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.
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.
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.
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…
…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…
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!
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.
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!
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 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.
Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz
Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):
- Cafe A Brasileira, Rua Garrett (Chiado)
- Pastelaria Suica, Praca Dom Pedro IV (Rossio)
- Cafe Nicola, Praca Dom Pedro IV (Rossio)
- Confeitaria Nacional, Praca de Figueira (Rossio)
- Pasteis de Belem, Rua de Belem (Belem)
- Manteigaria, Largo de Cameos (Barrio Alto)
You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/