Yep, that's the title of my trip to Portugal!
I knew Portugal was fish and meat-centric, and that pastries would be about my only option, but I really thought there might be just a teensy, itty-bitty bit more for vegetarians in Portugal. A vegetarian commenter even warned me that she starved in Portugal, and recommended a vegetarian safe haven in Lisbon (thanks, by the way, but time and place didn't sync up).
I'm not complaining. I choose to be vegetarian, and no one, or country, should accommodate me, but, really, finding food that I truly wanted to eat was difficult (non-veggies even have the same problem). I'm certain that eating vegetarian in Portugal would have been a much better experience with a local and off the tourist path, but, hey, I was just that – a tourist with no clue!
So, here are my meals in all their glory...
Day 1: Lisbon
There are cafes and pastry shops every fifty feet in Portugal – all serving the same thing: pastries, salads, fish, and meat. Each shop varies little from the next, so just sit down at any one you like – they're all the same. My first "meal" in Portugal was coffee and orange cake. The salads – i.e., plate of one type of vegetable – did not interest me, and that only left dessert to choose from.
Still hungry, I had a custard pasty from a shop down the road.
Variety in restaurants and food is not to be found easily in Portugal. Thankfully, J. had marked down the location of an Indian restaurant. The chick pea and spinach and potato curries were mediocre, but very welcome after a jet lagged day of only pastry consumption.
Day 2: Lisbon
The Ribeira Market in Lisbon was described as not-to-be-missed, but I found the market to be sad, with each vendor offering the exact same produce as the next. The Ribeira is not nearly as vibrant and varied as Borough Market in London, a market that truly should not be missed. Knowing the dearth of vegetarian food from my first day's experience, I bought plums and oranges to carry around with me.
These custard pastries sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon from the famed pastry shop, Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, are very good. They're worth fighting through the mob of locals and tourists at the counter.
A few doors down from Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, there's a sandwich shop with vegetarian sandwiches. Lord love the sandwich! What a great invention! Mine contained couscous, sliced hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, shredded carrots, lettuce, corn kernels, and special sauce.
Dinner that evening was at one of the many identical restaurants lining the streets. This one advertised pizza (I know, lame, but the vegetarian selections are virtually nil), so we headed in. If Tostino's has a Portuguese relative, this pizza is it - except think of frozen pizza back in the 80's when they weren't all fancy like they are now. This frozen pizza cost about $12! I later found the exact same pizza in the grocery store frozen section.
Day 3: Lisbon
Lunch is a banana and another orange cake, this one much better than the first.
Midday snack is ginjinha, a Portuguese favorite liqueur made from ginja berries fermented in brandy, served in plastic cups for the low, easy payment of 1 Euro. Not my thing, but when in Rome Lisbon... Sugar and alcohol also enhance the surreality of being in the middle of a huge communist rally!
There is a chain sandwich shop in Lisbon, Ca das Sandes (sort of like Subway, even though I did spot an actual Subway) that serves similar vegetarian sandwiches as the one I had before in the suburb of Belem. After checking out a dismal and uninspiring grocery store for goods to take back to the hostel and make a meal, I opted for the chain sandwich. Good sandwich! Hard boiled eggs and corn kernels make an appearance again. This chain was going to be my friend, but I never spotted it again in my travels.
Day 4: Cascais, Sintra, and Leiria
No pictures! This is the day I starved! Besides the hostel breakfast of toast and eggs, I ate two granola bars (I should have packed a lot more granola bars from home!), three plums, and one ice cream bar. The small tourist towns of Cascais and Sintra had nothing to offer vegetarians but pastries, and, I love dessert, but my body could not handle more sugar. I ate a high-fat ice cream bar right before riding a rental bike 10 kilometers along the coast of Cascais, just because I knew I'd need the energy. By the time we made it to Leiria, most restaurants were closed.
Day 5 & 6: Porto
Things got better in Porto with the discovery of a larger grocery store – still uninspiring, but at least they had tomato sauce! I bought pasta, tomato sauce, and sweet peppers for the next two night's meals at the hostel. And cake. I know, I just said I couldn't handle more sweets, but a body can handle dessert after a real meal!
I didn't drink "my" Port, but drank a glass each of sweet white, dry white, ruby, and tawny port from another port house with a lovely Swedish couple.
Day 7: Going Home
I swear to you that the sandwiches in Europe and the UK that come in triangular, plastic packages are very good. I couldn't find a vegetarian sandwich in these containers in Portugal – all contained ham or fish. This tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich came from the Frankfurt, Germany airport. I'm telling you, they're good!
I flew Lufthansa there and back, but didn't take pictures of the hard-as-a-rock rolls and bland, squash puree-topped, spinach ravioli on the way to Portugal. This return-flight meal of cheese stuffed tortellini with a tomato and pesto sauce accompanied by slaw, a soft roll, cheese wedge, and strawberry mouse cake was actually good, and, outside of the baguette sandwiches, probably the best meal of my trip. Sad.
Lufthansa's cheese pizza with sun dried tomatoes on soft, floppy bread. Not so good, but at the end of a nine hour flight I was starving.