Eating Bifanas in Lisbon – Just Like My Travel Hero
I distinctly remember putting Lisbon on my must-visit list after watching Anthony Bourdain visit Portugal’s capital city in 2012. I was struck by its old-world beauty, its riverside location, and especially its food. Anthony Bourdain taught me a lot. I loved learning about the world from him, and I try to emulate his experiential approach to travel. He is my travel hero. Sometimes I seek out places I remember from his various episodes, but mostly I don’t. I want to explore and discover on my own. But when it came to eating Bifanas in Lisbon, I decided to experience what he labeled the “hot porky love” of Portugal’s favorite snack at a place called O Trevo – exactly like he did.
What is A Bifana?
Bifanas are simple pork sandwiches, made from thin slices of marinated pork loin. The marinade usually consists of white wine, garlic, and paprika. A few slices of this pork is slapped in between a traditional Portuguese crusty roll called a papo seco, then topped with yellow mustard and a spicy piri-piri chili oil. Cheese can be added if you wish. They aren’t large, and are usually consumed more as snack or appetizer.
Bifanas are ubiquitous on the menus in Lisbon and throughout Portugal. In the north part of the country, they are prepared a little differently. But marinated pork and papo seco remain the common thread, no matter where you eat it.
Cervejaria O Trevo
As you would expect with a national food treasure, there is a lot of online debate about where to get the best bifanas in Lisbon. Cervajaria O Trevo is usually on most lists. It’s a small busy cervejaria (or pub) located directly on one of Lisbon’s busiest squares in one of Lisbon’s busiest neighborhoods.
Because this is where Anthony Bourdain ate his bifana, it has that added layer of popularity. And they definitely play it up. His picture hangs prominently on the wall. But despite the tourists and Bourdain disciples that pile in, it also remains very popular with the locals too.
The first time I tried bifanas in Lisbon was at another of the “best bifanas” establishments called As Bifanas do Afonso. We happened acrossed it early in our Lisbon stay, so I decided to try my first bifana there.
And honestly, I wasn’t impressed. The pork was too salty for me (and I like salty), and not as tender as I expected.
I actually didn’t make it a priority to eat a bifana again. I wondered what all the fuss was about.
But one day I found myself near O Trevo when hungry, and decided to trust Tony and give bifanas another shot.
My Favorite Praça
O Trevo sits adjacent to a busy Lisbon square called Praça Luís de Camões. This has turned out to be my favorite square in downtown Lisbon, so I gravitate there often. It’s a moderately sized square, surrounded by stately buildings, and in the center stands a statue of a famous 16th century Portuguese poet – Luís Vaz de Camões.
It’s also a common destination for many of the famed Lisbon streetcar lines. As a result, these are constantly coming and going on all sides of the square.
And, it’s the perfect place to eat a takeaway bifana from O Trevo. Why sit inside with the crowds of the pork-hungry, when I could walk across the street instead, and enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and the hustle & bustle of the square?
A Man Walks Into A Bar
O Trevo is busy. Every time I’d previously walked by, it was packed. And this day was no different. Every table inside and out was full. Patrons stood at the counter elbow to elbow.
Sometimes this will intimidate me and I will leave with plans to try again another time. Especially if I am by myself. And on this day, Mrs. TT was back at the apartment not feeling well.
But I saw Tony’s picture on the far wall calling me a wimp (not the word he actually used in my imagination, but I probably shouldn’t print that one), and I waited.
Shortly, a spot opened up at the counter directly in front of me, and the counter server was right there, asking me for my order – in English. (Hmmm…I thought I was blending in well with the locals that day)
Anyway, I ordered two bifanas. She asked if I wanted cheese. I did not. She asked if I wanted mustard and chili oil. I did.
And then off she went to finish someone else’s order.
My counter spot was luckily right next to the sandwich cook. I watched as he made one sandwich after the other. They not only sell bifanas at O Trevo, but they have a long menu of other sandwiches and simple entrees, too. The middle pan below contains bifana pork simmering in its marinade. Ultimately, I watch him pull mine from the murky slog and pile it onto two papo secos.
He handed them off to my server, who sliced them in half and topped them with the mustard and piri-piri chili oil.
She then wrapped them up in paper, collected my 5 Euros (yes only 2.5 euros each!), and I was on my way – straight across to find a seat in the square.
Did I Find Hot Porky Love?
And with my second try eating bifanas in Lisbon, under the watchful eye of Portugal’s greatest poet, I did find Tony’s hot porky love.
I liked this version of the bifana much better. The meat had more flavor, was much less salty, was more tender, and the strange combination of yellow mustard and chili oil worked somehow. I can now see why bifanas are so popular, and I’m glad that I gave it a second try.
Sometimes it’s wise to follow in the footsteps of your travel hero.
If you would like to read more about my time in Portugal, then check out:
An Evening Quest for the Best Chicken in Lisbon
Lisboa Em Fado – A Glimpse into the Portuguese Soul
11 Photos That Will Convince You To Visit Lisbon Portugal
If you would like to read more about some of favorite eating adventures, then check out:
Steven these look so, so good. I go veggie mostly since wifey is a vegetarian. But I will go carno-saur for a meal or two if delightful flesh fare avails itself. Or if meat dishes look good abroad LOL. Fab post!
Thanks Ryan! I tried the vegetarian life for a while and it was just too difficult for me. And I for sure would struggle when traveling. Such a variety of great things to eat out on the road. But Lisbon has an impressive number of high quality vegetarian and vegan restaurants too. We’ve tried several
Cindi | An Easy Journey
So enjoyed traveling with you (& Tony)! Looks like a real travel experience: eating delicious local foods. Thank you so much for sharing your travels with all of us!
You’re welcome Cindi! Eating local delicious foods probably is the single thing that I love most about travel
Latitude Adjustment: A Tale of Two Wanderers
This is fantastic. We will be there in October. Hungry now! 😃
Stay hungry…So much great food in Lisbon!
I love bifanas – we ate many when we stayed in Lisbon (love this city). Currently in Cuenca and are enjoying their “version” called Pernil – yummie, inexpensive, and can be found throughout the city.
I wanted to try Pernil, but never came across it. Next time in Portugal…