I always love exploring a new culture through their food, and that was one of the things I was most excited about doing in Portugal. When I think of Portuguese food, I think of fresh seafood, piri-piri, and Iberian ham. And all of those were things we’ve been enjoying since we’ve been here. But we knew we wanted to dig in a little deeper, and so Jonah booked us a tour with Lazy Flavors.
One of the places I kept reading about in my research of Lisbon was the newly refurbished Mercado da Ribeira, aka Time Out Market Lisboa, so we decided to tour the market with Mariana of Lazy Flavors. The market is one of the oldest in the city, and has been rebuilt and expanded multiple times. But in 2014, it was bought by Time Out with a new concept in mind: keep half of it as a produce, meat, and fish market, and open the other half as a dining hall. They invited in some of the top chefs from around the country, some amazing shops, a bar, and more to offer a huge range of classic and contemporary Portuguese food.
We started our tour walking through the market side, and Mariana talked about some traditional dishes and ingredients in Portuguese food. We scoped out new kinds of seafood, talked to a butcher who has been in this market for 60 years, and learned about a traditional sausage called alheira. Alheira was invented by the Jews of Portugal who were given the choice in the 15th century to either leave the country or convert to Christianity. Many of them supposedly converted, but secretly maintained their Jewish religious practice, which included not eating pork. In order to hide the fact that they hadn’t actually converted, they openly made sausage, but stuffed it with game or poultry and bread instead of pork.
Once we ventured over to the dining hall side of the market, our first stop was a the croquetaria. Croquetas are a popular snack in Lisbon, and are often made with bacalhau, a dried and salted cod or meat. This shop had traditional flavors but also some unique ones, like a caramelized onion and goat cheese. We tried the traditional stewed beef, alheira, and squid flavors first, and washed it all down with a traditional beer.
Next it was sandwich time. We headed over to the counter of Henrique Sá Pessoa, a very well known Portuguese chef, where Mariana helped us order two sandwiches: one of a traditional pork cutlet with aioli, and another with chopped suckling pig. As with most Portuguese dishes, they were accompanied by freshly fried potato chips, and we sipped some green wine (a lighter, fruitier white wine) as well. The sandwiches were both delicious, but my favorite was hands down the suckling pig. In fact, I could have just gotten a plate that, no need for the bun! The skin was deep amber and perfectly crispy, while the meat underneath was juicy and tender.
Our last stop was dessert, and since the pastel de nata place was closed for inventory, we decided to head to Arcádia instead. We opted for two traditional desserts: a filo like dough filled with egg yolk custard and topped with almonds, and a slab of chocolate salami. We accompanied all of this with an espresso (for Jonah) and a glass of Port wine (for me). Mariana explained to us that desserts with an egg yolk base are very common in Portugal because they come from the convents. The nuns would use the egg whites to starch their habits and would use the leftover yolks in the sweets they made and sold. Alas, the egg based dessert we got was far too sweet for our tastebuds, so we were much more inclined toward the chocolate.
Our time with Mariana at the market was really fantastic. We learned a lot about Portuguese history and its ties to the culinary traditions here, as well as talking to her about the growth of the country and of Lisbon, in particular. It was a great base of knowledge for the rest of our trip, as we are more familiar with traditional dishes and ingredients. And Mariana’s recommendations have taken us far beyond the market too – she’s active on Instagram, tagging me in comments on photos of places we should go, and she gave us some great recommendations for new dishes to try in Lisbon and in Porto. If you’re ever in Lisbon, I highly recommend hiring Lazy Flavors for a tour! They have a handful listed on their website, but are also happy to create a customized experience.