Now that it's officially summer, I can't help but recall the hottest (as in temperature) trip I have ever taken: Morocco and Portugal in the middle of the hottest summer ever. Portugal is a place that I cannot wait to go back to. I regret not spending more time there and I'm a little upset that I didn't have time to tour any wine regions, especially Porto and the island of Madeira, but it was still an amazing trip!
The culinary highlights of Lisbon were simple and, in this first case, extremely touristy. One of the first stops on my list was Pastéis de Belém for their famous pastel de nata, which is basically a Portuguese custard tart (thin, flaky shell filled with creamy custard and baked at a super high temperature so the outside gets crispy and the top gets bubbly and brown). Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin - they are insanely good and I have never found another one that comes close. They sell about a million of these little pastries every minute, so you are guaranteed a fresh one when you go. Not to be missed...but do try to go during off hours and start sprinting if you see a tour bus approaching.
One reason that I loved Portugal so much is the fact that most of the food I had was refreshingly simple. Fresh steamed or grilled fish and shellfish, sardines, salt cod, plain omelets, simple salads...lots of Mediterranean influence in its light simplicity. What more can you ask for on a painfully hot summer day? Oh, the sangria, of course! And I can't forget to mention the coxinha or "little thighs". While coxinha are traditionally a Brazilian/South American street food, they are still very popular in Lisbon and I saw them just about everywhere. They are little deep-fried balls of succulent shredded chicken and are always a simple crowd-pleaser. Next week, I will share a recipe for coxinha courtesy of my beautiful Brazilian friend, Nivea Galloway, and it may be the one and only meat recipe I ever share here - it's that good!
If you want to burn off that pitcher of sangria and enjoy a nice hike with a spectacular view, take the frequent 45-min. train ride from Lisbon to Sintra and visit Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace) and the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). The town of Sintra is pretty and quaint and you could set aside a half day or even a full day to explore. For something special, head over to Palácio de Setais (Setais Palace) hotel for afternoon tea or for lunch with an exquisite view.
Lisbon is definitely not without some brilliant fine dining restaurants. One of our more reasonable meals was Alma, where we all chose the very affordable three-course prix fixe option. The space is very unique and the food was all perfectly executed. 1300 Taberna's wildly inventive and beautiful dishes are a must for those who are willing to spend quite a bit more for a culinary adventure.
After dinner, be sure to head over to one of Lisbon's many Ginjinha, or simply Ginja (pronounced like jin-ja), shops, where you'll want to try a shot of Portugal's famous sour cherry liqueur. When you order, all you have to do is tell them if you want your shot with a cherry (each bottle is actually filled with whole cherries) or without. It may just be a way to promote day drinking, but it's certainly a unique stop that should not be missed.
One last note: Don't forget to take some Portuguese olive oil home with you. It's outstanding!
*all photos by Shauna Burke