Lisbon: Sampling Portuguese Cuisine on a Food & Wine Walking Tour

Throughout this semester abroad, I’ve been sensing a shift in my travel priorities. I have always been an “OMG, I must see all the famous sites” type of person, but lately, my desire to hit all the big landmarks has waned. Yes, I still visit the museums and monuments that pique my interest, but I no longer feel compelled to visit every single one of them just because they pop up in a guidebook or I feel I “should” see them.

Instead, I’ve been spending a lot more time out and about, walking until my feet get tired and wandering in search of pretty buildings, interesting architecture, and gorgeous views. Rather than spending my time trapped indoors, I’m soaking up the streets of each place – and totally loving it.

Because of this, when I heard about Inside Lisbon’s Food & Wine Walk, I knew I had to sign up. Not only would it allow me to wander around the streets of Lisbon, but I’d also get to sample some foodie treats along the way. Total win/win situation.

The tour began in Rossio Square, where we met Nadia, our guide for the afternoon. She was fantastic – knowledgeable about Portuguese cuisine, really friendly, and full of lots of interesting information. She led us around the city for over three hours, stopping at five restaurants along the way to sample various food and drinks.

First stop: We began at a little shop tucked down a street between Rossio Square and Praca de Figueira. There, we started with Port wine from the Douro Valley, cheese from the Azores, and quince paste. I don’t think I’ve ever had Port wine before (an egregious mistake on my part), but I loved the sweetness of it. The cheese with the quince paste was a delicious combination and also went well with the wine.

Second stop: Next, we headed to a cafe for a coffee and a pastry (stopping along the way to buy a bag of chestnuts from one of the many vendors hawking them on Praca de Figueira). Nadia told us that our espressos were called “bica,” a name derived from the phrase “Beba Isto Com Açucar” (drink this with sugar). The coffee was definitely strong; I totally understood why sugar would be required. We also learned that in Portugal, a country of 11 million people, 22 million espressos are sold per day. Suffice it to say, people are drinking a lot of these with sugar!

At the cafe, we sampled the Portuguese classic, pastel de nata, along with our espresso. These custard treats are everywhere in Portugal, and one thing I noticed (and Nadia mentioned) was that bakeries are everywhere in Portugal too. She told us that the Portuguese rarely eat breakfast at home, instead opting to stop at a cafe for their morning coffee and pastry. It was obvious that cafes play a big role in daily life here. My next question is this: how do these people eat such delicious pastries on the regular and stay so slim?!

Third stop: Fortified by our pastries and buzzing from our espressos, we made the climb up to the Bairro Alto. There, we headed down a particularly cute and colorful street and stopped in at a restaurant to try ginja, a cherry liqueur. I loved ginja, but I can also see how the stuff might be dangerous – it’s so sweet and delicious that you could easily drink a lot of it without even realizing quite how much you were consuming.

(Yep, our ginja came out of that gigantic bottle.)

Fourth stop: Next, we headed back downhill, stopping at a shop near the Rossio train station. There, we had beer and a codfish cake. Both were fine, but as I’m not a big beer drinker nor a big fan of codfish, this was my least favorite stop. Still, codfish cakes are a ubiquitous food in Portugal, so it only seemed appropriate that we try one on our tour.

Fifth stop: Our last stop was an awesome one, a restaurant near Rossio Square. The restaurant was very centrally-located, but the building’s front entrance was unassuming; we had no idea that an awesome restaurant was tucked away behind those doors. In fact, this is exactly why I think taking a food and wine tour is a good choice: you find places you otherwise would have never stopped to consider.

Here, we sampled a variety of petiscos, the Portuguese version of tapas. We tried: bread and to-die-for cheese, chickpeas and codfish, eggs and chicken sausage, chorizo, and one incredibly amazing pork dish. We washed it all down with more red wine, staying to enjoy our food, drinks, and conversation well past when our tour was supposed to end. I thought this last spot was so well-chosen; the food was delicious, and it was a great place to wrap up an amazing afternoon.

Overall, I cannot say enough positive things about the food and wine walking tour. Inside Lisbon does such a solid job: we had a good guide, we stopped at lots of interesting spots, and I was really impressed by the amount of food and drinks we received. Particularly with regard to drinks, I felt like we got a lot of alcohol for our money. In fact, I loved the experience so much that I made sure to sign up for food tours on some upcoming trips…so stay tuned for more culinary adventures from Europe!

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