Lisboa - Gastronomical Heaven

I don't know why but Lisbon wasn't necessarily high on our list of places to visit when we moved to Europe. We got an excellent deal on a hotel and airfare so we jumped on it, and unexpectedly, Lisbon turned out to be my favorite European city. It's gritty, full of history, beautiful, and cheap. The people are friendly, the food is OUTSTANDING, and everywhere you turn there is something interesting to look at. 

We stayed in the beautiful Dom Pedro Palace Hotel in the center of Lisbon. The hotel has great amenities, including a full-service spa, restaurant, and bar. The staff was attentive and friendly and the room was lovely. Sure, the decor is a bit old-fashioned, but the suite was super roomy and had the most amazing view of the city and river. 

View from the room at Dom Pedro Palace

View from the room at Dom Pedro Palace

Lisbon is known for its ginjihna, a sour cherry liquor. Served out of tiny bars along the streets, you can order your shot with or without the cherry. It's a delicious drink but a bit dangerous. It's thickish and sweet, but not cloyingly so, making it very easy to drink! Careful there!   

We started our day at A Ginjinha do Rossio, a tiny bar near Rossio Square (Pedro IV Square) where they sell shots of ginjinha in "to-go" plastic cups.

Next, we walked up R. das Portas de Santo Antão and up the beautiful cobblestone streets to Miradouro Das Portas do Sol, a beautiful park with panoramic views of the city. You can walk up the steep hill or take the famous Tram 28, one of the charming 1930s Remodelado trams beloved by natives and tourists alike. Tram 28 will give you an impressive tour of the city for less than €3 and navigates the steep hills of the city with ease. However, on foot you get to examine the street art more closely and it's great exercise should you choose to brave the climb on foot. 

Next we headed down towards the river to Time Out Mercado da Ribeira, a former fish market. Though the building itself was opened in 1882, a market on the premises dates back to 13th century.

However, in 2010 it underwent a transformation led by Time Out Lisboa magazine, into a foodie haven of stalls and restaurants. The traditional market still operates every morning, but by lunch time, the modern food court is in full swing. There are all sorts of Portuguese delicacies like cheeses, croquettas, paellas and delicious seafood. Top Portuguese chefs offer creations at low prices in various stalls but my favorite one was the tinned fish boutique, Conserveira. Their goal is to conserve the traditional packaging and labeling of Portugal's beloved industry. Even if tinned fish isn't your bag, if you love beautiful design, you will want to collect these and bring them home. 

Atira te ao Rio

In the evening, we headed to Atira te ao Rio, a seafood restaurant in Almada, a small municipality across Rio Tejo that sits under the giant Cristo Rei statue visible from all over Lisbon. To get to Atira from the main part of the city, you have to board one of the two ferries that take you across - I recommend taking the ferry from Cais do Sodré because the whole walk to the restaurant is an experience in and of itself.

From the drop off point at Cacilhas station, follow the road to the right. The wide concrete path leads you right along the water, the waves of the river crashing up over the walkway on one side and on the other, the crumbling facades of derelict buildings delight with beautiful graffiti.  All the while in the distance, silhouetted in the light of the sunset, is the beautiful 25 de Abril Bridge (Ponte Salazar), a suspension bridge reminiscent of the Golden Gate. 

An awesome little map courtesy of  Atira te ao Rio

An awesome little map courtesy of Atira te ao Rio

This unassuming little restaurant is perfect for budget travelers with house wines that cost €3 a glass and mains about €10. The space itself is cute but simple. It's the location that can't be beat! We sat at a table next to the huge window looking out directly onto the river - so close that the waves sometimes splashed onto the glass. The menu varies according to seasonal availability. The plates are generous, beautifully presented, and full of the freshest seafood! 

Happy faces, wonderful food at Atira te ao Rio. Prawns, sausage and grilled octopus salad

Happy faces, wonderful food at Atira te ao Rio. Prawns, sausage and grilled octopus salad

Cod with seafood stew

Cod with seafood stew

Saffron risotto with baby octopus

Saffron risotto with baby octopus

The next day, my husband and I ventured out on our own. From the hotel we walked downhill along Rua das Amoreiras where we passed Jardim das Amoreiras or Jardim Marcelino Mesquita, a beautiful park along the famous Águas Livres Aqueduct.  

Jardim das Amoreiras

Jardim das Amoreiras

A little further down we came to the Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Lisboa, the beautiful garden adjacent to the National Museum of History and Science.  While not very big, it provides a stunning array of plants and as the garden was first created as a way to educate botany students at the University, each plant is meticulously labelled.  I found the giant palms flanking the path down to the base of the park particularly fascinating and beautiful.    

Further downhill we came to beautiful Bairro Alto, a neighborhood dating back to the 15th century.  Steep hills and beautiful architecture abound in this breathtaking area. Honestly, you could easily spend the entire day here. It's the best place in the city to see Lisbon's azulejos, the famed blue-glazed ceramic tiles used in building all over the city. 

Cantinho Do Avillez

I still long for the experience we had at Cantinho do Avillez, Chef José Avillez’s sophisticated yet simple restaurant in Lisbon's Chiado neighborhood. The interior is a beautiful marriage of modern and rustic, with lovely tiles floors and white walls sparsely decorated with culinary instruments that create a calming environment. What struck me the most was, despite being completely full, the restaurant was still relatively quiet, allowing us to talk without yelling across the table. There is some secret to this place - it's both a wonderful space to meet friends and also enjoy a romantic dinner for 2.  

And OH! The food! 

Even if the heavily featured black Iberian pig (in the form of jamon, steaks, cured sausages) isn't your thing, the menu is sure to tantalize you with something. 

Upon sitting down, we were served a variety of breads and a gorgeous tomato salsa and truffled butter for dipping. We ordered the black pork cured sausage, Farinheira “sausage” with bread and coriander crust, and the Nisa cheese. Of the three, the Nisa was my favorite and led me on a constant search for this cheese wherever I live. It was served with rosemary, ham and drizzled with truffled honey. I am not one of those people who thinks anything with truffle is an automatic win but JESUS, in this case, the dish was so perfectly matched I almost cried. 

For my main, I ordered the Alentejo black pork, with french-fries, “farofa” and black beans. I cannot tell you how happy I was to get a pink pork steak. It was succulent and delicious and served in a cast iron pan. The fries were more like thick cut chips, also delicious. 

My husband had the steak (quelle surprise) which was so moist and tender you barely needed a knife to cut it. Our friends had the lamb tagine with couscous and the flaked cod with bread crumbs, LT egg and “exploding” olives. The cod dish was like a casserole and the exploding olives were molecular gastronomy creations of olive juice spheres that literally exploded in your mouth. We all enjoyed the meal very much. 

The next day we wandered around Belem, an area to the west which boasts the neoclassical Palacio National da Ajuda, the former residence of the royal family and now an impressive collection of art and pieces of royal and national significance. 

No visit to Belem is complete without a visit to beautiful Pastéis de Belém for some pasteis de nata, traditional Portuguese egg custard tarts. You will find these all over the city in every type of cafe but Pastéis de Belém is famous for both its beautiful interior and a secret recipe. Tip: if the line for these tarts is out the door, just duck in to the bar next door and ask for the pastry. If you buy a drink and give them a tip, they will go next door and get you as many as you want. You'll miss the beautiful interior of Pastéis de Belém but if you are in a rush, this is a great way to experience their pastries without waiting in a long line. 

Down by the river, be sure to visit the The Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument. The striking statue pays tribute to the Portuguese Age of Exploration and is incredible viewed at sunset. To the south, the Cristo Rei glows in the distance and everything is bathed in the beautiful pink light of the setting sun. It's a popular meeting place for locals and families and a wonderful place to people watch.  

The Portuguese and Spanish are well-known for their late-night meals. Some restaurants don't even open until 9 and really don't get going until much later. On our last night, we made reservations at Cervejaria Ramiro, a 3-story seafood restaurant just north of the city center. Everything is ordered by weight and is brought out family-style. The impressive list of shellfish and other seafood is enough to make me want to visit again. Each dish is prepared simply but in its own unique way, whether with garlic or white wine sauce or just simply grilled with lemon juice. Between the four of us we just couldn't sample enough! Gambas, gooseneck barnacles, crab, langoustine and clams - a proper feast. Round out the meal with a traditional steak sandwich (I kid you not - this is like dessert here).  We made reservations which I cannot recommend enough. This place is big but equally popular so a line forms nightly. Ask to be seated on the ground floor where most of the activity takes place. 

The last day we visited the tiny Sol e Pesca, a little canned fish and ginjinha spot back in the Cais do Sodré district. The beautifully packaged tins make great gifts! 

I definitely want to see Lisbon again. Hell, I'd live there too if I could. The people are so friendly, the weather is perfect and the food is divine. Please give the Lisboetas my love when you see them!