First stop - Lisbon, Portugal

>> Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pateis de Natas
Where do I begin? Amazing, breathtaking and stunning are words that pop in to my mind which still doesn’t quite capture what it’s like to personally stand in the middle of Porto’s main square or at the base of the castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon or kayaking between the rock formations along the Algarve coastline. When we first chose Portugal as our first stop on our honeymoon, we were lead there by our stomachs (Pateis de natas anybody?), but after a few google searches we knew that we were going to be getting much much more than that.

Discovery Monument
After a long day of travel with a couple of hour’s layover in London along with some much required fish and chips, we found ourselves standing at the Aeroporto de Lisboa and could hardly wait to jump in to a taxi to get us to our hotel. At first glance Lisbon looked a lot like some of the other European cities that we’ve visited before, but that was all going to change after our first dinner (and many other delicious ones after that). Since it was late getting in we walked to a nice Portuguese restaurant recommended by our hotel and found ourselves staring at a Portuguese menu, luckily a friend of mine left us her translation book, which of course with Murphy’s law we didn’t bring with us that night. None the less we were able to order and tried some traditional Portuguese steaks with some delicious dessert and complimentary Port wine. What a great way to kick off our stay!

Jeronimos Monastery
Although one thing everybody should know when traveling Portugal is that every restaurant places a delicious array of breads, butter, cheese and olives in front of you, which you’d start to rip in to since we’re so use to being given bread with our meals here in North America. The only difference is in Portugal you’re expected to pay for any of those specific items that you have eaten and if you didn’t, make sure that it doesn’t end up on your bill because more often then not, it will. Luckily researching a few sites before hand allowed us to refrain, but who am I kidding, I could only refrain from eating the cheese, Portuguese bread is delicious and chewy, so I barely kept from them, just make sure that it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting on the table all day…or week!

Our hotel told us that they had a complimentary breakfast every morning and we didn’t expect much since most Europeans don’t really view their breakfasts as being a meal. So when we walked down and saw the plethora of breads, meats, pastries, hot and cold food staring back at us, we could barely grab a plate fast enough. Needless to say it gave us a good start every morning we were in Lisbon! Definitely the energy we needed to visit some of Lisbon’s best known sites including: Jeronimos monastery, the Alfama, Chiado and Barrio Alto districts, Parc das Nacoes (their 1997 expo site), the castle of Sao Jorge, the Pantheon and many many others (Some will just have to snoop my facebook page to view the pics, since this is a food blog, I will stick to that).

Grilled Sea Bass
Subsequent to all that walking, we definitely had to top up with some delicious food and as mentioned before, there’s never a lack of good food to be found. Thinking back I can’t remember one meal eaten that wasn’t just as, if not more delicious than the last. The Portuguese love their Bacalhau, which is a dry salted cod fish served at every restaurant. Whether you choose to eat it grilled, boiled or fried….its delicious. Some might think that the description reminds them of the Chinese salted fish, but no, it’s not nearly as salty. There’s just a slight saltiness to the fish which enhances its flavour but not enough to detract away from the fish itself. Plus with the advantages of being right by the ocean, fresh fish is served everyday (except Mondays) including squid, clams and the like. Although this doesn’t mean that they don’t cook up a mean grilled chicken! There are quite a few places in Lisbon well known for their BBQ chicken (Churrasqueira aka BBQ) and if you walk past them you can’t help but smell the aroma of meat over open flame.

Eleven Restaurant
Even though Portuguese food is amazing, Lisbon is also an up and comer in the culinary scene and has a couple Michelin star restaurants, which I couldn’t resist the temptation to try. Bringing us to Eleven, a 3 star Michelin restaurant situated atop and overlooking the Parque Eduardo. The interior has a fresh contemporary look with large windows that allows you to pause during the immense 12 course dinner (served with wine) and just absorb the beauty of the city lights with your eyes (since your stomach can’t possibly fit in anything else). The 12 course set chef’s menu includes 3 amuse bouche courses (bite sized hors d’oeuvres), 3 appetizers, a plate cleanser, an entrée, a cheese platter, a pre dessert, dessert and post dessert along with wine pairings for each including Portuguese wine (you could opt out on the wine, but I greatly enjoyed all the wines including the Portuguese one which sadly isn’t sold here in North America) and served with bread and butter throughout. One would think that these were small portion sizes, but we’re in Portugal not France…I was surprised that I could walk after that meal let alone sightsee the next day. Nonetheless it was amazing and definitely an experience not to be missed.

12 course meal
After you’ve managed to digest all that Michelin starred food, head on over to Belem where you find the most delicious, country if not world renowned Pateis de Natas, which are traditional Portuguese cutard tarts. Everybody who comes to Lisbon must visit Pateis de Belem, if you go around mid afternoon you can avoid the line ups that wrap around the block, but that was during Sept when the crazy tourist season was almost winding down. I can’t attest to the craziness that it must be during peak seasons! Just one bite in to these little guys will make you understand why the line is that long and why if I had to, I too would line up around the block. No fear though, if you’re not one for waiting, you can find these little tarts all around not only Lisbon but Portugal itself.

Pateis de Belem
Another one of Lisbon’s musts is going to a Fado house. Fado is a Portuguese music genre that originated in Lisbon, where the songs are often about sorrow and memories of the past. You can choose to have dinner or just come later in the evening for drinks and music. There are many Fado houses through Lisbon most of which are in the Barrio Alto and Alfama districts. The more well known houses reside in the Barrio Alto area now but we decided to head to the Alfama where Fado began in the 1800’s. It’s a true Lisboa event!

Fado House
As much as I’d love to sit here and type all day long about the many great things of Lisbon, I’m sure you will eventually tire of reading my yammerings on, but before I end I must talk about Sintra a town that’s 40 minutes away from Lisbon but feels a million miles away from civilization. Atop Sintra’s mountain lies the Pena Palace and the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) , which both overlook the picturesque town. If you choose to only visit only one castle in Portugal (castle of Sao Jorge included), the Castle of the Moors should be the one, enough said.

Atop Sintra Castle
So with a full stomach and many great photos beneath our belts we started our trek to Porto, where many additional bingeing nights ensued but this time with an extra couple glasses of Port wine (as you can tell, Porto will be the next blog highlight)!


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