Portuguese food is often overlooked, though in fairness that was often true of its neighbor, Spain, until José Andrés arrived on the culinary scene in the 1990s. Someone will emerge from this coastal gem onto the U.S. restaurant scene at some point, and soon we'll all be talking about Portugal’s cuisine as if we'd been in the know all along.
In the meantime, the nation home to 10-plus million along with its farmers, dairies, fisheries and food producers more than hold their own, whether we’re talking breads, cheeses, produce, wine — and, of course, seafood and charcuterie. While at a first glance many menus may seem overwhelming to the vegetarian or vegan visitor, change is underway.
And no, we’re not just talking a token vegetarian menu limited to pasta and salads. More restaurants are expanding their meat-free menu selections, and just about any sizable city has vegan eateries that are easy to find. Supermarkets and hypermarkets such as Continente are also rolling out vegan options such as plant-based deli slices and sausages.
Not that this shift was completely organic in nature. Portugal’s government recently mandated that all eateries must include a vegan option. Meanwhile, the number of Portuguese citizens who identify as vegetarian or vegan has skyrocketed over the past several years.
Of course, this niche within Portugal’s evolving food scene just happens to be unfolding as the ongoing burger craze is also slathering itself across the country. Travelers craving such a thing won’t go hungry. For example, the answer to LA’s pastrami burger in cities like Lisbon and Guimarães include patties topped with presunto (dry cured ham) and queijo de Serpa (a sheep milk-based cheese) from the Alentejo, a region in southern Portugal that’s increasingly becoming a popular foodie destination.
Nevertheless, independent restaurants and small chains are resisting, persisting and serving decadent eats without the use of meat, thereby skirting any harmful impact on animals and the environment. One of them is Mother Burger, which currently has three locations in Lisbon with more on the drawing board.
Mother Burger, which launched in 2019, is food porn at its best. Let’s start with the messaging: It’s very in-your-face, and it's guaranteed that your face will become gloriously messy after you hoover up one of its decadent creations. It’s also the Schitt’s Creek of burgers: As was the case with that show’s approach toward love and sexuality, at Mother Burger, there is no explaining, there are no apologies — only really f*cking good burgers, nuggets, cheesy croquettes and milkshakes, all of which are plant-based. Mother Burger simply is what it is — a normal, sloppy, decadent foodie experience. The wrappers make it both stark and clear: These are burgers, and vegan burgers at that, and you will love them — and you will come back, and you will love the experience again. TriplePundit certainly did.
Options at Mother Burger include varying bursts of spice, umami and sweetness revolving around patties that are tofu-based, made with seitan and textured like chicken. If you wish to spend an additional euro, you can also get the “fake meat” option, which is self-explanatory. Flavor profiles include plant-based burgers drizzling with guacamole, fake pub cheese, mushroom confit or caramelized onions, all of which hit the spot whether you are starving, hungover or want to show your mother (or father) that yes, vegan can be both messy and beautiful.
The star of the show is Mother Burger’s homemade vegan patty, made with local ingredients that include beets, lentils, black beans, coconut oil, oats and mushrooms. No, it does not bleed like the infamous Impossible Burger, but it’s substantial, flavorful and light-years away from the grubby, crumbly options to which many non-meat eaters had long been relegated.
For those in need of a palate cleansing after the debauchery (some of Mother Burger’s concoctions are a bit much, even if in a good way), at all three locations (as with any restaurant in Portugal), a shop selling gelado (ice cream or gelato) is only a few steps away. Many of those have vegan options as well, including classic flavors of fruit sorbet.
“I thought it would be more of a ‘meh’ place well-known only for being vegan,” wrote one reviewer on Facebook, who was quick to add that her experience was “top.”
Mother Burger will win more fans in the near term, but it can’t sit on its laurels. After all, the number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Lisbon alone keep increasing and score highly on any menu creativity index.
Image credits: Leon Kayemeat chicken seafood ice cream cheese milk cream burgers burger plant-based