After I went on my foodie TV-watching binge last week, I figured it was time for a Menu post. Sure, Jen just did one on San Francisco, and I just did one on AN single gluttonous brunch, but really, is there such a thing as too much food porn? HA, good one.
We knew before we went to Madrid that the food was going to be out-of-control delicious, but we didn't know that Lisbon's wouldn't be too shabby either.
As you know, we're huge Anthony Bourdain fans, so planner extraordinaire Jen did her due diligence and watched the Lisbon episode before we went. She noted that he extolled the virtues of the simplicity of Lisbon's food -- everything was simply grilled and seasoned only with salt and pepper.
So I get that this is like...a good thing. I've seen the episodes of "Top Chef" when they berate the cheftestants for overthinking and making their dishes too complicated and when they praise others for letting the ingredients "sing" and all that shit. But here's the thing -- if you're not Tom Colicchio or Anthony Bourdain, and you're someone like, say, Staci, probably the best you can do on your own in the culinary world is throw something on the George Foreman and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Maybe once in a while you get a little crazy with some garlic. It's like a "simple" dish to them is novel because they're fucking CHEFS, but the rest of us are simple schmucks who make simple food because we're simply lazy, simply poor, and simply culinarily incompetent.
All this is a long way of saying that I didn't love these types of meals in Lisbon. Happily, this is not all Lisbon had to offer.
Being a Baltimorean, I like to praise myself on my "sophisticated palate" when it comes to seafood (take that, Colicchio). As I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing seafood in Edinburgh, I was equally happy to find that like any other good coastal city, Lisbon's seafood was on point. In fact, our first meal in Lisbon was lunch, and it started with shrimp in garlic sauce, a.k.a. the stuff of dreams, and that was followed up by a lox (er...smoked salmon) sandwich. All at a restaurant called Fabulas!
Plus, the seafood was dirt cheap. You see that photo of what looks like a sushi boat filled with shellfish? Honestly, that photo doesn't do it justice. It was the size of three standard sushi boats, and frankly just a fifth of it in the States would have set us back like 30 bucks, but I think the whole thing came out to about 30 bucks (U.S. dolla dollas). AND we were treated to a live Fado show while we downward-spiraled into a mercury-tinged catatonic seafood coma.
On our first day, we wandered around the neighborhood of Alfama and visited a church called Sao Vicente de Fora. And like Dublin's Christchurch had a little ice cream stand outside, good old St. Vince had effing COCKTAILS outside. Truth be told, I was already drunk on jetlag, so I just had a mocktail, but the street cocktail/mocktail carts throughout the city were a theme. When we visited Belem, we were treated to refreshing cocktails to sip by the water out of plastic mason jars. And it wasn't like some insane party city, either. Lisbon just be drankin' and chillin', nbd.
PASTEIS DE NATA + OTHER PASTRIES
When I studied abroad in Florence, I got kinda fat. No joke, I don't get how Italians stay skinny. Cereal was not easy to find, but pastries for breakfast? No problem. Lisbon was the same way. Frankly, we TRIED really hard to find some decent breakfast with, like, eggs. But most of the time we failed and ended up eating pastries, and for once in our traveling lives, we overdid the pastries pretty fucking fast. You see, one of Lisbon's signatures are these little gems called pasteis de nata. They're tiny custard tarts that probably pack a thousand calories a punch. And they're delicious. So the first night there, we stopped at a bakery that only served them. We partook. We enjoyed.
The next morning, we visited the oldest cafe in Lisbon, A Brasileira, for breakfast. Unfortunately, the language barrier struggle was real there, and all we could manage was that we wanted coffee and the pastry assortment (complete with a pastel de nata, of course). Shortly after we had breakfast, we made our way down to Belem. We knew we wouldn't be back to that area since it was a little bit out of the way, and as luck would have it, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem was there, and guess what they're known for? That's right -- their pasteis de nata. Throw in the fact that we were seated near the rather, um, fragrant restrooms, and after three servings of pasteis de nata inside of 24 hours, we were ready to say we checked those babies off the bucket list and were done with them for the rest of the trip.
FRESH CHEESE, BREAD, AND COD CAKES?
In addition to custard tarts, Lisbon's other signature goody is the cod cake. Jen described them as "like latkes, but with fish in them." I'd say accurate. Not being a huge latke fan, I wasn't a big cod cake fan, but I was a fan of the fact that they came with every meal.
To clarify -- not for free, though you get them automatically. Lisbon's restaurants play this neat little trick on you, where the waiter comes to your table and plops down a plate of cod cakes, fresh cheese, and bread. This varies from restaurant to restaurant, sometimes including olives (vomit), sometimes including some charcuterie-style meats. But the constant is that they give it to you without you asking for it, and it's not free. You can either sit there and stare at it, salivating while you wait for the food you actually ordered, or dig in, not knowing what you'll be paying for it when your check comes. But like I said, all the food was so cheap in Lisbon, and I loooove fresh goat cheese. And the bread, though it may look dry in our pictures, was deceptively delicious. Just the right amount of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, perfect for eating with the cheese.
GINJINHA + VINHO VERDE
Ginjinha is Lisbon's liqueur specialty (wait, is brandy a liqueur?). It's sour cherry-flavored. I know that. I'd like to tell you more about it, but to be honest, that's some POTENT Robitussin and I'm not quite sure I remember what it tasted like. I remember burning down my throat...and then that's about it. What's cool is you can go line up at this hole in the wall on Rossio Square called A Ginjinha, which only sells ginjinha, and pay a euro or two for a shot. There are other ginjinha bars in the city, but this is a must-drink.
We also ate dinner one night at a wine bar called Artis. In addition to having delicious tapas-style food, they had an awesome wine list. Now, I don't know a ton about wine, but I know I've never seen a wine list that's broken up by reds, whites, and greens. Yes, greens. Vinho verde, or green wine, is something that only comes out of Portugal. Our waiter explained that it's actually white, but it comes from an area of the country that is so lush and green, they call them green wines. They're bright and crisp, and he said they typically don't age them for very long. I was a big fan and buy bottles of vinho verde to take to parties now. Think riesling but not as sweet, more tart and fresh.
Another Portuguese staple is the prego, something else Jen learned about from Bourdain. Unfortunately for Jen who is still slowly reentering the world of the nomnivores after many years of vegetarianism, she wouldn't be trying the prego because, well...it's a steak sandwich. A cheap, bare-bones, yet mouthwatering steak sandwich. They're typically just soft white buns with slices of thin-cut, tender beef. Sometimes with mustard, sometimes with garlic. Sometimes fried, sometimes grilled. My guess is always delicious, though I only had one.
We had lunch at the Mercado Ribeiro, which is a place that makes you very lucky if you're a foodie who happens to live in Lisbon. It's a food hall sponsored by Time Out Lisbon, and every stall features a different Portuguese chef. So we're talking meals for under 10 euros that were dishes created by Michelin-starred chefs. BRILLIANT. Someone bring this to Baltimore please. This is where I had my prego, which had some kind of amazing pesto sauce. Jen had a seafood risotto and sangria. Drool.
Again, I knew I'd be in for some amazing Spanish chocolate in Madrid, but I had no idea the chocolate would be downright phenomenal in Lisbon. There was a chocolate shop right by our hotel and one day we stopped in to buy gifts and perhaps some treats for ourselves. I devoured my goddamn raspberry chocolate like the world was coming to an end. And there were chocolate shops like that on every corner!
My kinda city.