Food and drink, Lisbon
Ginja is a cherry-like fruit, I don't know the name in English.
Ginjinha is the liquor made from this fruit and is a very famous Portuguese drink. Although it might not be a delicacy it is one of those traditions that are dying as young people seem not to enjoy it very much.
In the Rossio area there are still a few Ginjinha bars open (like the one on the photo in the Rua das Portas de S. Antão) and it is nice to walk in and see all the old men having their glass of the drink (which is usually served with a piece of fruit inside).
The most famous place is probably "Ginjinha do Rossio" (Largo S. Domingos, 8).
Autumn and winter in Portugal would not be the same without the roasted chestnuts.
As soon as the weather starts getting colder, you will see many vendors on the streets, which you will be able to recognize by the scent and the smoke.
You must make sure you buy a dozen "Castanhas assadas" (Portuguese for Roasted Chestnuts) as they are usually quite delicious. They are served in a cone made out of newspaper/phone-book (English fish and chips style).
Before we headed to Lisbon I read that the food wasn't the greatest. Hence I was expecting to be disappointed....thankfully it wasn't that bad! Maybe we picked the right restaurants and the right meals....but all in all we enjoyed what we ate.
One thing we didn't try...though I was tempted...was the salted cod. Have a look at the picture and see if you think you would eat it. It is a speciality, so I should have tried it...next time perhaps.
The highlight though, food wise, was definitely the small custard tarts, known locally as pasteis de nata. They are everywhere and they are good.
Drinks wise, I can highly recommend sampling some Portuguese wine. We had a tasty red with lunch one day and a very good (and cheap) white wine once night. We also enjoyed a couple Sagres beers - tasty.
Alex also sampled some very nice Port, which of course is a must do when in Portugal, the home of Port! He enjoyed it so much he bought some at the airport to bring home and enjoy.
Coffee was another good thing about Lisbon - we enjoyed many a bica (small black coffee), it was strong and not at all bitter. Bad news for decaf drinkers though - and I am normally one of them....the only decaf they appeared to have in Lisbon was Nescafe instant decaf....not the greatest.
Considered one of Portugal's staple foods, Caldo Verde is one of the most typical soups you'll find all over the country. Simply made from thinly sliced kale (a dark cabbage called "couve galega" in Portugal, kind of like collard greens), potatoes, onions, and garlic, a few slices of choriço (sausage) are added for a last touch.
The yellow and green colored soup is good for lunch, or as a starter for dinner.
Considered a food of the poor peasant's, it is commonly served with just bread on the side. Who cares of its affiliation; it's delicious and cheap. That's all I care about!
These are the famous Custard Tarts as you can find almost everywhere in Portugal.
Of course there are small variations among the different "pastelarias" (pastry houses) throughout the country. The most well known are the Pasteis de Belém, but like everything else ...when they start to be famous... sometimes the quality fades... unfortunately this was the case (although they are still quite good). I prefer the ones from small pastry houses out, unfortunately "off the touristy trail" ("Espiga Sol" in Telheiras, a neighborhood in Lisbon, for instance).
Pastry to line the containers:
• 500 g flour
• 300 g water
• 10 g salt
• 400 g margarine (for pastries)
Work the flour with water and salt, make a ball, cut it in the shape of a cross until its middle, pull the 4 sides outwards (forming a 4 point star), place the margarine in the centre and grab the points upwards (mix the margarine); with a pastry roller extend the mixture till up to 40×15 cm, fold 1×3 (simple fold) wait 10 minutes and fold again, fold 1×4 (book fold) wait 10 minutes. Extend the mixture until it gets a thickness of + or - 4 mm, sprinkle with water in all its extension. Roll it like a tort and with a diameter of + or - 4 cm, cut it in round slices 1 cm thick and place them in the containers (8 cm diameter but you can use other shapes). Wait 10 minutes.
Wet your thumb with water, press the centre of the round slice and push the mixture
to the top of the container.
• 0,5 l skim milk
• 70 g flour (no raising powder)
• 5 g corn flour or cornstarch (aka Maizena)
• 0,5 L sugar syrup 32º Baumé
• 5 egg yolks
• 1 egg
• Vanilla (a bit)
To prepare the sugar syrup: 1 kg sugar, 0,5 L boiling water = 32º bumé.
Dissolve the flour and the corn flour in part of the milk, approx. 1 dL, boile the remaining of the milk, pour it over the four and mix energetically so that it does not crumble.
Add the sugar syrup bit by bit, always stirring. Add the yolks and the egg.
Cook at approx. 180º C (350º F) for about 8 minutes, not more.
Try the Vinho Verde while in Portugal. That is translated to "Green Wine." Yes, although it is technically a white wine, they call it specifically a green wine. It is made from young, underdeveloped grapes. The underfermentation causes the wine to be a bit sparkly, but not to the extent of champagne. Vinho Verde is a light, crisp, refreshing drink perfect for a summer drink, with fish or cheese or whatnot. Click on website for more information.
In Portugal, prices on the menu include VAT and service.
In almost all restaurants, you will be given bread and butter/paté and other things such as olives, smoked ham, cheese. These things are NOT free.
If you know you do not want them, just send them back. Let's say you don't eat olives, just tell the waiter you don't want them and they will be removed from the table.
When you get the bill, just check that you weren't charged any starters you did not eat. It happens to me all the time... But, if you eat one olive, you will pay for the whole serving, same goes for sliced cheese etc.
Some places will charge only the pieces of bread, butter, etc that you actually eat, but that is not always the case.
If one or more people at the table are not eating, you might be charged a "couvert", usually in the form of bread or starters.
Tipping is customary, but not absolutely necessary, specially if service is not good.
Our first night in Portugal, after a long and tiring overnight flight from Fredericton by way of Montreal, New York and Paris, found us wandering in the Baixa area, very close to the Praca dos Restauradores (Square of the Restoration) area. Due to various time-zone differentials, we were starting to feel quite hungry even though it was only about 7 PM. Just one street over from the main Restauradores area, is a nice little street (Rua das Portas de Santo Antao) filled with restaurants with sidewalk seating.
Each of them have 'callers' out on the street trying to convince passers-by that they should sit down and enjoy a good meal! Well, we did not need much convincing, especially once we saw their very pleasant outdoor seating area on a warm evening in mid-May! Once we were seated at our table, we noticed that our 'caller' seemed to be a real character. He was funny with everyone, including his competition at the adjoining restaurants! Why not, he's got to live with these people every day! It was a fun experience to sit there in the warm breezes enjoying our first experience of a restaurant meal in Portugal (see my Restaurant tips for the full details)!
Bacalhau - the national dish of Portugal. Intererstingly enough, the fish comes mainly from Norway. It is salted cod that must be soaked for 24 hrs. prior to cooking. There are thousands of ways to cook bacalhau. Try it grilled, if you have no idea what to choose.
A drink we just had to try! Made from cherries and served in a tiny plastic cup with 'drunken' cherries in the bottom! It is served from a bottle using a wooden stopper to contain all but a few of the cherries from falling into the cup. Well we liked it - but I don't think you would want too much of it - it's quite sweet! It was just a few cents per cup!
We tried it in a quaint little shop called 'Ginjinha Sem Rival' near Rossio. It was nearly midnight & the shop was packed with youngsters crowding round the small bar. One man was serving the drink but it was all very friendly pushing & shoving going on! Most people took theirs outside to drink.
Available to purchase by the bottle too!
Coffee is quite popular in Portugal and most people drink it in the morning, during the day and specially after meals.
However, there are different kinds and if you are not used to the names, it can be confusing to know which one is which.
If you just ask for a coffee (or café in Portuguese), you will get a very small cup half full with strong coffee, which is known as "bica" here in Lisbon. If you ever had a coffee in Italy it is very similar.
- Bica. The abovementioned "standard" coffee that you will get unless you don't specifically ask for a different kind.
- Bica cheia. "Full coffee", meaning you get the same cup, just that it is completely full with the same amount of coffe, just some more water.
- Café duplo. Just a "double" coffee, two servings of coffee in the same cup (you will be charged two coffees).
- Italiana. Same cup, less water, more concentrated coffee. This is just one or two sips of the drink.
- Café com cheirinho. Literally, "coffe with a scent" it is a bica with some "Aguardente" or "Bagaço" (similar to brandy) added.
- Carioca. Coffee topped with hot water. (Different from "bica cheia" as it is usually served in a larger cup).
- Galão. Tall glass of (hot) milk with some coffee (more milk, however).
- Garoto. Coffee topped with milk.
- Descafeínado. Decaffeinated coffee, like a bica
You can also get Capuccino's in some places, but they are not very traditional.
Don't expect "American style", huge cups of coffee anywhere (unless maybee in a hotel or so).
I think that pretty much covers it. I would just like to add that "Portuguese coffee" is considered to be one of the best.
A favorite liquor of the Portuguese!
Ginjinha is a liquor made by fermenting ginja (similar to cherries) in brandy. Ginjinha is served in a shot form with a piece of the fermented fruit on the bottom of the cup. Imagine how awfully strong it is.
I'm not a big fan of ginjinha, it reminds me of cherry flavored cough syrup. However, I recommend any tourist to taste a bit of this Portuguese specialty.
The most famous place to experience this drink is a little shop named "A Ginjinha" on the northeast corner of Rossio. The store is tiny, so you go inside, buy your drink, and hurry outside to taste it.
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.
Portugal, the land of great wine, seafood, olives, and cheese. Fantastic food if you ask me. I'm not Portuguese, so I shouldn't take any offense when I hear foreigners complaining how bad the local food is, but I DO! Why? Because most of them are probably not eating the right things, they are picky, or they don't like seafood.
You will probably encounter steak and potatoes on every menu. Go to any restaurant, and almost the entire menu is served with french fries. This isn't limited to tourist restaurants; this is omnipresent. Portuguese love meat. Whenever I would go out to eat with my Portuguese friends, they'd take me to a local restaurant and then order a burger, or they'd take me to a steak house and eat a humongous slab of cow. Great if you are into meat that much, but I certainly am not.
Anyway, my point is that many visitors may feel that this is representative of local cuisine, but it is not. Try some bacalhau, fresh grilled sardines, queijo fresco, olives, snails, anything with duck, swordfish, any soups, pastries, etc. etc. etc. I am sure there are many more things I can think of that I am not listing now....
Portuguese beers are not as famous as the ones from northern and central European countries (Belgium, Czech, German, Ireland, etc.). Nevertheless, pale lager beers are quite popular mostly among young people (the elders prefer the wine).
The 2 most spread and well known trade marks are Superbock and Sagres.
Superbock (http://www.superbock.pt/EN/index.asp) is the most popular beer in Portugal and also well known in other countries of the world. It is brewed by the Unicer brewery (http://www.unicer.pt/), which is located in Leça do Balio in the north of Portugal.
Sagres (http://www.cervejasagres.pt/) is brewed by the Central de Cervejas brewery (CentralCer, http://www.centralcervejas.pt/default.htm) in Vialonga. Since 2007 it’s owned by a consortium between Scottish & Newcastle, Carlsberg, and Heineken (which means that they also produce Carlsberg and Heineken here in Portugal).
Both companies have quite different labels from lager to pils, dunkel, stout or alcohol free, and some fancy labels (with lemon, etc.)
I personally enjoy very much some dark ones, especially the old recipes Abadia Rubi and Abadia Gold (from Superbock, http://www.unicer.pt/gca/index.php?id=436) and Bohemia (from Sagres, http://www.centralcervejas.pt/default.asp?s=11727&parent=11975).
Cintra (http://www.cervejacintra.pt/) brewed in Aveiras close to Santarém, and Coral (http://www.cervejacoral.com) brewed in Madeira are other companies with less market, and in my opinion, the beers they trade are not so good... but of course it is a matter of taste.
Generally speaking in Portugal you can get a 33cl beer for 0.7€ on the supermarket, 1.2€ in most of common restaurants, 2-2.5€ at bars and upper class restaurants, 5€ in more fancy places. A nice website to compare the prices over the world http://www.pintprice.com
Unicer and CentralCer welcome visits to their factories. In that case email them directly and you can visit the factory and enjoy their products at the bar at the end.
Note: most of these pages are in Portuguese and according to the law these companies have a question to let you in their pages -"Are you over 18?" (or 16). In that case answer "SIM" on their webpage
A blog related to Portuguese and Spanish beers http://cervejapt.blogspot.com/