As is the case on many trips, when we visited Portugal not all of our meals were exactly memorable. (Let’s not talk about the ice cold quiche I had a cafe in the Belem area that was clearly geared towards tourists, or the fact that at this same cafe D wanted to get one tomato slice that was topped with mozzarella cheese but was told by the server that you could only get half a dozen, which I guess is fine provided you didn’t already have a sandwich and fries on your plate…no let’s not.)
But do allow me to talk about some of the unique meals we had that were worthy of a blog post.
Casa do Alentejo
All of my guidebooks had highly recommended eating at Casa do Alentejo. It’s located in a 17th century Moorish palace featuring Hispano-Arabic style architecture and serves as the cultural center for the Alentejo region. The restaurant is actually located on the second floor of the building (or the first floor if you’re going by European ways). Although it is slightly eerie walking through a semi-darkened, deserted building to get to the restaurant portion, you get to pass by stunning architectural design and detail (which is why some people recommend visiting the building alone, even if you don’t dine). The menu was pretty extensive featuring Portuguese selections with a natural highlight on Alentejo dishes along with wine options. Only one beer was available (Super Bock) but I think wine is the draw for most visitors to Portugal anyway. The food was simple and hearty, nothing exemplary but good size portions for relatively low cost. My only critique is that my pork entree came topped with clams which the menu did not say it would; I was initially grossed out by this as I am not a fan of clams at all, but once pushed aside, I enjoyed the pork dish.
Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 58
While Rick Steves describes Cervejaria Trindade as “worth a visit for a look at its 19th century tiles,” I feel it’s worth a visit for its food too. It’s deemed the “oldest beer hall in Lisbon” (cervejaria means brewery in Portuguese). What once was the refectory (dining hall) of a monastery turned into a brewery after the monks were expelled in 1834. Although the menu was slightly heavy on the fish selections, I decided to be adventursome (well, to a degree) and order a cod dish. Bacalhau (cod) is an extremely popular food in Portugal, and it’s said that there are 365 different ways of preparing it. I kept it simple and ordered cod that was lightly breaded and came mixed in with potatoes (to detract that cod-like taste). It was good and filling. D enjoyed his Portuguese-style steak immensely. Although it looked to be mostly tourists inside and what some would perhaps label a tourist trap, it was a trap then with exceeding charm.
Rua Nova de Trindade 20C
It was our last night in Lisbon and we had yet to have one of the country’s most famous dishes, chicken piri-piri. (piri-piri sauce is used as a seasoning or marinade and is made from crushed chilies, citrus peel, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano and tarragon.) It’s Portuguese in origin and especially common in the cooking of two of Portugal’s former colonies, Angola and Mozambique. D consulted the Internet and found multiple people raving about the chicken piri-piri at Bonjardim, an establishment that wasn’t too far from our hotel.
While I normally try to stay away from tourist trap eateries (those whose food is most likely lackluster, this exemplified by the fact that their menu is available in half a dozen different languages which means management is trying to cater more towards tourists than locals), I’d have to say that Bonjardim was the exception. While we were given the bulky menu advertising its offerings in everything from English to French to Spanish to German, the waiter kept saying “order chicken piri-piri, best chicken piri-piri in Lisboa” and as that’s what we were coming for, we didn’t have to be convinced. The chicken was truly a bargain (although I found most restaurants in Lisbon to be reasonably priced when compared with the rest of Western Europe…well, excluding those with a Michelin star perhaps). Half a chicken, which the menu notes is meant for two people to share, was around 15 Euros. Unlike the previous time I had eaten chicken piri-piri (at a Portuguese restaurant in Pittsburgh), at Bonjardim, the piri-piri sauce came on the side so you could apply as much as you wanted. As the waiter warned us, it was definitely “hot hot”” since my stomach remained intact for the rest of the night (I have an extremely delicate stomach and many rich or hot foods can do me in), it met with my approval. As a side we ordered fries, which were also extremely good-they tasted freshly made. On one’s last night on a trip, sometimes I feel there’s immense pressure for it to be spectacular. And yet these built-up expectations often fail to deliver. (On my dad’s last night in Spain we were forced to eat at Burger King as nothing else was open and we weren’t interested in eating dinner after 8:30 PM and on D’s and my last night in Ireland we had to eat ham and cheese sandwiches made by a bartender at a hotel, as on Sundays in Ireland, pubs don’t serve food, only alcohol, ironically enough with it being the Lord’s day and all.) However, I left Portugal with happy memories of our last night’s dining there.
Travessa de Santo Antao 11
More in this series!