Food and drink, Lisbon
Local traditions are fading, but some still have their followers.
Ginginha is one of them: two tiny shops were the landmark of this cherry liquor, that, of course, you may buy everywhere, including shops and supermarkets. But the tradition was to stop, ask for a Ginginha at the counter, and drink it outside, watching the passing people.
Portuguese sanitary authorities forced the closing of the small stalls that traditionalists would like to reopen. Meanwhile, Largo de S. Domingos keeps being a talking area, only without the glass in people’s hands. Till when?
Be sure to try the pasteis de Belem (or pasteis de nata) while you're in Lisbon. They are custard tarts and every bakery and cafe sells them. You can sprinkle some powdered sugar on them, and eat them with coffee/tea. They are absolutely delicious and make a great breakfast, snack, or dessert.
While a well-respected wine nation, Portugal is often best known for its port. But, there are other famous drinks being sipped by Portuguese in Lisbon including Ginjinha, a vibrant cherry liqueur. Head to the nocturnal suburb of Bairo Alto after 10pm to see the bars open and choose your spot for a glass.
Altough the most famous portuguese Ginjinha is from Óbidos, in Lisbon you can taste various origins of it.
The oldest place and most famous to try it is at "Largo de São Domingos", a tiny hole in the wall.
These warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven custard tarts with light and flaky crusts can be found in cafés all over Lisbon. First made by a pair of nuns in the early 1800s at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the most famous ones are still baked at the Casa Pastéis de Belém, located next to the monastery. Sprinkled with a little cinnamon and powdered sugar, the tops gently browned by the oven, the pastéis literally melt in your mouth. They’re best enjoyed with a bica, the Portuguese version of an espresso.
In Portugal, there is a food named "Cozido à Portuguesa". It is generally served in most of restaurants on wednesday's, and may be hard to find on another day's!
It's a plate full of stewed meat (chicken, cow, pork, etc) and "Farinheira", Chorizo, Rice and many other stuff.
You can ask for a "Cozido à Portuguesa magro" (light) and the restaurant will prepare you only the not so caloric meats.
It's a heavy and hot food, so it is best eaten when the weather is cold so it warm you up!
It is really great, and probably the most typical portuguese food you can taste in Lisbon!
"Cozido à Portuguesa" goes very well with a good Alentejo Whine.
Give it a try!
Portugal is very famous for it's whines.
Alentejo, Douro, Dão, all very good zones of whine.
In Bairo Alto you will find many "hole in the wall" bars where you can taste very good whines!
Some of this places also have live music, usually Fado, which makes the perfect combination for whine tasting.
Anyway, most of these bars are only open at night! So visit Bairro Alto at it's best, like from 9pm.
In many restaurants in Lisbon (and throughout Portugal) you will be presented with a plate of tempting appetisers when you sit down for a meal.
These usually include bread, various types of cheese, olives, garlic butter and, almost always, a helping of sardine paste. Sometimes you may even get cold meats, slices of chourico sausage or seafood.
If you don't intend to eat these delicacies, you should inform the waiter that you don't want them and ask him or her to take them away. Otherwise, you'll be charged for them as part of the restaurant's cover charge.
In many cases it isn't clear how much they will cost or on what basis you will be charged. In my experience, there are two scenarios. In some cases, the restaurant will charge you a certain sum regardless of whether you eat all of the items or just nibble on a few olives. In other cases, the restaurant will charge you only for the items that you consume and will itemise them on your bill.
I've never asked a waiter to take the appetisers away; I can never resist spreading the tasty sardine paste onto a crusty bread roll while waiting for my meal. Usually, the cover charge will amount to just 1 or 2 Euros, but on occasions I have been stung for 5 Euros or more (for example, 1 Euro for the sardine paste, 1 Euro for the bread, 1 Euro for each piece of cheese...it can soon add up!).
During my visits to Lisbon in March and December 2011, I joined the locals outside the Ginjinha bars most days to indulge in a shot of Lisbon's famous cherry liqueur.
There were two Ginjinha bars that I tended to frequent; "A Ginjinha" and "Ginjinha Sem Rival Eduardino". They are located a mere 100 metres apart on the edge of Rossio Square.
These small bars share many similarities. They are both tiny, hole-in-the-wall places that sell shots of Ginjinha to a steady flow of customers day and night. Queues form outside both places and neither place is big enough to accommodate more than 3 or 4 customers inside at a time.
Both charge 1.20 Euros for a shot of Ginjinha and offer the chance to have it "with or without fruits". If you opt to have it "with fruits", you will get two or three cherries in your shot glass along with the alcohol. The cherries soak up the liqueur and make for a very nice finale to the drink!
Crowds gather outside each bar to enjoy their drinks and boxes are provided to dispose of used glasses and discarded cherry stones.
There is generally a jovial atmosphere outside the bars, but I did find that they tended to attract a few unsavoury characters as well. I was approached by beggars on a few occasions while enjoying my Ginjinha and did notice a few drunks outside the bars late in the evenings. I always felt safe enough though.
I enjoyed the Ginjinha so much that I purchased a bottle to bring home with me.
Be sure to visit the Ginjinha bars around Rossio Square for a shot of cherry liqueur!
You will find carts selling freshly roasted chestnuts throughout the centre of Lisbon.
I indulged in lots of chestnuts during my visits to Lisbon in March and December 2011. I bought them from a cart at the foot of Elevador Gloria near Restauradores Square, from a cart outside Rossio train station and from carts next to the Ginjinha bars of Rossio Square. There are more carts around the edge of Rossio Square and along Avenida Liberdade and Praca do Comercio.
They were all selling chestnuts for a standard price: 2 Euros for a dozen.
All of the chestnuts that I bought were large, well cooked and very easy to peel. They were better than any chestnuts I've ever had in the UK. Some of the carts served their chestnuts in paper cones (similar to those that British fish and chip shops serve chips in), while others served them in a more useful paper bag with two compartments; one for the chestnuts and one for discarding the shells.
Delicious roasted chestnuts can be purchased from many carts around the Rossio Square area of the city.
If you're one that loves sweets and a dessert especially after a meal, this one is for you. However, that is if you love the tropical fruit mango since this particular dessert, and very much a Portuguese particular, is derived from and wholly made out of the mango. Basically this dessert is an entire mango or two grounded and whipped into a luscious creamy custard consistency and mixed in only plain sugar. Each slow spoonful melts in your mouth like a lifetime of dreamy thick nectar!
This stellar dessert is the Mouse de Manga (mango mouse) which I had discovered in Lisbon right away after my first few visits to the city and has since become a favorite sweet of mine that nowadays I go ask for it there after every meal. I'm not sure if the mouse de manga is truly distinctly Portuguese (the Portuguese tend to think so), but I've not and cannot find it anywhere else in my travels so far - at least not in the way it's been concocted the way the Portuguese have gifted it for the mouth!
The mouse de manga's total perfection is revealed even further when taken with a 'bica', the uniquely Portuguese type of expresso or even a cup of tea. But please don't be criminal and try to have it with wine.
I was introduced to pasteis de nata, or custard tarts, during the Euromeet 2009 in Cascais. I thought they were delicious and right up my alley: soft and a little crunchy at the same time, with cream and not too sweet. Then I saw them in Beijing at a bakery and at KFC and revisiting Lisbon I had to have them once more :)
The most famous are the pasteis made in Casa Pasteis de Belem, where they're made for selling and for eating on the premises.
Another yummy thing I tasted in Portugal: queijo fresco or fresh cheese. This is cheese made of cow or goat milk in a way that it must be consumed right away or the day after (if made the traditional way). Nowadays you can find some that have a slightly longer expiration date.
Consistensy wise, this cheese resembles cottage cheese but more solid. The usual way of eating this cheese is slicing it and adding salt and pepper.
Portugal is not particulary famous for its beer. Nevertheless, pale lager beers seem to be quite popular. I gave Sagres and Superbock a try.
Sagres beer is brewed by the Central de Cervejas brewery in Vila Franca de Xira. Since 2008 the brewery is under control of a joint venture of the breweries Heinken and Carlsberg.
Superbock beer is the most popular beer in Portugal and also well known in other countries of the world. It is brewed by the Unicer brewery, which is located in Leca do Balio in the north of Portugal.
One of the typical foods in Portugal and very popular in the area of Lisbon are snails. Snails have a season and are normally eaten in a specific time of the year (June-August) when they are in their best shape to be tasted. Portuguese people sit in an esplanade with a beer, preferably after a day at the beach, and just relax snacking snails.
The snails are normally in nets at the door of the restaurants and are stewed with some spices. Snails are healthy, with a low calorie and fat and a high protein level. Produced in farms or caught in the nature they are actually molluscs like clams or squids. The snails eaten in Portugal are quite small and have nothing to do with the french escargot. The portuguese snails are small ones and are sucked directly from the shells.
Portugal eats 4.000 tons each year. In Lisbon, the area of Alcantara is probably one of the places with more concentration of places dedicated to the snailsmania but they can be eaten everywhere.
Snails are a tradition in many cultures and are eaten worldwide for thousands of year. Now it is up to youto try it or not...
Chicken piri-piri is a typical dish selling in Portugal which you can find virtually everywhere. We simply call it Frango no churrasco (barbecued chicken). It is quite common for us to eat this either at home (we can buy it readily made almost everywhere) or in restaurants.
Piri-piri peppers (small and bright red, belonging to "capsicum" family) are native to Brazil, but were taken to Angola and Mozambique by Portuguese explorers and became such a part of the local cuisine that they eventually came to be known as Angolan peppers. Piri-piri is a Swahili word meaning “pepper-pepper” and the dish's African origins are clearly seen in its name but the dish became so popular in Portugal that it is regarded as a “Portuguese dish”. Actually many Portuguese keep a bottle of piri-piri sauce on the table and sprinkle it liberally on everything from fried potatoes to shellfish. The sauce should and must be quite hot, but it does not have to be unbearably hot.
Eventually the dish also became popular in Goa, India, another former Portuguese colony, and in South Africa, where there are many Portuguese workers. One of these, Fernando of its name, started a chain of food stores -Nando’s- that became quite popular all over the world, from London to Kuala Lumpur. He also chose for its logo another popular Portuguese item –the cockerel of Barcelos (see my Portugal General tip).
This is how I make the sauce at home. I don’t use to measure the quantities (everything “by eye”) and you also can try at your own. Trial and error is my best “recipe” in the kitchen.
Stem the peppers and coarsely chop (include the seeds); place in a shaker jar along with a dash of olive oil, sea salt (half of the peppers volume), and whisky enough to cover the all mixture twice. Cover tight, shake well, then store at room temperature and don’t use it for 1 month. Then you can use the sauce for about half a year. Shake the sauce every time you use it, and once you use most of the liquid part you can add more salt and whiskey.
But the piri-piri sauce is not all the story about the chicken piri-piri. The process of marinate the chicken is very important, namely the use of an acidic liquid (usually lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, or possibly wine or liquor) which adds a tang and tenderizes the chicken. Also the power of the grill is important, and the particularly aromatic wood chip to add smoke in the barbecue. In general, the amount of piri-piri that is used before grilling will determine flavor as most of it will fall into the coals or the grill pan and creates smoke that will lend a nice, smoky taste to the meat. The amount put on afterward will give it the extra punch and determine the level of spicy heat.
The marinade I prefer is a mixture (no quantities again) of oil + butter + lemon juice + red wine vinegar + crushed garlic (generous) + salt + paprika or cayenne pepper + laurel (grind). I prepare the marinade mixing all of the ingredients in a glass bowl. Let the marinade "age" for a while to allow the flavor to develop.
Then I cut a cleaned whole chicken down the center to allow it to lie flat (without cutting it into two pieces), then flatten it (usually people say “like a book” or like a “butterfly”). Then I rub the chicken all over with the marinade and allow the chicken to marinate for at least some hours, overnight if possible
I place the chicken on an outdoor grill over direct heat and grill for 15 minutes, turning frequently. Then move the chicken to the indirect side of the charcoal grill, turning the chicken every couple of minutes to prevent the skin from burning. Baste frequently with the rest of the marinade where, meanwhile, I add extra oil and piri-piri sauce. Remove from the grill when it’s done (depending on taste you can overcook or not). Then it’s time for the extra piri-piri sauce –a matter of taste again.
Serve with additional fried potatoes, a simple salad, and maybe some rice, and accompanying with olives and maybe some pickled vegetables. But people use to bring this king of chicken cut into pieces to picnics and just accompanying with bread.
Frango da Guia is a good restaurant chain (franchising company) that will be spotted in different shopping malls and tourist areas in major towns. In Lisbon area one of the best restaurants known for its frango do churrasco, which can be served with or without piri-piri, is a Churrasqueira do Campo Grande (actually is one of the best restaurants in the city for a grill meal, not just for chicken and one of my local favorites is grilled cod fish with punched potatoes, olive oil and lots of garlic). Just across the metro station in Campo Grande (green and yellow lines), Campo Grande 402/410, phone 217590131.
Note: You will find very cheap ready piri-piri sauce to sell in the supermarkets. Nevertheless, has nothing to do with the one I use to prepare at home.
If you want to buy some when in Portugal try this brand "Margão". They come grounded -you only have to add the salt and whiskey.