Portugal’s most famous beverage gift to the world is undoubtedly porto or port as it is known in English. It’s a fortified wine produced exclusively in the stunning Douro Valley, which is situated in the country’s northern provinces. It’s generally a sweet red wine, often served as a dessert drink, although it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. Although my recent trip to Portugal did not include the Douro Valley on the itinerary, I did get to sample porto all the same since it’s not at all difficult to find it. In addition to droves of restaurants and bars that serve it, I passed by numerous storefronts featuring bottles floor to ceiling of presumably port, although I figured that some wine was probably included too, since Portugal produces numerous wines they can also boast about.
D sampled numerous Portuguese beers while we were there (Sagres and Super Bock for starters) and while he knows I won’t drink beer, I did promise him I’d try porto. So on our second night in Lisbon, we walked (climbed) to the Barrio Alto for port tasting at the Port Institute or as it is known in Portuguese, the Solar do Vinho do Porto. I had read in my guidebooks that service at the Port Institute was lacking, or even, according to some reviews I had, non-existent. I plan to write about the customer service aspect in European cafes and restaurants in another post but for now, having lived and traveled extensively at least in Western Europe, I wasn’t about to let reviewers scare me off, figuring that perhaps some of them had never been to Europe before and were not familiar with the all too famous European “lack of” customer service mentality.
Port is not beer or a cosmopolitan cocktail and so upon stepping into the institute D and I both felt a bit out of place, especially when I asked a worker standing around (who I may add did not volunteer any information to us), in awkward Portuguese/Spanish if we could just take a seat. The room featured leather chairs and tables; it almost resembled the inside of an elderly gentleman’s study I thought. We were given a menu and it was at this point we truly felt “lost” since the port selections were endless. (In addition to glasses of port, one could also order beer, wine and port cocktails although selections were limited.) D joked that he wished my dad had been there since he, at least compared to us, is significantly more schooled in the language of wine.
We ultimately decided, opting to order from the “sweet” section of the menu, although there were multitudes of options available in the white, rose, reserve, ruby, tawny, and late bottled vintage sections. The institute also offers a selection of nibblers to order. As I hadn’t eaten much that day, I knew that drinking even just a glass of port on a somewhat empty stomach wasn’t the best idea and so we ordered some pao (bread) and for D, Portuguese olives which he said were good.
While I certainly wouldn’t rave about the wait staff at the institute, I would still recommend going there to try some port. The selection is extensive and it’s in a relatively easy to get to location so you wouldn’t be going out of your way. Although it would have been nice to have had a waiter who actually wished to talk with patrons about the merits of one port versus another, that’s simply not Europe and you deal. Therefore, I’m glad we went because nothing is more Portuguese than saying I drank port in Portugal.
I only learned about ginjinha a few weeks before leaving for Portugal. It’s a liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherry) in alcohol and adding sugar together with other ingredients. Multiple posters on travel boards said I simply had to try it while I was there. I discovered that one actually does shots of ginjinha, so it’s decidedly different from the country’s slightly more classier port beverage. While we passed by numerous places offering ginjinha shots, it was only on our last night there that we finally sampled it. The popular way or most likely, the popular way for tourists, was to do shots of it in chocolate cups. In the Praca do Commercio area there was a ginjinha stand. So after our dinner of chicken piri piri, we walked down to the Praca and did our shots with the view of the praca, the Tagus River, and the spectacular setting Portuguese sun before us. A shot (well, two shots-the worker told us that once we finished one she would refill our cup) cost less than two Euros. While it had an extremely strong taste (not strong as in tequila shot strong, more just due to it being a fruit liqueur), I downed it simply because it was fun, quirky, and memorable. We did ask at the end if one was supposed to eat the chocolate cup, which the worker assured us was the case. We didn’t buy any ginjinha to bring home but perhaps in the future I can find some, along with those delicious chocolate cups. In the meantime, for anyone reading this, if you travel to Portugal, please do a shot of ginjinha for me.