Urban Alternatives is launched by a collaboration of different actors which are united in their efforts to create a more democratic, just and sustainable world. This map seeks to highlight initiatives that work towards this goal. Proposal for initiatives not listed yet can be made directly on the website. This process is open to new collaborations.


Cozinha Popular da Mouraria

Socio-Ecological Transformation

What challenges did this initiative look to address?

At the time when the Cozinha Popular da Mouraria opened its doors in 2011, the surrounding area was marginalised and characterised by abandoned lots and houses, crime, prostitution and drug traffic. The bright side of the coin is that, due to its cheap rents it had also become one of the most cosmopolitan quarters of Lisbon: home of many migrants arriving since the 80s and coming from all parts of the world - China, Nepal, Cape Verde, Mozambique, India, Goa, Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Angola and Guinea.

Still: while there is a strong sense of (multicultural) community in the neighbourhood, the social fabric is fragile and infrastructure for community activities is scarce as are local employment opportunities.

What has changed?

Since cooking is a universal language, the project aims to engage all available resources in the Mouraria quarter. It combats situations of marginalization, unemployment and conflicts between drug traffickers, and also enables immigrant communities to intersect with the local population. The community kitchen is an engine against local unemployment, for joint experimentation, for improving the image of the neighbourhood, knowledge in producing quality food, training neighbourhood youths, countering isolation and promoting active citizenship of the elderly. Neighbourhood residents are also made familiar with innovative farming methods in urban gardens.

Cozinha Popular da Mourariainvolves culinary and cultural sharing that enables social cohesion and promotes the concepts of solidarity economy and socio-ecological transformation through contributing to a positive image of the neighbourhood of mutual exchange and kinship. A huge component of this sort of communal kitchen is social intervention, which welcomes and embraces the multicultural diversity of sharing and learning.

Beyond the simple and genuine desire of eating, meeting and conviviality, Cozinha Popular da Mouraria wants to work as an engine of entrepreneurship, tackling local unemployment, involving the population, becoming aware of the socio-family - particularly the most vulnerable groups: unemployed youth, children, the elderly and migrants. It is not a charity or welfare project, but an incentive for entrepreneurship. Activities are free for residents while other guests pay a fee. They are all inhabitants of Mouraria, and here a space has been created to exchange ideas, diverse cultures and cuisines, to share experiences with family, friends and neighbours.

How did it happen?

The journalist and photographer Adriana Freire dreamed of having a kitchen full of people, not unlike the home of an extended family, where everyone gathers at the table and where there are always people to cook a little bit of everything, but always with love. Submitted in 2011, the nature of the project was in tune with BIP-ZIP (Bairros e Zonas de Intervenção Prioritária / Neighbourhoods and Areas of Priority Intervention) and other supportive programmes for urban revitalisation in Lisbon, which were being promoted by the municipality.

Urban interventions and numerous social projects, financed by the City or others, along with the willingness of citizens, brought new opportunities for about 5,000 residents of Mouraria. The rehabilitation project also aims to emphasise the potential of the area in terms of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism. The Cozinha Popular da Mourariathus obtained its first necessary funding to start the project. The rented space, an old garage, has since been transformed into a large kitchen, a small room with a dining table and a small covered patio for another set of tables and sofas. All furniture has been donated by numerous people.

Since Adriana knows a diversity of chefs in the City of Lisbon, they can engage in certain projects and offer some training for people of the neighbourhood or other areas. In fact, people coming from outside the neighbourhood become aware that, when dining or participating in activities, they are contributing to an improvement of life of Mouraria.

Alongside the professional chefs that voluntarily train local amateur cooks, there are always the passionate volunteers and neighbours of Mouraria. Inside this space, lunch is served daily for those who get to cook and / or eat. Meals are varied, generally offering several starters, a main course and some desserts, all accompanied by a drink. The cost of the meal is 5 Euros, but those who cannot afford this lend a hand in the kitchen, washing dishes, or giving anything in return. If there are leftovers, everyone in the neighbourhood knows who needs extra help due to situations of unemployment, sickness, old age, extended family. The revenue covers the cost of the running the kitchen, the shopping, any necessary renovation work.

On school days, the kids of the neighbourhood arrive in the afternoon eager to learn how to cook, mix the dough, make pizza and cookies and get to snack. Here there are no charges. The Kitchen receives other proposals as well: parties, group dinners, various events, celebrations, workshops and food catering for trade shows or local events. These group meals are a bit more expensive: 15 Euros per person, all inclusive.

Purchases are made in local shops, and many of the vegetables come from a garden of an old palatial house in a state of disrepair. It is an occupation that has been allowed by its owners, and is run by those who cooperate voluntarily in the project of the Cozinha Popular da Mouraria. The garden is a kind of raised courtyard garden, made of wooden pallets and recycled milk cartons. Plants start growing here, without soil, only water, nutrients and sunlight or artificial light and are then transplanted to the garden outside, where they will grow and bear fruit: aromatic herbs, fruit, vegetables, etc. From there they are brought to the kitchen. Prices of meals, help from permanent residents, community involvement and financial support obtained through BIP-ZIP, allows for complete sustainability. The space serves the interest of all. Residents in need of a kitchen for their business may use the facilities. What is made can be sold legally because they it comes from a certified kitchen.

The design lends itself to multiple interests and sustains itself in several ways: the space can be rented or used by groups and local artisans who sell their food, it serves daily meals to residents and guests from outside, it promotes kitchen training, it performs catering for events and offers is a space for conviviality and community building.

(Note: Parts of this text are taken and adapted from Claudia Coimbra’s text on Cozinha Popular da Mouraria. Source. Creative Commons License.)