You were probably disappointed by the lack of wines and food mentioned in the first post. Well, it’s because we were mostly on the road. The bigger portion of our time was spent in Lisbon, which was a last minute change to our original plan, and that’s where we truly delved into the food and wine of Portugal. You’ll get plenty of wines in this post!
When I look back at my past travels, Portugal is probably the first country I’ve ever regretted for not having studied beforehand. There’s so much to see! I usually let things happen, in the belief that spontaneity always makes you discover wonderful things. However, for Portugal, my super power didn’t work so well and I missed out on some great things. What it means, though, I should go back there!! Luckily, our friend moved to Portugal last year so I definitely see us going back there. Also, we liked the Douro so much that we made a promise to do the valley cruise one day.
On the way to Lisbon, we stayed for the night in Coimbra. It was a very strange and interesting university town. After checking into a hotel, we ventured out looking for a good place to eat and stumbled upon so many ancient and medieval buildings and features. We walked around the dark empty university campus, not realising it had the famous Joanina Library that was an inspiration for Harry Potter. Only if I’d known!
Secondly, I’m good at sniffing out a good place for food and I did, BUT it was so popular that it needed a reservation, which bothered me so much. The place was Tapas nas Costas and we waited for an empty table while sipping wine at another bar and returning to check, but failed to get a table after all. While waiting, I saw many plates passing from the kitchen to the table, leaving trails of gorgeous smells, making me ever more impatient.
Well, I wasn’t so lucky in Coimbra, but I hope you will after reading my post. So that night, we ended up eating in a tapas bar recommended by a handsome young local we’d approached on the street in desperation. There, we were done for the night, sipping Vinho Verde, which I got to love, and watched cheerfully drunk students walking in a group singing and laughing loudly.
The next day, we stopped at a place I was keen on visiting, Encosta da Quinta. Their wines are called Humus Wines and the oenologist I acquainted in Bordeaux strongly advised me to visit him and told me good things about the wine maker. So I was very excited on the way but arrived to the firmly closed gate of the quinta… sigh…. I dialed the number found on the website and he answered, apologising that it’s closed that day and he’d love to show me around when I visit it again.
So three things went wrong and a lesson was learned: I’ll organise my visits better next time!
Anyway, we finally made it to Lisbon! Now it’s time to chill out and enjoy, free from driving. Luckily, I got good recommendations for food from Hugo Alexandre Cruz, who makes delicious videos at VIDELICIOUS.
Lisbon Guide for Foodies
Lisbon had an overwhelming number of restaurants and wine bars. It was so vibrant and lively, AND hilly, making Istanbul seem relatively flat. I felt so relieved that we were in good hands of two local acquaintances reputable for their refined taste.
First thing’s first, and we headed straight to Pastéis de Belém. I don’t like touristic places but there are places that are touristic yet authentic and worth a visit. For one, it was historical and the inside was charming, and for two, I got to compare all previous pastel de nata I’d eaten with this.
Ok, so the conclusion is that Belem’s egg tart is lighter; the pastry is thinner and the custard is less eggy. We had some really eggy natas during the trip and at some point, and had to ask for desserts without any eggs in them, but there ISN’T such a thing! WHY??? They have so many egg yolks left over from fining red wines! What’s wine got to do with eggs? Egg whites are used to remove sediment and unwanted tannins in red wine. That is why.
The best market for foodie is Mercado de Campo de Ourique and you can eat and drink through the afternoon or evening here. It’s a paradise for foodies and you can probably make one day trip here and experience Portuguese gastronomy in one stop.
Though you can taste these great Portuguese cheeses at restaurants, you might have the best of the best here. The cheese you should try is Queijo de Azeitao, creamy and gooey sheep cheese and Nisa cheese, semi-hard sheep cheese. For more on Portuguese cheese, have a read of this(Top 12 Portuguese cheeses) and this(Thistle cheese).
If you’re overwhelmed by the choice and tourists in Bairro Alto, you can head to Alfama where you’ll more likely to come across quality places and one of them is Cruzes Credo. The food, the ambience, the location, by orange trees, everything was perfect.
The latest addition is Os Gazeteiros, which sounds good, so I’ll check it out on my next visit. While writing this, it came to me that I could easily create a pinned map for recommended places, and I DID! So please check out my Lisbon Good Eats if you’re going to Lisbon, and leave me ‘thank you’ if you liked those places. After getting complaints from my dearest reader, Mr.O, I’m trying to make my writing simple, that it to say, less words.
After running out of patience while waiting in the queue at Solar dos Presuntos, – Portugal has a system where reservation is a must or first come, first serve – we went to Cantinho Do Avillez, which is one of many owned by a star chef, José Avillez.
This place was also packed so we waited at the bar while drinking some wine with small dishes. The wine list was very good so I didn’t mind just sitting there and trying all different wines. The food was great and innovative but the portion was rather small so we went to Quermesse and got stuffed. Next places on our wish list are The Decadente and O Talho, both recommended by reliable foodie friends.
Portuguese Wine for Wine Lovers
Naughty of me taking photos of wine lists at restaurants 🙂 There are so many big and small wine bars around The Old Pharmacy where you can taste Portuguese wines. Mind you, it’s a touristic area and it has its pros and cons but it’s fun to walk around trying some here and some there.
I’m drooling again remembering the wines I drank. You can study Portuguese varieties with this menu, too. Can you guess which wines I drank? Quinta das Maias(Dao) and Vinha do Mouro(Alentejo) at Cantinho Do Avillez and Palpite Grande Reserva at Garrafeira Alfaia for Mr.O, who had had about enough of wines throughout the trip and wanted to have some beer and his favourite cheese, Nisa!
All wines were so good but confusing, and it’s hard to conclude from the grape varieties indicated on the label because the style differs from region to region and from vineyards to vineyards. However, I found through the tastings and I generally liked Dao wines, and I wonder if it’s the aromatic and peppery Jaen (aka. Mencia) grape has got to do with it.
I asked at the wine shop when we did our wine shopping and he said he also preferred Dao wines because they tend to be more refrained and more acidic and Alentejo and Douro seem more full-bodied and high in alcohol. But then you can’t generalise it, either, because I’ve had some elegant Alentejo, Lisbon and Setubal wines, which are fast growing into a promising wine region, and these wines often blend with international grapes.
So he recommended these two wines to study about the Dao wine and I haven’t opened them yet! I think I might as well open one of these on Valentines Day! I’m thirsty for Portuguese wine now after all the talk of Portuguese food and wine!
What to see and do in and around Lisbon
We spent a whole day in Alfama, which is the oldest and most historical neighbourhood with visible traces of Arab influences. We scored some souvenirs at Feira da Ladra aka. Thief’s Market, and walked around small cobbled streets, looking at the details of tiles, doors and windows and soaking up the exotic atmosphere.
You can just lose yourself and walk aimlessly, hopping on the tram if you get tired and stopping by various charming cafes for a bite and a sip.
Another day we went to the south of Lisbon, somewhere below the Caprica beach and it was so lovely, reminding me a bit of the Australian beach and even in November, it was warm enough to swim and people started to come for surfing and swimming after midday.
We had some yummy local food there, starting with the fresh sheep cheese, Queijaria das Romãs. What a treat it was! We got hooked on this cheese and had it for breakfast every morning till the last day.
The fish was fresh and tasty, especially the cuttlefish grilled whole; it was very romantic, teeth all covered in black ink. Apparently, the chef asked us a question point to the cuttlefish but since we didn’t understand what he was saying, we just said “Sim(yes)!” to everything. So we assumed that he asked whether we wanted it gutted or not. Oh well, the ink is good for you and I had a glass of Vinho Branco to gargle with. I just had to refrain myself from smiling too much.
Mr.O points out that my blog posts are too long and complicated so I’m going to wrap up my Portuguese story with photos of our day trips to Cabo da Roca(Cape Roca – westernmost point in Europe), and Sintra.
Beautiful Atlantic coast, so different to the Mediterranean… It would have been so wonderful and romantic if we had managed to do a picnic watching the sunset. There wasn’t any shops around!
Oh, I can’t finish my Portuguese story without mentioning the scrumptious seafood rice.
One last Arroz de Marisco was had at a local restaurant, heading to the airport, and more Nisa for Mr.O. So delicious as usual!!! Small local places are always the best, for the food and the atmosphere where local folks look at you as if you were an alien. We brought some Nisa and Azeitao cheese home, of course. What lovely delicious memories!
While searching for good eats in Lisbon, I came across Salt of Portugal and it seems to be the perfect place for foodies. Speaking of salt, I did bring some Portuguese salt home as well.
I hope my Portuguese story was entertaining and helpful. Where would be my next wine destination? Ciao!
Update: I found this awesome blog about Portugal. Please check it out!