Lisbon was one of the best long-weekend trips in recent memory. With relatively cheap(er) flights (compared to the rest of western Europe), this is a great city to to get lost in, soaking in the slightly dilapidated grandeur of the old empire while feasting on memorable meals. There’s also much less pretense here than Europe’s other capitals, making for a more-relaxed getaway.
Don’t leave Lisbon (or the rest of Portugal for that matter) without digging into the local seafood, which is bountiful and cheaper than in most of Europe.
Brinier and less sweet than a clam, goose barnacles are much less frightening than they look. I did however need to ask the waiter for instructions on how to eat. It was quite simple. Hold the hard claw part at top, and twist off the netting like material to access the flesh.
Served warm, it’s easy to eat two, three, even four of these little 3-bite custard tarts in a sitting. THE place to sample these treats is Pastéis de Belém, where the line looms long down the block, but moves quickly, and is most definitely worth the wait. Belem is about 3.5 miles west of Lisbon, but an easy bus ride. While you’re out that way, take an hour our two to walk around (and walk off all those tarts) to see the medieval monastery and Belem Tower.
Is your trip too short short to venture to Belém? There are pastelarias (pastry shops) on nearly every corner where you will find tarts, cakes, cookies and plenty of other sweets to energize those long walks uphill through the winding streets.
Find it here: Pastéis de Belém, Rua Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal.
Get there: Take the 15 bus from Lisbon to Belém
Cured meats and cheeses
While Spain gets all the jamón glory and France lays claim to world cheese dominance, there’s plenty of worthwhile Portuguese specialties to snack on — in between all the sweet bites at the local pastelarias. Here’s a crash course in what to order:
- Presunto: dry cured ham. The Porco Preto variety comes from the famous Iberian black pigs
- Serra da Estrela: The most famous of the Portuguese cheeses, a creamy sheep’s milk cheese from the mountains
- Terrincho Velho: A nutty, firm sheep’s milk cheese, the rind is rubbed with paprika and olive oil
- São Jorge: A firm and buttery cow’s milk cheese from the Azores
- Azeitão: Almost pudding-like in consistency, the sheep’s milk cheese made with cardoon flowers is best spread on crusty bread
This isn’t the $0.99 canned tuna that is the staple of sad brown bag lunches. Portuguese tinned fish is big business, and you should make room in your suitcase to bring back as much as possible, including sardines, tuna, squid, mackerel, eel, clams, cod, anchovy and octopus swimming in either olive oil, tomato, lemon, spicy pepper, or onion sauces. They are all tasty enough to eat alone or as small plates paired with bread, olives and cheese. Note of warning — you will never be able to stomach cheap grocery store tuna in water again.
Find it here: Conserveira de Lisboa, Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34, 1100-071 Lisboa, Portugal
Sour cherry liqueur served in tiny shot glasses, with our without the cherry in the bottom of the cup.
- A Ginjinha: Largo São Domingos 8 (Rossio)
- Ginjinha do Carmo: Calçada do Carmo, 37 (Rossio)
I am absolutely no port expert, but between sipping at restaurants, and free tastings at the many liquor stores in the city, I was won over. And indeed, it is much cheaper to buy it here than back in the States. I bought a few bottles and had them securely packaged to withstand the trip back in my suitcase.