Culture Europe Spain & Portugal

Lisbon Treats – Custard Tarts and Ginjinha Liqueur

Portugal is a great place for food. The early seafarers brought back from their Voyages of Discovery all manner of spices and different cooking styles which can still be experienced in its restaurants today.

Lisbon is no exception and its chefs have embraced the current cosmopolitan trends and fashion as we were to discover.

We were staying in the centrally located Mercy Hotel on Rua Misericordia between the Chiado and Bairro Alto districts of Lisbon, within easy walking distance of the main shops and a No 28 tram stop. On the hotel’s ground floor is the Umai Restaurant serving stunningly good and exquisite Asian-style dishes.

Our guide for some of the city sights was the charming Hugo Gonçalves. Hugo was determined we should experience as many of the city’s highlights as possible in an afternoon as well as experiencing some of its foody specialities. Our first foody stop was to Confeitaria Nacional.

Bolo Rei

Bolo de ReiFounded in 1829 and still in the same family, the Confeitaria Nacional in Praça da Figueira claims to be the oldest and most traditional patisserie in Lisbon.

It can include royalty amongst its customers and still today is the official supplier to the Portuguese republic presidency.

Apart from a tantalising shop there is also a tearoom where shoppers can indulge themselves with excellent coffee and a slice or two of something delicious.

The Confeitaria is noted not only for its pastries, petit-four and chocolates but also for its Bolo Rei. Bolo Rei (King’s Cake) is a Portuguese cake/sweet bread commemorating The Three Kings served during the Christmas period.

It is liberally sprinkled with chopped nuts and studded with glistening crystallized fruit. Traditionally it also contains a bean and a coin or trinket. Whoever has the bean in their slice is expected to purchase the next year’s Bolo Rei, and whoever has the coin/trinket will have good luck. 

Ginjinha and Wine

Down in the Largo São Domingos Hugo introduced us to Ginjinha. Looking more like a kiosk than a shop A Ginjinha dispenses this local brew of a sour (Morello) cherry liqueur to tourists and locals alike. It is served in a small shot glass and is meant to be downed in one swallow. For an extra element of decadence order it with cherries at the bottom of the glass.

Determined we should learn more about Portuguese wine, Hugo took us to wine merchants Garrafeira Internacional in Rua da Escola Politécnica for a brief, but comprehensive lesson in the country’s wine.

Apart from tasting three or four delicious wines from the Lisbon region it was a treat just looking round the immaculate wooden shelves laden with enticing bottles. The shop also has a small selection of traditional Portuguese foody specialities and wine accessories. 

Pastéis de Nata

pasteisOur next day tour guides were The Lux Way who not only did sterling duty taking us too and from the airport but also down to the Belém district of Lisbon on banks of the River Tagus.

Amongst this districts many attractions there is one which cries out ‘eat me, eat me’.

Over many visits to Portugal I have tried many Pastéis de Nata. I adore these egg custard tarts. Even the thought of the combination of silky smooth just warm egg custard encased in a melting, crisp flaky pastry with or without a sprinkle of cinnamon on the top leaves me weak at the knees.

But the very best has to be the Pastéis de Belém. Once again I was drawn like a magnet to the blue and white tiled shop and café at 84 Rue de Belém close by the Jerónimos Monastery. It is always crowded and there is always a long queue for the take-out counter but this is the place for them.

Legend has it that the pastries originated in the monastery. However following the closure of the monasteries and convents in 1834 three years later somebody had the idea of making and selling the tarts. The word spread quickly and even in those days visitors flocked to Belem to sample these Pasteis de Belem. The recipe was and is a closely guarded secret. 

For information on some great restaurants in Lisbon, check out the Foody Travellers Recommend section – this week featuring The Mercy Hotel and Restaurant Umai.

More Information

5* Mercy Hotel offers 47 rooms and suites from €117 room only.
On the ground floor of the hotel is the Restaurant Umai serving superb Asian food.

TAP Portugal has daily flights from Manchester, London Heathrow & Gatwick to Lisbon, prices start at £126 return including all taxes and surcharges. 

Hugo Gonçalves: Bi-lingual tour guide and tour organiser: Walk Border 
The Lux Way: private transfers and customised tours with bi-lingual hostess 
Red Tours Ecobuggy tours from €30 for a one hour circuit.

Malmequer Bemmequer:
The Old Pharmacy

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