Lisbon Day 3: A day of food

Friday morning began with coffee and a croissant as I sat at the desk in my hotel room, wrote my diary, and did the first of my twice daily dose of Duolingo.

Then I was back out on Lisbon’s streets again. The sun was shining and the sky a light blue as I headed towards the Santa Isabel district, where I had a 10.30am appointment!

Yet again the walk was a steep one, but it was pleasant as I took in little neighbourhood restaurants and bars as I walked the tiled pavements. I also spotted this incredible sign which included a dog tidying up after itself with a brush and pan!

I walked along a wide street lined with cafés and shops filled with young students and cut through the Estrela Gardens before arriving at the main garden gates opposite the Estrela Basilica church.

A rendez-vous with a guide

The grand gates were where I was due to meet my guide for the rest of the day. It felt like ages since I’d done a food tour on my travels, and I’d decided to sign up for one relatively soon into my Lisbon trip. As well as exploring a part of the city (and its food) I always think they’re a good way to help you get your bearings in a city and to get a real feel for the place. It’s also a great opportunity to pick up any tips from a local.

Before long I’d spotted Irene, my guide for the day. With the two other tour participants running late, after a bit of introductory chit-chat we crossed the street and headed to our first location.

It doesn’t feel right listing every specific spot we visited on the tour, otherwise anyone reading this could go and recreate it themselves. So instead I’m just going to talk generally about the places we visited in this post – and of course the food we ate! I would be absolutely stuffed by the end of the tour.

Our first stop was a simply decorated café, and the remaining two tour participants – a really nice Canadian couple – arrived soon after we got there. As Irene began to explain the history of Portuguese explorers bring spices and other foods back to Europe we were served pastries and sweets specific to a region of Portugal with our coffees.

Irene also explained that in the past, Portugese convents were left with a glut of egg yolks after using the whites to starch habits and other items. Before long those yolks were being turned into different kinds of sweets – like the ones we were sitting enjoying.

After leaving the café behind we took a quick look inside the basilica next door, which had a distinctly dark and gothic feel to it!

A fishy lunch

From the Basilica we walked towards the Campo de Ourique neighbourhood and stepped inside a small shop where the lady behind the counter had completely forgotten we were coming and wasn’t ready for us. After apologies and much laughing between Irene and the proprietor, we continued on our way and arrived at a small restaurant which, although quiet when we entered, would soon have its tables filled with chattering locals enjoying a leisurely lunch.

Surrounding the main dining room were little cages with little (not real!) birds inside them.

As opposed to my experience the previous evening, this really seemed like the real Portuguese deal. The menu was scribbled on a blackboard on the wall – I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Soon dishes of simple, piping hot food were arriving on our table – Irene had ordered for us.

This was to be a meal which was all about fish. Alongside buttered potatoes and vegetables, we had barbecued fish served alongside a delicious (and again pretty buttery) dish of prawn and octopus. I’ve got to say the octopus was like no other octopus I’d ever tasted before. Usually I find it to be pretty chewy, but we all agreed this was the most tender, melt in your mouth octopus any of us had ever had.

I also tucked into a few chips! The food was quite plain really – but cooked by an obviously deft hand. I loved it!

A taste of Africa and Goa with a Kylie diversion

On our way to our next stop Irene told us a story from her time spent living in London. She was a really interesting person – having previously worked as a chef, she seemed to have spent time living in almost every European country.

I had tears rolling down my cheeks as she told us how her flatmate in London would put away tinful after tinful of cider every night. After the flatmate watched a documentary on Kylie Minogue one night, the next programme to start was a true crime documentary. But thanks to her sozzled state the flatmate thought the two programmes were one and the same, leading to some hilarious conversations as Irene tried unsuccessfully to persuade her that Kylie had not been murdered and that was not her house being shown on TV. It really made me chuckle!

An unusually decorated lorry was parked up outside our next stop.

Inside a building which had previously held a bakery cooperative and now held classes for the local community, we took a twisted staircase up to another restaurant for some more lunch.

This place was a foodie representation of Portuguese explorers’ past travels. Snacks – and more substantial mains – drew influences from Indian, African and South American countries. A samosa type pastry was served with a little pot of home made hot chilli sauce…

before we tucked into a spicy-but-not-too-spicy prawn curry – an ancestor of a Goan vindaloo – and chatted away.

And there was time for a quick selfie with the group!

Sometimes these kind of tours can feel a bit awkward as you’re spending time chatting with people you don’t really know. But in this instance, it never really felt like that – Irene was a good tour guide. She gave us little titbits of information and explained things, but the conversation flowed naturally too as we just got to know each other a bit better and swapped experiences.

A taste of a market

After leaving the community centre behind we arrived at a nearby market. I was a bit disappointed to see that by this time – two in the afternoon – most of the stall owners seemed to be tidying things away.

At the counter of a tiny little bar inside though, we got a selection of drinks served by a man with what has to be one of the friendliest looking faces I’ve ever seen. Smartly dressed with a shirt and apron, his smile never stopped and he seemed genuinely pleased to see us. I was a bit annoyed I couldn’t have a chat with him, with my Portuguese basically limited to obrigado!

We sat down on nearby stools and a plate of breaded and a tomatoey fish dish arrived.

I have to admit I can’t actually remember what it was. All I can remember is it tasted like a very lightly spiced sausage – the texture felt to me like sausage too, but it definitely wasn’t sausage!

After thanking the smiling man, Irene took us over to one stall in the market which was still open and staffed. A framed certificate on the counter revealed the owners had won gold in a National 2022 Nut Competition.

And the nuts were tasty – we were given a sample of each of the brightly coloured varieties on display – roasted and flavoured with things like sea salt, lime or ginger. My mouth seemed to water every time I put one in my mouth.

The Canadian couple bought some bags to take home with them and then moving round the other side of the stall, we were greeted by jar upon jar of brightly coloured spices.

Irene opened two different jars of cinnamon and explained that the cinnamon most of us take for granted – Cassia – isn’t the real cinnamon deal. Popping a bit of what was labelled Ceylon Cinnamon in to our mouths brought about that familiar cinnamony taste, but also something completely different. Something that tasted deeper and more complex. It’s really hard to describe, but it was something I’d never tasted before.

Cheese and a glimpse into literary resistance

Across the road from the market, the shop owner we’d surprised earlier was now ready for us, and had laid out some crackers and cheese from different areas of Portugal.

Both cheeses were buttery smooth and really tasty. The shop was like a small deli, and, having a look around as the rest of the group chatted, I spotted something I knew I’d have to buy – a tin of sardine pâté. I do love the sardines! And sardine pâté, yum! I also took a tin for my Mum – a fellow lover of sardines. Must be where I get it from!

A short stroll away from the shop, Irene took us inside another store – but this time one with a hidden past. As customers browsed the bookstore’s shelves upstairs, Irene took us downstairs into the basement and pointed out what was now a darkened store room.

Irene explained that during Portugal’s dictatorship, the room was somewhere people could come to read books banned by the government in secret. Peering inside the room now, it was easy to imagine people sitting inside pouring over books. How risky that simple pastime had been back then! They must have been constantly in fear of a knock on the door which could have led to them being thrown in prison.

A display cabinet at the bottom of the staircase contained some of the books that had been read in that cramped little room.

By now we’d been marching on our stomachs for more than five and a half hours, so the tour was running a little bit over, but Irene had saved potentially the tastiest treat ‘til last.

The best pastel de nata in Lisbon (in my opinion)

Next door to the bookshop was a branch of the small café chain Manteigaria. Manteigaria opened its first branch in Lisbon in 2014 – in a building which had previously been the headquarters of a butter manufacturer. It was an apt choice, for the pastry Maneigaria specialises in relies on butter.

Today the chain has a couple of outlets in Lisbon, two in Porto, and one in Paris. Each has a similar layout – with open kitchens where you can see chefs preparing tray after tray of pastéis de natas.

Irene bought us all a coffee and we sat down to taste the small treats.

I have to say they were hands down the best pastel de nata I had in my time in Lisbon – and I had a few! They were absolutely, honestly on a completely different level from those I’d tasted previously – even the ones I’d had from the Confeitaria Nacional shop that’s famous for them the day before. If you are in Lisbon, you have to take a trip to Manteigaria – you can find a list of their stores here.

The traditional pastel de nata seemed like a fitting end to our tour. After thanking Irene and saying our goodbyes, we headed our separate ways outside the bakery. I’d had a really fun day and Irene had been a great guide. If you are in Lisbon and are even remotely interested in food, I’d recommend taking a Culinary Backstreets food tour – they offer a couple of different ones, but the one I was on was the Culinary Crossroads tour. The company offers tours in a selection of cities around the world and are really professional – they were easy to deal with and responsive too after I sent them a follow up email.

A scenic diversion

I made my way back to Lisbon’s centre on foot – and paid a quick visit to a kitchen shop I’d spotted before leaving the Campo de Ourique district behind.

The skies darkened with grey cloud as I made my way through the twisting streets, but thankfully the rain that was threatened never materialised, and the sky was soon its typically bright blue again.

After spotting another picture-perfect tram terminus…

I arrived back at Caza Vellas Loreto where I collected the candle that had been too fresh and wet for me to take the home the day before.

It was just after five o’clock, and though I’d spent a fair bit of the day on my feet, I still felt like I had a bit of effort in me yet to be able to take a look around some places that were still unchecked on my list.

I had a look inside a traditional tile shop on Rua Das Flores in Bairro Alto before pausing to take a photo of Lisbon’s famous Pink Street from a bridge above.

Soon I’d walked down to the banks of the Targus River – and behind the Cais do Sodré station was a long wall offering the perfect spot to admire the approaching sunset and the dramatic clouds that were sweeping across the sky.

The smell of marijuana and the sound of young chattering voices and tinny hip hop music filled the air as people chilled and admired the view. To the right was Lisbon’s Golden Gate Bridge look-a-like, the Ponte 25 de Abril, while just to the left was a clear view of Christo Rei – a statue inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue I’d visited in Brazil. I had hoped to visit Christo Rei at one point on my Lisbon trip, but I wouldn’t make it sadly – something to save for next time! Standing there taking it all in was just a nice little moment.

After a quick look in the tourist information office and attached shop in the station, I crossed the road and walked towards a site that’s become one of Lisbon’s top attractions for tourists.

A plethora of restaurants

The Time Out Market is billed as one of the world’s largest gourmet food spaces. It’s really one enormous food court – of the type that have been popping up everywhere of late. The team at the TIme Out Portugal magazine created the concept in 2014, putting together a selection of businesses meant to represent the very best of Lisbon. Today, the market’s home to 26 restaurants, 8 bars, as well as housing market vendors selling meat, fish, fruit and flowers.

It was massive – and absolutely rammed at twenty to six on a Friday night. I had a wander around the different counters selling the usual burgers, taco and sushi fare along with a smattering of outlets selling more traditional Portuguese dishes.

I was still far too full from the food tour to consider trying some of the food on offer, so as darkness fell, I made my way through small squares…

…past little neighbourhood bars…

…and up steep streets…

…to some nearby places I’d marked on my map. I was tempted by a rug in A Vida Portuguesa, a store selling local goods, and then walked to Livraria Bertrand. It’s a bookshop with a difference – certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest operating book store – quite a record! It opened in 1732.

I loved the Art Deco signage on the outside of the store.

I hadn’t planned on buying anything from the fair sized English language section, but a display of several different editions of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet managed to persuade me. The prices were quite the mark up on the original UK prices, but they stamped the inside of my book with a Libraria Bertrand stamp when I paid for it, making the book a nice souvenir of my trip.

My stomach was beginning to feel a bit empty again after my multi-course meal from the tour, so my thoughts turned to where to grab something to eat that I could take my back to my hotel.

In the end I jumped on the metro and returned back to what was fast becoming an old faithful – the food court at El Corte Inglés. The stuff there just looked like it was of decent quality and there was a good selection to choose from!

After making my way round all the different counters several times, I grabbed a croissant from a chain called O Melhor Croissant Da Minha Rua, an empanada type snack from a branch of Las Cholas, and a packet of paprika crisps and a carton of chocolate milk from the supermarket. That would do!

It was on my way back to the hotel after ascending from the metro station that I finally came a cropper on Lisbon’s shiny, slippery kerbs. With some rain having given them a treacherous sheen, my foot slid on one as soon as it made contact and I fell forward onto my knees. It was really painful!

Back in my room I nursed my pride and caught up with some EastEnders as I tucked into tea on my bed – it wasn’t exactly a gourmet experience after what had been a very foodie day in Lisbon, but it hit the spot!

Not long after I’d finished I turned in for the night.

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