When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

pasteis-de-nata-1

It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

mercado-di-ribeiro

…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

charity-begins-with-a-view

Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

muscat-by-the-bar-lisbon

Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

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Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/

Caffeine connections

September turned out to be a packed month and given we are mid-October already, you may all rest-assured that I have plenty to post about over the coming weeks. It’s been a run of reminiscing as I have bounced around between regular catch ups and lots of old friends that I have not seen for absolutely ages.

The month started with a work alumni event. I posted earlier in the year about the changes at work and this has meant that many people who worked in the same office as I do have left. In an effort to maintain connections, one of the leavers set up an Alumni Group on LinkedIn and so on the first of the month, on a rather warm and pleasant evening, sixteen of us gathered on board the Tattershall Castle for a tipple or two. Some of us are still working out our notice, some were on the verge of beginning new jobs while others were revelling in the time and space they’d had to do nothing but enjoy their Summer. It was great to see everyone and at the same time, observe life moving on…and at quite a rapid clip!

The following week I caught up with an old boss of mine from almost eight years ago. We could not believe it had been so long and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing about our ‘battles’ in the travel industry and what we’d each achieved ‘back then’ as well as the people we’d worked alongside and continue to stay in touch with. This was also a fantastic reminder of the kind of work I did at this company, the kind that I love to do, and it was such a timely and valuable prompt for me to stay ‘true to my course‘ in navigating the uncertain times ahead.

The next week, I managed to get a gig for breakfast at the fabulous Shoreditch House. This particular friend of mine started out as an agency contact which then segued into a few social, theatre-type outings every few months and we’ve since decided that this hanging out together from time to time is a pretty good idea. She’s great company – one of those well-connected yet down-to-earth types with loads of stories and chat – and works right on Shoreditch High Street. So on a clear Thursday morning, I skedaddled in from the hustle and bustle of the main street and up to the 6th floor to enjoy some poached eggs and avocado on toast with a view over East London on one side and people having a leisurely morning dip in the House’s rooftop pool on the other. (I mean seriously, don’t these people have jobs to go to?)

Towards the end of the month, an Australian friend I hadn’t seen for over six years was in London so I booked us into Ceviche, one of my favourite restaurants. It’s in Soho and while it is on the hubbub of Frith Street, it is so unassuming it’s easy to miss as you weave along the narrow footpath. We spent four and a half hours nattering over cocktails and delicious Peruvian tapas plates before launching into a decadent chocolate dessert…each. (No way were we sharing that!)  It was great to see her well and happy with her life back in Oz.

And then I ended the month by flying to Lisbon (the one in Portugal) to spend a week with Lil Chicky – the ultimate catch up! We were there for six days so I have plenty of fodder for a few posts which will seriously whet your appetite and make your feet itch!

In between all of this, there was a little reflection on trust, a return to yoga and the I-almost-missed-the-whole-of-2016 discovery of the wonderful Prudential Series at The China Exchange. I also consumed an inordinate amount of coffee across my regular catch ups and many other connections keen to chat about my what’s next.

coffee-l

And what’s next on Gidday from the UK I hear you ask?

Well peeps, keep your eyes peeled for a few glimpses of what Chicky Tours Unlimited got up to in Lisbon. It’s coming soon…

Prodigal Daughters…

One of the most wonderful aspects of our recent trip to Amsterdam was the sense of pilgrimage brought on by being there together. As kids we were at our Oma and Opa’s at least once a week so our sense of ‘Dutch-ness’ has been very strong all of our lives and the sense of shared heritage during our visit – particularly as it was Lil Chicky’s first foray across The Channel – was quite poignant.

The icons of Amsterdam and The Netherlands, though I’d seen and photographed them many times before, seemed to shape our pilgrimage and just like the tale of the brave Dutch boy who held back the swirling waters by putting his finger in a hole in the dike, we remained resolute walking, eating and snapping our way through four fabulous days.


And speaking of walking, what better place to start than the klompenmakerij, or the wooden shoe factory.

L to R: wooden shoe tree outside the factory in Marken
carved shoes hung up to dry; souvenirs galore.

Lil Chicky even tried a pair on…


…but decided to buy the pair that she could actually fit into her suitcase.

Still speaking of walking, If you’re walking anywhere in Amsterdam, it pays to pay attention. Cyclists rule the roads and there was a point where we found ourselves caught mid-street with a tram on one side and a cyclist on the other. The tram driver stopped.

Clockwise L to R: Bikes parked in Dam Square; 
view from the canal; 
the ‘bike park’ (how on earth do you find your ride again?)

Travelling further afield we saw our first windmills, standing tall over the flat watery plains, and paid homage to sails of a typically Dutch kind.

Scenes from Zaanse Schans

The Netherlands produces three billion tulip bulbs every year. We found a few down at the flower market on The Singel in Amsterdam…and a few more of ‘nature’s gifts’ on our travels.

Clockwise L to R: Tulips at the bloemenmarkt on The Singel; a very literal hash tag;
wheels of gouda cheese everywhere from Amsterdam to Volendam.

Speaking of nature’s gifts, two particular girls would never have graced the world with their special brand of Aussie Dutch-ness without at least a little contribution from the bloke who lived for a while at 159 Amstelkade. So we caught the number 24 tram on Thursday night, walked about 15mins and found ourselves here…
Prodigal daughters – finding Dad’s childhood home. 
Pictures were duly despatched to said sire.

With all of this pilgrim-ing, we needed to keep up our strength and every day was punctuated with cries of remembered vittels from our childhhood.

Clockwise L to R: Enjoying hot chips and proper creamy mayonnaise; 
waffles for every palate (including Lil Chicky’s); 
Dutch apple pie – chock full of layers of thinly sliced apple – evoked a real ‘Oma’ moment for us; 
yours truly enjoying a well-earned oliebollen; 
two excited faces waiting for our inaugural Amsterdam poffertjes; in the making.

And when all was said and done, and all of those memories were tucked away into the chinks of my mind and heart, I wanted to bring a little piece of it home with me…

My hand made Delft vase, a wonderful reminder of our trip.


…and while tulips will no doubt look amazing once they are in season, my irises look gorgeous at Gidday HQ.


So that’s Amsterdam – and a day trip or two – done. 

Until the next time I need a nostalgia fix!

Postcard from Amsterdam…

With Lil Chicky back home now and me trying valiantly to get back into life’s rhythmic swing, I’ve been working through the few hundred photos I took during our adventures together. And as I have been sorting, one question has kept going around and around in my head. What do I share with you first?

It had to be our trip to Amsterdam – and it warrants a couple of posts. Firstly because it’s such a wonderfully photogenic city and secondly because it was something of a pilgrimage for the two of us – but more about that in my next post.

This was my fourth visit to Amsterdam. There is something rather special about cities built in commune with their watery roots and I cannot count the number of times we turned a corner and wielded our respective ‘piccy kits’ (mine a point-and-shoot Nikon, hers a ‘fully-optioned’, rather hefty Canon SLR) in an attempt to capture ‘a moment’. 

With the exception of the 15 minute downpour walking from the Central Station to our hotel, we were blessed with four days of gorgeous weather. Crisp blue skies meant that a shared cone of chips generously dolloped with lush, luscious mayonnaise and a plate of bitteballen were best tackled outside, the latter with a local beer in hand.

It also meant A LOT of photos. Here are just a few of my absolute favourites.

We stayed at the Hampshire Eden just near Rembrandtplein – while the square itself was literally at our back door, this was the view from the front of the hotel.

I love that this photo looks like a painting – the curve of the canal, the buildings, bikes and boats lining the banks and a spire to aspire to in the distance.
There was something rather innocent about the dappled shade on the canal wall and the friends enjoying their moment in the sun, legs dangling childishly over the edge.

Begijnhof is a beautiful oasis tucked away in the heart of Amsterdam. Blink and you’d miss not just this entrance leading off Spui (we did) but also Amsterdam’s oldest house (no 34), the 15th century Engelse Kerk (English Church – above) and the Begijnhof Chapel, a clandestine church where the Begijntjes worshipped in secret until 1795.
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a wander through its infamous Red Light district. The scarlet-draped windows line the streets and canals around the Oude Kerk (Old Church) yet as night falls and the lights reflect off the water, it easy to forget the deals ‘being done’ and get caught up in how pretty it all looks.
Oude Kerk itself is rather lovely in a stark kind of way. Not for it the intimate spaces or crowded decoration of many of Europe’s other places of worship. There’s a feeling of spacious calm beneath the gothic arches and when you’ve had enough, an unassuming door off the nave leads to a cosy tea room and outdoor courtyard for some quiet enjoyment and a reflective cuppa. 
If you are visiting Amsterdam, whether coming directly by train or by plane via Schipol Airport, you are likely to come through its Central Station. Intent on your destination, it’s easy to miss the opportunity to turn around and admire the magnificent entrance to this fabulous city. True to form, we were dashing away from the station on our arrival but had the opportunity to appreciate it from our canal cruise the following day.

As our canal boat rounded a corner, the colour and light in this scene was breath-taking. I love how all the elements – the bridge, the boat, the terraced buildings and the leafy boughs of the tree – come together to create what for me is inherently Amsterdam.
Our canal cruise took us past the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) which was constructed in 1670 and is probably the most famous in Amsterdam. I didn’t get a great photo of that bridge but as we drifted past it and turned right, this boat-load of ‘locals’ caught my eye and while not the Magere Brug, the typically Dutch bridge in the background gave me another moment in the sun to capture.
And last but not least, our photographic journey returns us to the ‘back yard’ of our stay, Rembrandtplein. It’s a vibrant square lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and pays homage to Rembrandt van Rijn himself and his most famous painting, The Nightwatch. (Like I did last trip, you can see the real thing in the Rijksmuseum. It’s enormous!)


So here endeth the armchair tour and I hope you’ve enjoyed it even half as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting our trip in the writing of this post. S
tay tuned for more next time, an alternative look at our sibling sojourn as a pilgrimage of ‘all things Dutch’.