in Europe.

America scores around 6% of its population, which is , let’s face it, a substantial amount of people.

Portugal however scores around 0.3% and most Portuguese cannot imagine a meal without meat or fish.

Hopefully, in the future, more and more restaurants will understand the necessity of creating fully vegetarian, balanced and delicious meals.

Traditional vegetarian foods that you can find in restaurants

Eating traditional Portuguese: It can be a bit of a challenge finding typical Portuguese food that doesn’t consist of meat or fish, yet it’s possible!

First of all don’t make the mistake of going to a traditional restaurant thinking they can and will throw something together that will come close to a meal. The best you can hope for in most restaurants is an omelet or a couple of fried eggs, salad (not much more than lettuce, tomato and onion), white rice, potato, chips and if there out of eggs, well…..

So lets look at the traditional kitchen most dishes consist of fish, meat or mixes of fish and meat.

Some of the the side dishes however, can be exciting for vegetarians especially the really traditional ones that go back to a time when fish and meat where not daily available making some of them are really fully nutritious vegetarian meals and delicious if made well.

Check out the following

Tremoco

not a meal but a great beer snack that many Portuguese eat while socializing with friends over a beer or a glass of wine. They are big butter beans, salted and delicious as a snack. Most Portuguese will pop the bean out of it’s skin (as it can be bitter) and eat only the inside leaving the skin on the plate provided.

Acorda

Acorda is found all over Portugal and it’s much like the Italian risotto but not made with rice but bread mixed with almost anything. Not al Acorda’s are vegetarian but a lot of them are or could be if you ask the cook.

Acorda can be with beans, veg or gamba’s. It’s always mixed with plenty of olive oil and seasoning.

Magusto

A type of acorda with beans. A filling and great vegetarian meal.

Migas Now Migas is one of my favourites. Especially the regional Ribatejan dish that you will find in Lisbon in restaurants that serve dishes from Ribatejo. But the whole country has different types of Migas all worth trying.

It literally means breadcrumbs and is made of the tougher, heavier country bread type. In Ribatejo they use Broa. The bread is cut into small pieces, mixed with olive, white bean, a Portuguese cabbage called caldo verde or couve Portuguesa also finely chopped, salt, pepper, sometimes garlic and other seasoning. It’s delicious mixed with salad it’s a filling and perfectly nutritious meal.

Soups

Most Portuguese soups are vegetarian. Generally stock cubes aren’t used in preparing soups and a vegetable soups will be made using partly pureed vegetables, salt and olive oil. So if you can handle a meal made purely of soup (bread and olives) this can be a safe way to go.

Chick pea chick pea is part of the traditional Portuguese kitchen and most restaurants will have them. Very often they are mixed with chopped onion and fresh parsley and they can help in making a sufficient vegetarian meal.

In portuguese they are called grao (grouwng)

Buffet

Many restaurants offer buffet and a lot of these buffet will have at least a few vegetarian dishes (if your strict you may want to check with the cook which dishes are really vegetarian but I’ve had a few of these meals choosing the veg, bean and chickpea dishes that did taste good and where fulfilling.

And from my experience that’s where ‘vegetarian’ stops in all Portuguese traditional restaurants.

In Lisbon there are plenty of alternatives, generally a bit more expensive than the average, although the vegetarian meal is likely to be the cheapest.

Italian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Turkish restaurants all offer vegetarian meals and there are many of them.

This month we will introducing a new tag to our restaurants that serve also fully fledged vegetarian meals, so they become easier to find!

Conclusion

Being a vegetarian I love the fully vegetarian restaurants that give me a menu where I can choose, wow, but being a person I like to go out with friends and not all of them get as excited as I do when I say ‘vegetarian restaurant!’. that’s why all restaurants should offer vegetarian alternatives, there are to many of us to ignore! And our meat eating friends do take us into consideration and will also move to a restaurant that offers both if they are to be found.

If on average 7% of eaters are vegetarian than 7% of menu’s should be vegetarian but lets make it 10% it rounds better and gives meat eaters the opportunity to skip for one day.

Sadly not every vegetarian want tofu, which is pretty difficult to get and even more difficult to cook, if you want to get it right.

Why never a vegetarian lasagna (nuts replace meat very well) or a quiche. Want to do it portugeuse use all the beans from the traditional kitchen, spice them up the way you would any other Portuguese dish, serve with rice and a well fried egg or boiled potato and voila, a traditional Portuguese vegetarian meal is born!

Conclusion: if an average of 7% of the total tourist population are vegetarians just taking Europe and America into perspective, isn’t it time for Portugal to start thinking of alternatives? At least there where there are tourists? And maybe offering fully fledged vegetarian meals to the Portuguese just to show them how delicious vegetarian food can be!

Vegetarian food is easier to cook, easier to keep fresh and a lot cheaper, shouldn’t every restaurant be happy to have at least one dish on their menu and at least 2 because they like to offer choice!

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