Like many, the saying ‘You have to taste a culture to understand it’ rings very true for us. There’s nothing better than experiencing a new country through its cuisine, exploring strange and winding roads, and discovering hidden gems that become your delicious ‘little secrets’ far from the maddening crowds. If the idea of a ‘Food Tour’ goes against your sensitivity to strangers and all paths trodden, I implore you to reconsider…
For our first tour experience, Viator’s Gourmet Portuguese Food & Wine Tour couldn’t have been a better introduction to Lisbon’s many gastronomical delights. For starters our group was small (6 of us in total), comprising of 20‐30 something’s from London, looking to have a fun evening and hopefully learn a little more about where they can get a great meal with a little more local, and a little less anorak‐wearing, map‐toting sightseers.
Viator curates tours all over the world, connecting knowledgeable local guides with you and I, to create a bespoke and unique holiday experiences. Our fantastic guide Tiago took the time to get to know each person in the group a little before setting off, to ensure that he could tailor the tour to our interests as much as possible– putting us all at ease immediately and asking us to refer to each other as a family! Starting off in the grand Praça de D.Pedro IV Square, we sampled a traditional Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Cod Fishcakes) along with some fresh and sprightly Vinho Verde (unmatured Portuguese wine) in a tiny, cave‐like tavern. The atmosphere was certainly there, no English spoken, a lot of pointing, nodding and obligatory ‘obrigado’s’ – however the simple food and wine was the first real ‘taste’ of Portugal we had experienced since arriving in Lisbon a few days prior.
Wandering through the beautiful Baixa and affluent Chiado neighbourhoods, our guide spoke passionately about Lisbon’s architecture, history and culture, ensuring that we would leave with more than just a taste for Lisbon’s many wines. Stopping off briefly in the Barrio Alto‐ a collection of vein‐ like cobbled streets (full of old ladies and their washing by day, and young party goers by night), we sampled cheese, bread, pumpkin jams and the delicious Porco Preto (Black Iberian Ham). The Portuguese equivalent of Spain’s lauded Jamon Iberico, Porco Preto is gamey, nutty and melts like butter in the mouth‐ often served in shavings as a pop of saltine goodness.
Having scaled a couple of Lisbon’s notorious seven hills (leave your Louboutins at home ladies), we popped into a traditional local store to try arguably Portugal’s most famous export– Port! Huddled in the treasure trove of Portuguese delicacies, we learned about Bacalhau (Salted Cod), Sardines, and Whiskey, watching the city start to close its doors and gear up for the evening revelry. Our next stop was back down at Sea level in the Rossio area, to try Portugal’s favourite liqueur– Ginjinia, a saccharine sweet and sour cherry concoction, with alcohol soaked cherries in every bottle. Whilst not to everyone’s taste (think Calpol moonshine), it provided the internal warmth necessary to get to our final stop. Casa do Alentejo doesn’t look much from the outside, but once through the door and up the stairwell, the foyer is reminiscent of a Moroccan riad, ornate tiles lining the walls and floors, palm trees and even a statement fountain. Foregoing the fancier restaurant upstairs, our little group descended to the basement Taverna to sample Jewish sausage, eggs, breads and a smorgasbord of traditional and delectable bites. Wine and conversation flowing, we raised our glasses to a truly fantastic food and drink experience.
When thinking back of previous holidays, the meals shared together are often the brightest and fondest memories (and the biggest incentives to return). With new and innovative restaurants opening in Lisbon on the daily (we’re looking at you Mercado de Ribeira and Fabrica Lisboa), as well as old favourites (Cerveteja Ramiro and Café de Sao Bento), Lisbon is a perfect city break, and Viator’s Gourmet Food & Drink Tour the perfect introduction to your new favourite foodie city.