I guess it’s time for a true confession. I’m a coffee snob. And when I travel, I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Let’s just say I’ve BEAN Around the World and I’m feeling like now is the time to start sharing the love… and caffeine, one city at a time. Recently, I had a wonderful holiday in Portugal, which focused on Lisbon. And though it was hard to tear myself away from the incredible pastry scene, I did explore the coffee houses, and I’m glad I did. Lisbon, because of it’s traditional ways of drinking coffee, has one of the more challenging scenes when it comes to the one-off local roaster and coffee shop business. I drank plenty of coffee, talked with baristas, and I’ve got lots to share with you. Let’s open the TWG cafe society doors and talk coffee, Lisbon style.
When I travel, I only review and like to support coffee houses that roast their own beans or use locally roasted beans. But before understanding what’s called the “New Wave” of coffee houses, it’s important to understand the history of how people in Lisbon take their coffee. If you’ve been in Lisbon, you’ve heard the locals order “bica.” Bica is the term for coffee and it stands for Beba Isto Com Acucar. You’ll receive an espresso Italian style, and the custom is to drink it standing up at the coffee bar. It will cost you under 1 euro. B.I.C.A. actually stands for Please Drink With Sugar, because the espresso can have a rather sour taste. The main supplier of coffee for the espresso is Delta. Delta is a Portuguese coffee roasting company and even though they have their own cafes, they still supply most of the Iberian Peninsula with coffee. So basically people in Lisbon are getting their “espresso for kicks”, as they say, all day long! In fact, hanging out with friends who live in Lisbon meant stopping for many shots all day long.
BICA style coffee using Delta coffee
It’s always a treat to try some famous higher end restaurants when you travel. I’ll admit to not always taking the opportunity to do this. And of course “famous” can mean a lot of different things. When I say “famous” I mean restaurants that are run by well-known local chefs who usually I’ve never heard of. Famous can also mean that the locals eat here and absolutely rave about it and may not have any association with a local chef celebrity at all. In Portugal, I had the opportunity to try four restaurants that I’ve been meaning to tell you about. I also contribute my favorite of all the gelato places!
Do you enjoy ceviche? If so, A Cevicheria in the Principe Real area of Lisbon is a must. I spent quite a bit of time both in Principe Real as well as walking through the area to get to other neighborhoods, so I passed this place a few times and didn’t realize what it was. The menu is dedicated to South American cuisine, especially Peruvian tapas and Ceviche. It’s the creation of Portuguese Chef Kiko Martins.
Cevicheria Cornbread Starter
You know how it is when you return from a trip and you’ve had the most wonderful time. I keep asking people, “Have you visited Portugal, yet?” The answer I receive most often is “no.” I’m on a roll giving people delicious reasons to make their next vacation spot Portugal. You’d think I worked for the Portuguese Tourist Agency :) I found it EASY to appreciate Portuguese food and wine. And of course pastries, too! So let me see if my delicious reasons sway you.
1. Mom and Pop. If I only had two words to describe the food I enjoyed, I’d say SIMPLE and FRESH. Some people might call it comfort food. I was so surprised and delighted that I could get a delicious, home-cooked meal from any one of the “mom and pop” eateries throughout Lisbon. They were everywhere. Simple and inexpensive I believe as a result of their locally sourced seasonal meat, fish and produce.
2. Licor Beirão. Portugal is known for its wine, and I’d agree; trying some is a must. I flew to Portugal on TAP in business class and my experience with Portuguese liquor started on my flight. The flight attendant asked me if I wanted to try Licor Beirão, the “Liquor of Portugal”, from the central Beiras region. It is made from a secret 100-year old recipe that gives it a delicious sweet, herbal flavor. I always sample digestives when I travel, so why not? The crew gathered and we talked some about Licor Beirao, how to drink it, and that if they ever feel like they are coming down with a cold or flu, they take some Beirao. I decided to have mine over ice, and a little bit goes a long way. I rather enjoyed it!
The one drink I didn’t get to try, which I heard will “knock your socks off” was aguardente bagaceira, or Bagaço as it’s commonly called. It’s Portugal’s version of grappa, made from leftover pomace. Pomace is the pulpy residue leftover after crushing fruit. The best Bagaço is said to come from the pomace of Vinho Verde grapes in the northern Minho region and is distilled on an open flame from small wine producers. This method is illegal, so the only way to find it is if you’re in a small, local restaurant where the owner generously pours you a shot from his “unmarked” bottle. Unfortunately, this treat didn’t come my way, but I’ll figure out a way to sample some next time I’m in Portugal! I did find out that you can try Macieira Centenário, which is a legal and respected brand of Bagaco! The other liquor that was popular is ginja. It’s a traditional cherry liquor from the town of Obídos served in a small cup. I like fruity liquors so this one is on the list for next time, as well.
Licor Beirão. Image source: http://www.licorbeirao.com/en/
Last year’s love affair was with sLOVEnia. This year’s love affair, though it’s early in the year, seems destined to be with Portugal, and in particular, Lisbon. Portugal works for me on so many levels. The people, culture, food, geography, and general vibe of the place just suited me perfectly. I know for many travelers, Portugal is likely to be a been-there-done-that destination. For me, it was my first visit, and if I had been-there-and done-that before, I for sure would have gone back over and over again. That’s how much I enjoyed it! Please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my pastry love affair. Without gushing too much about how wonderful Lisbon is, I want to give you 6 ideas for what to do and see that won’t likely end up on any MUST SEE lists you’ll find online.
1. Campo Pequeno is a bullfight arena that hosted the Portuguese bullfights since 1892. The building is stunning! It’s a beautiful neo-arabian building, all made of bricks, that was entirely renovated in 2006. There’s a museum dedicated to the history of bullfighting. The lowest level is now a shopping mall with a movie theater and restaurants. As I’d never been inside a bullfight arena before, I really found it very interesting just to walk around. I thought turning the bottom level into a mall was actually a good use of the space. It’s always fun to walk through malls when I travel and see what’s different or unique.
Campo Pequeno Bullring. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_Pequeno_bullring
Most cities are known for something, and for me, forever more, Lisbon will be known as the city of pastries! And some would argue that it’s all about the Pastel de Nata! Pastel de Nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry originally from Portugal but also found in countries with significant Portuguese immigrant populations. Its main ingredient is egg yolks.
Pastries were everywhere in Lisbon. I’ve never seen so many pastry shops, pastelarias, and so many different kinds of pastries. The question became how to narrow it down to which ones to sample. I asked some born / raised / and still living in Lisbon friends to narrow it down for me. They suggested I start with the Pastel de Nata, and in particular, Pastéis de Belém. The pasteis de nata is Portugal’s most famous dessert and it’s found everywhere around Lisbon. But there is a catch. There is a secret recipe that’s closely guarded here at Pasteis de Belem.
On my first full day in Lisbon, a friend who lives there picked me up and off we went. Of course I let him plan the day. While walking to his car, we stopped for my second espresso of the day and it was only 9:30am. Those espressos go down way too easily! As he drove, I had a hunch where he was heading, and I was right. As we pulled into the parking space I saw Pastéis de Belém and knew we were starting my Pastel de Nata tour.