What to eat and drink. For those who have chanced on this blog before, it’s perhaps clear that we are firmly positioned on the beer side of life, so any judgement passed on wine will be of the lay kind. And for the lay wine drinker Lisbon is paradise. The variety of wines, both red and white, is almost intimidating so, although the fame of Portugal is given by its fortified red wines, we usually went for what we know best, namely dry red, with the alternative of dry white when consumed alongside fish. We also used the fail safe trick, learned off the BBC’s now sadly defunct general knowledge show, Top Gear, of going for the second least expensive option on the menu, and never got it wrong, with the remark then whenever possible we chose a wine from the Lisbon/Tejo region, just to keep the local flavor alive.
Yet Lisbon is not only about wine- beer places are harder to find, with Cerveteca Lisboa (un)strategically positioned on the least conspicuous corner of Praça das Flores up in the Bairro Alto, but they are worth the effort. Strikingly enough, they are breezy even on a pre-bank holiday evening, with only a few beer aficionados sipping their brews, but the brands on offer cover the best of European new wave craft beers, mixed with some local brands, the best of which seems to be the poetically named Cerveja Musa. As a local note, varied tapas are also available, with a special recommendation for the goat cheese and the salamis.
Not far away from the Cerveteca Lisboa you can bump into the Red Frog Speakeasy– okay, you can’t really bump into it, you have to know it’s there and ring a bell at Rua do Salitre 5A to be allowed entry, but this is another endeavour you will most certainly not regret, as they serve excellent cocktails- besides a seasonal menu you can also opt for the classics, and in my relentless quest for the best whiskey sour in existence this was a top contender.
In case fancy cocktails seem a bit outré to you, Lisbon has the perfect antidote to sophisticated drinking. For those with an eye for details, it will become quickly evident that some of the shops opening earliest in the morning cater a sticky concoction, which, by Eastern European standards is more syrup than alcohol: ginjinha, or simply ginja, is a Morello cherry liqueur and great local favourite, copiously consumed at any time of the day. Best way to try it is to find the dodgiest looking and least touristy establishment in your proximity, and ask for a shot of the red nectar.
Ginja stores usually sell coffee as well- Portuguese coffee generally follows the Italian school of dark roast and viciously strong brews, but some third wave roasters have also popped up in the city, our favourite being Fabrica, which will have a barlove entry of its very own. Of the old haunts, A Brasileira on Rua Garett has become overrun with tourists during the day, with the statue of Pessoa, who spent his life as an inconspicuous clerk, looking slightly taken aghast by all those strange people grinning stupidly at phones from the seat beside him.
Besides being wine heaven, Lisbon is also fish and seafood heaven, of course. For someone who could and would not eat fish just a few years back, I spent a transformative three days eating nothing but fish, and even quite literally eyeing some freshly caught beasts, who were presented to us as possible lunch options in the 5Oceanos restaurant, which besides tantalizingly fresh fish, also has a tantalizing view of the April 25 bridge right behind it. So, if you don’t like fish, it’s perhaps because you have never eaten good, fresh fish, and you should give it a try when in Lisbon.
The classical local dish is the bacalhau com natas (literally cod with cream), which is again well suited to those whose primary love is not fish, as the chunks get tamed by the creamy sauce. On the non fish front, we quite accidentally went for another local classic, the bife a cavalo, which is pork or beef steak, served with sunny side up eggs and a side dish of rice, potatoes and salad. Most places would also serve a series of starters which usually involved olives and local cheeses, which are frequently on the runny side, strongly flavoured and fragrant, but go splendidly with both wine and beer.
Portuguese pastry is often violently sweet, and, as such, not necessarily up my alley, but I simply cannot resist the pastel de nata. Also known as pastel de Belém, it was dreamed up by the monks at the Jéronimos monastery, in Belém, in the 18th century. Egg yolks are a classical ingredient of numerous Portuguese pastries, urban legend having it that as nuns and monks used egg whites to stiffen their habits, they had to come up with recipes to use up the leftover yolks. Today the original Belém pastry shop is sadly also plagued by endless queues, and, though it might sound romantic to get them from the source, they are ubiquitous and usually of good quality everywhere else in the city, so the effort does not seem fully justified.