For the love OF COD
BROADCASTER NADINE HIGGINS DEVOURS LISBON
Some people dive into travel head-first. Me? I dive mouth-first. So when we land in Lisbon, the first item on my to-do list is a food tour.
Our guide Silvia from With Locals is both a foodie and an amateur historian. She meets us at a vantage point overlooking the charming faded grandeur of the Portuguese capital and we immediately regret having eaten so much for lunch.
We begin with a staple of Portuguese cuisine – salted cod. Cod to the Portuguese is like shrimp was to Bubba in Forrest Gump – they have more than 100 ways to serve it. We sample it in a salad of chickpeas, onions and garlic. The cod has been soaked to reduce its saltiness but it’s still a sodium party in my mouth.
Next stop is an eatery called O Trevo where we try a dish that the late, great Anthony Bourdain once declared “f*****g delicious”.
Bifana is a sandwich of very thin strips of pork marinated in wine, garlic and paprika. The result is meltingly tender and flavourful. It’s encased in carcaça bread – a traditional but dying art in Portugal. It’s a very simple recipe – just flour, water and salt – and the result is light and sits
less heavily than its French cousin, the baguette.
Also quite different to its French relative is the next dish – which at first glance is slightly less appealing.
Out comes a plate piled high with caracóis – tiny snails, named for their curly shape when you pull their flesh out of the shell. Seeing their little faces makes me squeamish but I close my eyes and pop a curly little sucker in my mouth – and thanks to the oregano, garlic and olive oil marinade, it’s quite good!
At our next pit stop we finally get to sample possibly the most famous native treat – pastel de nata, the Portuguese custard tart. At Fábrica da Nata, near the Rua Augusta arch, they make them right in front of you and serve them warm, which is how they should be eaten. With a sprinkle of cinnamon, they’re a creamy, crispy delight.
I love them so much that the next day we hire an omnipresent tuk-tuk to visit their original home, Pastéis de Belém, where they sell up to 50,000 every day.
Our next visit takes us up the steep, narrow maze-like streets of Lisbon’s Alfama neighbourhood, which dates back further than this Kiwi’s mind can comprehend. Silvia’s canny guidance sees us take several hidden elevators to avoid much of the sweaty climb to get to Lisboa Tu & EU – a tiny restaurant nestled among the houses. Here we try sardines cooked in olive oil, balsamic and onions, and pataniscas – light and fluffy deep-fried codfish fritters (another of the 100 ways to serve cod!).
The final stop is at a bar called Ginja d’Alfama, where we try Ginginha Licor – a sour cherry liquor that is meant to be a good digestive.
After the gluttony of the past few hours, it’s welcome. Silvia furnishes us with plenty of restaurant recommendations for dinner but we’re too full to contemplate another bite. Continuing the Portuguese gastronomic journey will have to wait for another day.
Nadine tries a bifana sandwich at O Trevo, made famous by a rave review from late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
Rise above the hustle and bustle at one of the city’srooftop bars. No Portuguese culinary tour is complete without a serving or six of the not-sohumble cod. A city that dates back to the Iron Age knows good food – including its famous custard tart,pastel de nata.