LISBON Lisbon's organic and vegetarian scene takes off

Say goodbye to those grilled sardines…how a city of passionate pescetarians began to catch on to the merits of going green.


Lisbon's organic and vegetarian scene takes off

Say goodbye to those grilled sardines…how a city of passionate pescetarians began to catch on to the merits of going green.

Lisbon's organic scene from The Green Chef

Voted Wallpaper’s coolest city of 2017, there’s a lot bubbling to the surface in this laid-back capital. From creative co-working hubs in new neighborhoods to a buzzing start-up scene, Lisbon is shaking off its comfy cloak of tradition to embrace some of the world’s more progressive trends – one of which is conscious dining. A pioneer in the city’s vegetarian scene, Sarah Maraval (aka. The Green Chef), shares her insight into the shifting tide and where she likes to go green.

Parisian-born chef Sarah Maraval grew up on the beaches of Cascais and Monte Estoril, and only found her passion for cooking after a well-established career in advertising, working for industry leaders like McCann.  Yet as her career took off, so did her stress levels, and she increasingly found herself drawn to organic markets offering fabulous local produce, dotted in and around the city, as a way of switching off and recharging.  Then one day, she packed it all in and hopped on a plane to California for an intensive baptism-by-fire to train under the world-acclaimed raw food chef Matthew Kenney, renowned for his creativity, spectacular presentation and for cultivating some of the globe’s leading raw and vegetarian chefs.  Returning to Lisbon, it was touch and go whether she could convert her passion into a profession.  The market was slow to catch on to emerging global trends – what would it take to covert a nation of passionate pescatarians tied to tradition to the merits of conscious cooking? It was almost mission impossible… 

How has the vegetarian food scene evolved in the past 5 to 10 years?

“It took a while! It is a relatively recent trend, which is now in full swing, and I am sure we will continue to witness a huge evolution in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, its still not main stream – there is still confusion between what is veggie and what is vegan, and also what I would describe as what I like to call the ‘the Birkenstock’ stigma’ – basically that vegan food is all tofu and lentils for Birkenstock-wearing hippies, or that we only eat lettuce, which I find hilarious. Lots of times, I’m also asked if I drink, to which I reply ‘Vegans! Not Saints!’ Anyway, all of these misconceptions are changing rapidly.”

What lies behind the shift, and how do you see this influencing culture going forward?

“I believe that generally the western world is much more in tune with the fact that, aside from lifestyle choices, food plays a huge part in our health. I really believe that adapting our diet to a fresher, seasonal and more local diet is important and that is becoming evident. I don’t believe this is just a trend, but really a shift in mentalities and habit, therefore a shift in our culture.

Portugal is emerging as something of a hot-bed for sustainable living – why?

“Since the crisis hit, people lost a lot and started living much more frugally. The upside of this is that there is a lot less waste and people have a much higher standards on where they spend their money. Due to these factors – in Portugal at least – the consumer became much more interested in buying local and national products, which in the end affects sustainability in a very positive way.”

Where do you go to shop connect with community?

“I’m a huge fan of farmers’ markets and love talking to the producers about what’s growing and also hear how they like to cook their produce.

I visit the organic market in Parque Marchal Carmona in Cascais on Saturday mornings a lot with my daughter, its great for us both as there is a playground and the park itself is beautiful. I also like the weekend market in Principe Real, but my absolute favorite is the one in Almoçageme near Sintra, its really traditional and a joy to wander around.”

I also love shopping in down-town Lisbon’s Martim Moniz area, in up-and-coming neighborhood of Mouraria, which is like a melting pot of all the different cultures that live in our city, and where I can find ingredients and spices from far away lands like India, Japan and China.

Is there a particular neighborhood where the gourmet green scene is booming, and if so why?

“I think when it comes to food, any food, Principe Real is really booming. It feels like a new restaurant pops up everyday and because its such a beautiful and trendy neighborhood, it’s always a pleasure to go check out the boutiques and then stop to investigate what’s happening in the restaurant scene. I used to live here before I moved to Cascais, although it wasn’t quite so trendy when I lived there! Now property prices are some of the highest in town – its one of the best neighborhoods to live in Lisbon.

Who are the market innovators?

“Because we live by the sea and have such great ingredients, Lisbon has always had great food, but all of a sudden, it’s become a real foodie town, so it’s hard to say who the leaders are. There are so many great young chefs treating traditional recipes in really innovative ways, or just creating new ways to look at our food culture.”

Any places you go, or people you know, who have inspired your path?

“In terms of places, Guincho beach is my Mecca. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a lot, but nothing beats the coastal drive over to this golden beach, those rugged rocks and hard-core Atlantic waves.”

“In terms of people, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into some really wonderful kitchens and learn from Chefs that I truly admire:  Diogo Noronha (formally of Casa do Pasto) was kind enough to give me my first internship when I returned from California. I really admire his style and the integrity with which he sources ingredients. His food is top quality yet totally unpretentious, which I find really inspiring. I also learnt a lot from Eddy Melo at Intercontinental Lisbon’s Akla when I was a Guest Chef there. It was so much fun to create recipes together because we both get so excited and in-tune – the feeling is of synchronicity, almost like a band of musicians coming up with a new song. I haven’t worked with Paulo Morais (yet, here’s hoping…) he is a true master of Asian food and his aesthetics and respect for the traditional leave me in awe. His restaurant is Rabo d’Pêxe. “

Favorite places to travel inside Portugal for the green connection?

“Odeceixe and Sagres are two places that I truly love. Basically anywhere on the coast, but like any good local, I love the rough waves and the bone-cold water.”

5 must-have address for Lisbon’s Green Scene

1.Mercardo Biologico de Principe Real This Saturday morning market unites Lisbon’s leading organic producers and is a great spot for a stroll and people watching.

Praça do Principe Real, Lisbon

2. A026 – Vegan Food Project Book ahead for a table at this cozy vegan spot, which is favorite amongst veggie friends due to its great value and high quality home-cooking.

Rua Vitor Cordon, 26

3. Jardim dos SentidosAyurevdic and Asian influences spice up this elegant vegetarian spot set in gardens near the Botanical Gardens

R. da Mãe de Água 3

4. House of WondersThis art gallery and restaurant located in the chic beach-front neighborhood of Cascais serves vegetarian eats to a cool crowd on a fabulous roof-top

Largo de Misericordia 53, Cascais

5. Maria do Bairro This no frills local restaurant gets rave reviews for its fresh juices, breads and its pizza, crafted with alfarroba (carob) bases. 

 Praça Duque de Saldanha

Praia do Guincho, Principe Real best neighbourhood to live in Lisbon