Lisbon, a City Tasting Tour
The melancholy sound of the fado carries your spirit away on its notes. Lisbon is like that: saudade, yearning, the sense of lost greatness, a passion for poetry, for music and distant lands. But if the spirit is light, the body calls out for nourishment. When it comes to competing with other gastronomic destinations, the old lady of Lusitania has nothing to fear. Not only with its devotion to the bacalhau divinity, prepared in a thousand different ways, but also in some amazing combinations.
Here you can discover the flavours of the empire that once made Portugal a leading world power, as if contained in a treasure chest of the memory. Spices, aromas, fragrances and sounds that speak to us of Cape Verde and Brazil, Macao, Goa and Angola. Lands that have given Portuguese cuisine the potency of piri-piri sauce and vindaloo.
But Lisbon is also a land of opportunity for young and far-sighted chefs, despite the economic crisis that is bringing the country to its knees. The food experience offered by this capital city is multifarious and variegated, like the country’s greatest poet, Ferdinando Pessoa, and his numerous pen names.
To understand what food is all about in Lisbon, you have to start with a visit to the Mercado da Ribeira, close to the Cais do Sobré station. Dating back to 1882, it represents a concentration of all the gastronomic marvels of the city and its surrounds: from fish in piri-piri sauce to the black pigs from Alentejo. It has a Moorish-style entrance and its interior is constructed in cast iron and glass. But if you want to rub shoulders with the locals, you need to go to the Mercado de Arroios, in Rua Ângela Pinto, where you will find fish in industrial quantities and local ladies who are friendly and highly competent.
You cannot possibly miss a visit to the Conserveria de Lisboa, located right in the centre behind Praça do Comércio. Founded in 1930, it is packed with tinned food of all sorts, from anchovies to tuna which, with their vintage packaging, make excellent gifts that are both tasteful and tasty. The right place to go for stockfish is that of Manteigaria Silva, boasting one hundred years’ excellent produce, from cheese to salted meats. This is the heart of the Rossio district. While in the area, it is worth popping into the Charcutaria Tábuas to taste their presunto, as Portughese ham is called. Try the one coming from Chaves, in the north of the country, as well as that produced in Alentejo.
CAFES AND CAKE SHOPS
The noble spirit of this city still lingers on in Lisbon cafés which, incidentally, also serve an excellent cup of coffee. Of course, the first place to go is the Brasileira, touristy but full of charm. In front of this venue stands the statue of Pessoa, which says it all with regards to the close bond between café society and literature, so dear to the inhabitants of Lisbon. Another elegant address is the Cafe Versailles close to the Gulbekian Museum. Mirrors, stucco, chandeliers and home-made cakes make this an excellent place to stop off for a pot of tea, such as Mozambique black tea, first introduced to the city in 1662. No visit to Lisbon would be complete without tasting the mythical pastéis de Belém. They can be found anywhere in town, but what better place to taste them than the Fàbrica dos Pastéis de Belem, in the proximity of the Monastero dos Jerónimos. And, last but not least, the Coinfeitaria National, dating back five generations, where you can try the Bolo Rei, a sweet with candied fruit and pine nuts whose XIX century recipe is a closely guarded secret.
Any mention of the young star chefs who illuminate the culinary scene of Lisbon must at least include the names of José Avillez and Henrique Sà Pessoa. The former divides his time between two establishments, the Belcanto and Cantinho do Avillez, both located in the Chiado district. Having trained under Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià, he is the city’s most interesting talent. The latter, on the other hand, reinterprets Portuguese cuisine with a touch of modernity in the Alma restaurant. However, if traditional fare is what you are after, go to the Tagide.
AND TOP IT ALL…
You cannot leave Lisbon without toasting with the local liqueur, Ginjinha. You will find it everywhere but it is traditionally associated with the A Ginjinha bar in Largo de São Domingos 8. And you can already feel the influence of the saudade…