Did you know that a 19th century Portuguese gentleman could order fast food at a drive-thru restaurant in Lisbon? Well, perhaps it was really more of a “ride-thru” restaurant…
I learned this and more on Inside Lisbon’s Food & Wine Walk. The tour began in Rossio Square, where 6 other international travelers and I met our friendly food guide, Claudia.
At the tiny Tendinha tavern on the south side of the square, we tasted savory codfish croquettes with a light Vinho Verde wine from the vineyards of northern Portugal. The dried, salted cod in the croquettes is a staple of the Portuguese diet, and a legacy of the Portuguese sailors who survived on it during long sea voyages. The young “green” wine has a low alcohol content, which was a plus since our 3-hour walking tour was just beginning!
From Rossio Square, we ambled up along the charming Rua do Carmo shopping boulevard in the Chiado neighborhood. At the top, we passed notable coffee houses, fruit vendors and bakeries.
But our destination was a cozy wine bar called “Grapes & Bites” on a quiet side street in Bairro Alto. Here we sampled tapas and white wine before heading back down to the lower town.
In the Baixa district, Claudia introduced us to Portuguese market shopping at Manteigaria Silva, a traditional small grocery store.
I sampled and purchased quince marmalade, a sweet red paste that is compressed and sold in small bricks or cracker-sized individual packets.
We sipped tawny port below a hanging curtain of curing hams and wandered through artful stacks of dried, salted cod.
Back on the street, it was time to taste ginjinha, a sour cherry liqueur served either with or without cherries. We drank outside the A Ginjinha bar, which is barely more than a storefront and counter.
Claudia encouraged us to nibble the cherries and to try the liqueur later from an edible chocolate cup. (It’s better than a chocolate-covered cherry!)
Our final food stop was the Casa do Alentejo Restaurante, a former Moorish palace decorated inside with elaborate tiles and soaring archways.
Over red wine and hot platters of Portuguese chouriço, a smoky red-brown pork sausage made with paprika, Claudia helped us plan an impromptu extension to the tour. Several of us were keen to experience fado, the melancholy musical tradition that originated in Lisbon. Claudia steered us toward the historic Alfama district, where we might find a small, informal fado restaurant away from the big-bus tourist venues.
We shared a cab to the base of the Alfama, where we hopped out and climbed up along crooked and narrow streets inaccessible to most cars. Before long, we heard the sound of guitar music, and then the streets opened up into an irregular plaza filled with long, folding tables set for dinner. A sign told us we were in the right place.
For the next hour, several fado singers took turns belting out dramatic, mournful songs.
We shared the long tables with groups of young locals, old-timers, families and a few other tourists. Baskets of bread and bottles of wine were delivered, and soon everyone was mesmerized by the haunting songs. At some point I began to suspect that the tables in the plaza were leaning, and I wondered whether I had enjoyed too much wine.
Then the waiter delivered soup to our table, and my suspicions were confirmed.
My guiso verde, a creamy green cabbage soup with chorizo and potatoes, was almost spilling from its bowl on the leaning table. Some guests at our table laughed at the soup, and some cried at the fado, but we all shared a memorable evening in a hidden corner of Lisbon.
If You Go
The Inside Lisbon Food & Wine Walk is offered daily, except Sunday, at 4:30pm. Reserve your place online in advance with Inside Lisbon.
A version of this post was previously published on June 23, 2016 in The Culinary Travel Guide as part of the collaborative post “Here’s How to Find the Best Food In Any Destination.”