Tom and I recently traveled in Portugal for almost six weeks, and what a trip it was! Our food and culture explorations began in Lisbon, and we re-visited the area some weeks later. The first time through, we explored a single neighborhood, Mouraria, beginning with Praça Martin Moniz and its contemporary fountains. When we returned a month later, the food court at Mercado da Ribeira had just opened, and we were eager to take a look. For both experiences we turned to Taste of Lisboa, organizer of food and culture experiences in and around the city.
Filipa, the face and spirit of Taste of Lisboa, is an exceptional guide to Portuguese food ways and the culinary specialties of the Lisbon area. She adds a liberal dose of local color and cultural traditions to every encounter.
Portuguese culinary basics
To get us started, at Manteigaria Silva, we enjoyed almost see-through slices of black pork from Alentejo, bread for dipping into a fruity olive oil good enough to drink, and apple slices, accompanied by a glass of a very good Douro red table wine. Everything at this shop–except spirits–comes from small producers across Portugal.
Diverse Mouraria is Lisbon’s melting pot, and its residents, restaurants and boutiques mix long-time traditions and the completely new. Our walk around Mouraria began with a stop at Praça Martin Moniz for a savory snack of shrimp rissoles and bolinhos de bacalhau–before climbing up, up, up along the narrow streets skirting the hill beneath Castelo de S. Jorge. Our culture and food walk included several stops for nibbles, a nip of sour cherry liquor (taken as medicine until the end of the 19th century), and a chance to “have a mini!” with an African fish cake.
Fado facts, with Ginja
Fado was born in Mouraria, and its most celebrated singers are commemorated here with plaques, portraits and music wafting from ancient buildings. We stopped at a tiny tavern, Os Amigos da Severa, for our first taste of Ginja, the cherry liquor, with fado eddying all around us. Maria Severa Onofriana, the first fado singer to achieve fame, lived in a house just up the street. The singer died of tuberculosis in 1846, at the age of 26.
Casual gourmet at Leopold
Chef Tiago Feio and his wife Ana are the proud owners of Leoplod, a four-table restaurant on Rua de Sao Cristovao and one of several innovative start-ups in the neighborhood. Meals at Leopold are artful constructions marrying traditional flavors with molecular techniques, served on Bordallo Pinheiro plates. We enjoyed Codfish in the Clouds, a light, airy and flavorful appetizer from a playful menu that changes frequently.
“A Tribute” by Camilla Watson
Camilla Watson’s “Tribute” project has put photographs of longtime Mouraria residents on display, celebrating their spirit and vitality. The images for “A Tribute” are displayed next to residents’ homes and place of work. Camilla Watson tells how “A Tribute” came about, and what the neighbors thought, in this video.
Entrepreneurs moving into Mouraria, have enlivened and enriched the neighborhood. With Filipa, we enjoyed a peek into A LOJA, a boutique on Rua de São Cristóvão featuring vintage and artisanal items. Everything has been lovingly selected by owner Gabrielle de Saint Venant. In an interview Gabrielle tells about her move to the “international village” of Mouraria.
Mercado da Ribeira, re-born
Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeiro has been around for ages, selling top-quality produce and seafood trucked into the city from farms in the region. Another side to the market now showcases products and concepts from well-known chefs in the city, in a venture managed by Time Out Lisboa. The aim is to present the best in urban lifestyle, from gastronomy to culture. Mercado da Ribeira is the place to find out what happens when chefs such as Michelin-starred Vítor Claro, offer fine cuisine to grab-and-go.
Open just a few days at the time of our visit, the place was still working out the kinks. Still, we were able to meet some of the vendors. We also enjoyed a personalized introduction to Portuguese cheeses from Serra da Estrela, Trás-os-Monte and the Azores, and a fine slice of cake to keep us going until evening.
Out and about with Taste of Lisboa
We cannot recommend Filipa’s tours highly enough. Her knowledge and passion for sharing the food and culture of her city is infectious, and contributed greatly to our food travel experience in Portugal. Thanks to Taste of Lisboa, we also enjoyed a day in the Setúbal District. There, we discovered another Portuguese wine region, ate wonderful seafood, and learned the secret behind two of Portugal’s best cheeses: Azeitão and Serra da Estrela.
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