The gourmet food hall that’s also known as the Time Out Market is one of the liveliest spots in Lisbon.
Granted, many visitors to Mercado da Ribeira Lisbon are tourists. It’s the biggest food market and one of the most popular attractions in the city. But that doesn’t make the experience any less worth having. The vibe is lively from the time the market opens until late into the night. You can’t make a bad choice when ordering from the 24 restaurant stalls and eight bars. That said, the place, informally known as the Time Out Market, can be a zoo, and a few smart navigation tricks come in handy.
Photo Credit: Ann Abel, Text Overlay: Devour Lisbon Food Tours
What’s the Story? Why’s It Called Time Out?
The first version of Mercado da Ribeira opened in a different location in the 12th century. By the 17th century, it was one of the most renowned markets in Europe. The current structure was opened in 1882 to house the city’s main wholesale market. After that market moved to a new location, in 2000, business fell off and the building—and the neighborhood around it—became derelict.
It was only in 2014 that the market as we now know (and love) it came into being. And, yes, it’s the same Time Out as the magazine empire. The team that won the concession to take over the market was the same team that founded the Lisbon edition of the magazine.
They asked their food writers and editors to pick the chefs and restaurants that would get space in its stalls. The result is a “curated” collection that includes many staples on the magazine’s “best of” lists.
Several of the country’s best-known chefs, including Henrique Sá Pessoa of the Michelin one-star Alma; Miguel Castro e Silva, the godfather of Portuguese fine dining; and Kiko Martins of the beloved Cevicheria have outposts. They and several other esteemed chefs turn out traditional Portuguese fare (bacalhau, pica-pau, presunto), while other stalls offer American-style hamburgers, sushi, pizza and ice cream.
The Best Things to Eat
Our favorite strategy is to go in a group, so we can sample many dishes. Also, we like to stick to Portuguese cuisine. The pizza at Zero Zero and the sushi at Confraria are best-in-class but we come here to taste Lisbon. That means:
- bacalhau à brâs from Castro e Silva (stall 10)
- the famous 64-degree egg from Sá Pessoa (stall 11)
- buhlão pato rice (cooked with garlic, lemon and coriander) with swordfish from Marlene Vieira (stall 12)
- the roast pork sandwich from Balcão da Esquina (stall 2)
- a fresh-from-the-oven pastel de nata at Manteigaria (stall 49/50)
And while it’s not exactly traditional, the octopus hot dog from Sea Me (stall 8), with an octopus leg in a warm bun, is a novelty worth trying.
It’s loud, it’s chaotic, and that’s all part of the fun. Shortly after the food hall opens, at 10 a.m., it begins filling with people. That continues until closing time (midnight on weeknights, 2 a.m. Thursday–Saturday) but it has some peaks and valleys. Try visiting at an odd hour, say 5 p.m., when it’s a bit quieter.
We learned the hard way to save our seats before ordering, because walking around with rapidly cooling plates of food is no fun. Leave a sweater or jacket on a chair or a low-value possession at a spots at one of the communal tables before you order.
If the chaos of the main hall is too much, many of the stalls have counters on the periphery of the market, where you can eat while watching the chefs at work. (And a few of the restaurants have outdoor seating.)
The Other Side of Lisbon at Mercado da Ribeira
Apart from the main dining hall, there is still a traditional food market where local vendors, some of whom have been here for decades, sell flowers, vegetables, fruit, fish, bread, cheese and other goodies. We do our own shopping here, as the quality is high, the prices are low, and we like to preserve this little slice of old-world Lisbon.