Adeus, Lisboa and thanks for the memories!

And then this happened...

And then this happened…

I’d love to go on and on about the many great things I ate in Portugal almost as much as I’d love to go on and on actually IN Portugal, but alas, like my trip itself did, the lovefest has to end. But don’t you worry, sweet reader o’ mine, I’ve saved the best for last!

And by best, I mean most likely to possibly freak you out. Bear with me.

My last full day in Lisbon was spent with my old high school friend who lives there (the lucky bastard, him and his EU citizenship) strolling around town, stopping at museums, bars, markets, shops, and miradouros (viewpoints from which to take in the city’s many gorgeous vistas) basically squeezing every ounce of goodness out of life that day. It was a pretty phenomenal day at that, and you know I wouldn’t say that if it hadn’t included some good grubbing too.

For my last proper meal in Lisbon (not counting the pasteis I wolfed down en route to/and at the airport the next morning) I wanted one thing: caracois. Uh, huh. Snails. I’d heard about them and seen signs advertising them outside of restaurants so I figured, hey, when in Rome…

We walked up to As Zebras Do Combro, a small, homey restaurant with azuleijo covered walls and a sassy, Portuguese only speaking waitress who confirmed they had snails, among other traditional and regional Portuguese eats.  With stomachs growling (ok, possibly just mine) we ordered a plate of snails, linguica, grilled sardines (another thing I wanted to eat before leaving the country) and a cold bottle of white wine.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

Ok, so let’s get right down to it: the snails. I posted a picture on Instagram (AngieDupinthelimousine if you don’t already follow me) and one vegan friend commented with a broken heart emoji. I texted the same picture to my sister, who immediately wrote back (5 hour time difference be damned): “HELL, NO.” So, I get it, people on this side of the pond aren’t crazy about the slimy little suckers as food. But over in Lisbon, they’re a local favorite, so I wanted them. Was I necessarily in love with them after? Well, no, but I didn’t think they were bad either. After poking them with a toothpick and dragging each one out of its shell, the tiny snails were kind of gummy, and didn’t really taste like a whole lot besides the butter and olive oil they were cooked in. Not as meaty or flavorful as escargot I’ve had prepared the French way, these were just ok. Not bad, but ok.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Now the linguica, a Portuguese chorizo that won’t be winning any points for its good looks, was deeeeelicious. Smokey and garlicky with a slightly crispy outside and a juicy, spicy inside, this sausage ranks as some of the best I’ve ever had. Again, not much to look at but damn good to eat, a true lesson in the importance of focusing on more than just looks.

It wouldn't be Portugal without sardines.

It wouldn’t be Portugal without sardines.

Last were the grilled sardines, probably the most Portuguese of foods since sardines are everywhere and on everything from a billion different beautifully packaged cans to keychains to magnets to t-shirts. I was most interested in getting them on my plate, however. Grilled whole with just a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, these little fish were the perfect example of less is more. They were simple and tasty, the plump, soft meat inside worth the work of pulling the thin bones away.

Having done everything I wanted to do and eaten everything I wanted to eat, I left Portugal with both a full stomach and heart. Until we meet again, lovely Portugal, obrigada and adeus! (But you can keep the snails…)

Will travel for food

“Will travel for food” might as well be my philosophy for life, because I rarely mind a trek— be it by foot, train, plane or automobile— if there’s a good meal waiting to be had at the end.

When my Lisbon-living friend suggested we take a daytrip to Tomar, a small town about a 2-hour train ride away, to have lunch at a great family run restaurant where you had to tell them what you’d be having when you made the reservation so that the lovely little grandma in the kitchen could start the appropriate preparations, I was sold. (I mean, there was also a visit to a thousand-year-old castle at the top of a hill thrown into the pitch, but really, he had me at lunch.)

Chico Elias, did in fact, involve a hike. No, really. After our two hour train ride, my friend and I had to cut through town and hoof it up a hill, on the side of the road, under the unrelenting August sun to reach our lunchtime destination.

Like showing up at your actual family’s house, the door was locked, and someone, possibly one of the children, answered the door and let us into the cool, still dining room. No menus or English either. My friend confirmed our order in Portuguese and I just smiled and nodded.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

First out was the duck, prepared in a way like no other I’d ever had. Served in a heavy casserole type dish, it came out as a mountain of a most delicious mix of stuffing-like cornbread, pine nuts, walnuts, greens, and buried inside like the treasure that it was, tender, juicy, perfect duck. Each heaping spoonful had a little bit of all of the ingredients and all of it was perfection. The blend of textures and flavors including crunchy, sweet, nutty, juicy, soft, meaty and earthy was just everything I needed and wanted, with all of the comfort and warmth of a home cooked meal.

Roasted goat and the most perfect potatoes in Portugal

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If my own home cooking were this good, I’d never leave the house.

Next up, the goat, a rich, meaty dish so good that even after the absolutely filling duck before it, I couldn’t stop shoveling it in until it was done. Served alongside the juiciest, most savory, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and equally juicy, delicious greens, good enough to convert even the most veggie opposed eater, the outrageously tender, soft roasted goat was one of those foods you can’t eat without at least once closing your eyes and letting out a deep mmmmm.

Just like at home, where your family (or at least certainly mine) never thinks you’ve eaten enough, it’s worth noting that the portions at Chico Elias are massive. Each dish we had could easily have been split between three people, who would’ve all walked away well fed and beyond happy, but between the two of us we had two. So yea, enough food for five to six people.

Faitas de Tomar

Faitas de Tomar… slices of cloud like dessert

But because no truly perfect meal is complete without dessert, we went with local specialty, faitas de Tomar, a moist, spongy cake like sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. It was just the right amount of sweet and light to balance the heavy, savory feast we’d had.

Would I ride the L train from Brooklyn to JFK, fly across the Atlantic to Lisbon, jump on a train to Tomar and haul my butt up that hill to eat at Chico Elias again? Damn right I would.

Sipping a little tradition


Ginjinha (and red nails to match)

In the States, if a shot is being poured, it’s usually downed in one fast, hard gulp and while there’s definitely a time and place for that, I’ve realized I  really enjoy the European culture of sipping shots, usually a post-meal liqueur or digestif.

When I lived in Italy, for example, a sweet limoncello or a nice amaro (think Fernet-Branca or even Jager) followed any big meal, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed that until my recent trip to Portugal.

Not strictly an after dinner drink, Ginjinha (or also ginja) is the preferred sipping drink in Lisbon and other parts of Portugal, and is enjoyed really any time of day, after a meal or on its own. Made from sour cherries, sugar and alcohol, ginjinha has a strong but sweet, syrupy flavor. Most places, unless you request otherwise, will serve the shot of local liqueur with one of the boozy sour cherries plunked at the bottom, making for a potent and tasty finish to the brandy-like drink.


A couple of boozy cherries waiting at the bottom

During an afternoon food tour by a local foodie friend, we sipped ginjinhas  outside a traditional meat and cheese shop, taking in the sunshine with our little Portuguese tradition. And while I could never duplicate Lisbon or the easy, breezy way of things there, I was sure to bring a bottle of ginjinha home with me. For now, I think I’ll start right there.

(Note: Anyone going to Lisbon and interested in a food tour should let me know so I can put you in touch with my Portuguese foodie friend.)

Move over, madame

I hold as a universal truth in my heart that almost everything is improved by being topped with a fried egg. (Maybe not desserts, but you know what, if someone were up to the challenge of making one work, I’d be happy to try it.)

It was in the picturesque little town of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, that for the umpteenth time, this proved to the be the case. A friend and I were a perusing the menu at Estrada Velha, a small bar along the main tourist-packed road, wondering if the shop owner who’d given us the recommendation had steered us wrong, when  amidst the sandwiches and salads, I saw something that caught my eye: a francesinha.

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Allow me to introduce you to the francesinha

A sandwich originally from Porto, on Portugal’s northern coast, a francesinha is basically a Portuguese spin on a croque madame or croque monsieur (madame being with a fried egg, monsieur without, though the francesinha doesn’t have different names for this.) Instead of ham and béchamel sauce, the francesinha, has different kinds of meat inside. The one I had in Sintra had thin slices of salami, roast pork and ham, and instead of béchamel, there was a layer of gooey melted cheese. Plopped right on top? My favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), a fried egg. Finally, taking one step farther away from the croque madame/monsieur, the francesinha came in a shallow pool of a slightly spicy, sauce, almost like a tomato soup.

The whole thing was a saucy, sloppy, wet, delicious mess best attacked with a fork and knife. The sauce,  really more of a tomato and beer broth, was perfect for soaking the bread in, softening everything and blending the flavors.

I’ve always loved a good croque madame but I think I just might like this Portuguese francesinha a bit more. Maybe my universal truth about fried eggs needs to also include a good sauce.

Portuguese pastry perfection

This is the face of an addict, a pastel de nata addict.

The face of an addict, a pastel de nata addict.

With its resplendent blue skies, abundant sunshine and cool Atlantic breezes, Lisbon had me smitten almost from the minute I stepped off the plane.  But the moment I held a pastel de nata in my hand and felt its flaky crust and warm, custard filling in my mouth? Wooo! That was something else. That, my friends, was love.

Pasteis de nata, traditional Portuguese custard tarts, are everywhere. All the cafés and bakeries have them, and in the morning, people leaning over counters, sipping coffees and scarfing down pasteis, are a common sight.

Production line of deliciousness.

Production line of deliciousness.

I tried my first at Manteigaria, a Lisbon bakery that makes them fresh in-house, all day long. When a friend took me there my first night in town (remember: any time is a good time for pastries), bakers filled tray after tray of creamy custard treats.

Little cups of sugar and cinnamon dusted happiness.

Little cups of sugar and cinnamon dusted happiness.

The best pasteis de nata have flaky, buttery crusts and custard centers that are smooth and creamy, sweet and subtly eggy in flavor. The tops are slightly charred so the sugar caramelizes and gives each tart the burnt-sweetness that goes so well with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar.

During my week in Lisbon, I had these pastries for breakfast in the morning and snacks throughout the day, at cafes all over town, and with varying degrees of deliciousness, and while it’s worth noting I never once had a bad one, Manteigaria’s pasteis were some of my favorite.

Cranking out pastry perfection since 1837

Cranking out pastry perfection since 1837

The title of absolute best, however, is an honor that most Lisboans reserve for Pasteis de Belem, a bakery in nearby Belem that’s been turning out these little tarts of perfection since 1837 when monks from the neighboring Mosteiro do Jeronimos started selling them as a means of making money. The old-timey café is a bustling scene of pastry gobbling tourists and locals, while the glass counter in the front keeps a steady crowd of admirers snaking out the front door.

Ladies and gents, THE best, the one, the only, the pastel de Belem

Ladies and gents, THE best, the one, the only, the pastel de Belem

When I made the pilgrimage to the famed pastry shop (and the monastery down the street, thank you very much) and finally got my hands on one of their baked treats, I immediately understood what the fuss was about. While other pasteis had been good, this one was perfect. The crust, made of layers of delicate, thin pastry dough, was buttery and crisp, and the still-warm custard center, made of egg yolks, sugar and at least some small part of heaven itself, was velvety soft and sweet without being cloying.

Call them pasteis de nata or de Belem, I’d gladly eat these every day for the rest of my life, just like I did during that that delicious week in Portugal.

Hitting the re-set button

When the going gets tough, the get going... somewhere else (where they then order the simplest, tastiest fish around)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going… somewhere else (where they then order the simplest, tastiest fish around)

Travel, for me, is a form of therapy, something I need to do to clear my mind, start fresh, recharge and re-energize.  Recently, when I started to feel more than a little angsty, restless, grumpy, bored, and hot (the not-so-charming combination of feelings that I call Summertime Sadness) I snuck off for a quick jaunt to Portugal. (I know, seems extreme, but hey, that’s how I roll.) An old friend from high school moved to Lisbon a few months ago so I took advantage of his newfound insider knowledge and crossed the pond to meet him.

For one absolutely blissful week, I lounged in the sun, worked on my gluteal muscles by walking up and down Lisbon’s million and one hills, caught up with an old friend and made a few new ones, and just so I could tell you all about it here on this blog, I stuffed my face full of Portuguese deliciousness.

Taking some time off definitely hit the re-set button and over the next few posts I’ll tell you all about the eats that helped me do it.