Hidden Food Treasures of Lisbon
When you merely have 48 hours to explore one of the most beautiful and historic cities in Portugal, have a giant checklist but time is of the essence, get yourself on a food tour. It’s an absolute game changer. Three almost four hours of wandering the narrow alleys of Alfama, the oldest region of Lisbon. Every restaurant a surprise, every alley narrower than the next, Ruthy and her husband of ‘Lisbon Treasures food tours’ really did uncover some magical treasures the Lisbon food scene has to offer.
Some say the Soul of Lisbon lies in Alfama, this is due to the overwhelming neighbourhood vibe.
As my Grandmother used to say ‘some of the best things come in tiny packages’. This slowly revealed itself to be true. Tiny doorways with low roofs. The hole in the wall place you wouldn’t dare enter on your own. Graciously welcomed in by Father and Son, the feeling of warmth as if you had just entered your own private dining room.
Due to the community feels Alfama has to offer, Ruthy only took us to locally owned, family run restaurants. When you own an apartment or restaurant in Alfama it has to stay in the family. So if you leave it or pass on, it is always inherited by the next generation. So as you explore the streets you slowly realise everyone knows everyone. It’s like a village within a city. It’s not rare to see two Granny’s sitting complaining together or trying to sell a swig of their “family owned secret recipe” sour cherry liquor, Le Ginjinha
Alfama is located on an underground natural spring, the people took advantage of this by setting up multiple water fountains- now days also known as pigeon bath tubs. So, clean pure drinkable water flows freely through the streets. As we all filled up our drink bottles and headed towards our first stop- so recently reopened they didn’t even have their name above the door. Although this restaurant is very recent the floor and wall date back to the 14th century and are reminisce from the 1755 earthquake. Lisbon was once a fortified city, and this restaurant wall is a tiny piece of history of the outside of the protective walls which once enclosed the city.
My trusty sidekick Sarah-Jane absolutely loved this next part of the eating experience. Olive oil! Sarah-Jane loves Olive oil she would drink it, wash it in swim in it if she had half the chance! This family production only produces 500 bottles per year. This olive oil comes from the North in a region called Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro Province a town the same latitude as Porto. In Portugual they produce Olive oil all over the country but the taste varies from North to South. The taste is influenced by the soil and the weather. It is often compared to wine. Just like wine this oil has a taste and an after taste. The buttery notes hit you first ending with a slightly hotter peppery taste. And again, like wine you can mix and match different types of grapes to find the best taste. In this case there are three types of olives, with the help of a 2 Michelin star chef they uncovered all the flavours to find the best balance between all the best types of olives.
Now if I learnt one thing from my time in Lisbon, it was that they really love their cod! For such a small country, they eat a heck of a lot of cod! 800km from North to South and only 200km at it widest point from East to West. Yet they manage to eat 20% of the worlds production of cod! Even though it can’t be caught off the coast of Portugal! So, the famous cod cakes are apparently a must on any Portuguese table.
Staying on a fishy theme, something that can be fished off the Portuguese coast are Sardines! Ruthy explains how she aims to live and work by the seasons. The best period for fresh sardines is from June 1st to September 15th, as we were there in late October this period was over. Therefore, she replaced fresh with canned. In some cases, canned foods can represent low quality however in Portugal this is not the case. Very tasty high-quality produce is canned.
Again, we ate from a small family production- marinated in oil. Due to the steaming process, there is no need to remove the bones. Served on slightly toasted bread with a squeeze of lemon it melted in your mouth the instant it hit my lips.
We continued on winding our way through the streets observing the carefully hand painted tiles stopping for cheese and Vino Verde along the way.
Our final destination took us to try the infamous Nata tart. Originally invented by a monk- it was at the time when the church was separated from the state, but the Monks needed money for the monastery. So, came up with the recipe for the Portuguese egg tart huge success- so he opened his own pastry shop and called it- pastry shop of the monk- they sell 20,000 tarts per day. And in August around 50,000. Apparently, there are only 3 people in the whole world who know the original recipe.
What better way to finish our tour than with a view- overlooking Lisbon eating a ginger olive and chocolate treat. Portuguese black olives covered in 60% dark chocolate and ginger.
Although our host was originally French, her knowledge and passion for Portuguese food was outstanding. After seeking some much-needed fresh air, Ruthy and her husband quit their corporate jobs to follow their dreams. “People love to eat- that’s a constant” and three years on they have never looked back.
The food tours run every day twice a day apart from Sunday- Sunday they sleep!
Morning tour 10:30-1:30 then little break to eat and second tour from 3pm maximum 12 people.