Our last week and a half in Lisbon was spent doing two things: crossing adventures off of our to-do list before we ventured to other parts of Portugal, and working. We adopted a simple approach of spending a day working, then a day adventuring, a day working, and a day adventuring. These adventures included things as simple as going to new neighborhoods and walking around, as daring as trying new foods, as long as taking a train to Sintra to explore castles, and as fun as renting bikes to ride along the coast.
The neighborhoods of Intendente and Mouraria were recommended to us by our Lazy Flavors tour guide Mariana, so we took the subway out there a couple of days after our tour. We poked around the beautiful A Vida Portuguesa store and, when our stomachs started grumbling decided to find lunch. Our timing and location worked out perfectly, as we were just a block away from Cervejaria Ramiro, a seafood restaurant that I had read about and had been recommended to us. We sat down just a few minutes after they opened and after we ordered, the flood of people came rushing in. We were, however, some of the more adventurous ones in the dining room, as we ordered a plate of goose barnacles, which Mariana had also told us we needed to try. Our waiter showed us how to peel off the scaly skin to reveal a tender, pinkish purple flesh, which you could easily pluck off of the barnacle end. They were tender and light, and reminiscent of the sea without being overly fishy. Definitely a new favorite for me.
On our walk back from Intendente to our neighborhood, Santos, we passed through many parts of Lisbon, and as we passed a shop filled with bacalhau I realized that I hadn’t yet written here about it. Bacalhau is dried, salted cod. It is a weird phenomenon, and I can’t quite figure out why perhaps the most iconic Portuguese ingredient is from Norway when the country of Portugal is known for its incredible range of fresh seafood. To cook with it, it is soaked in water and rehydrated for 24 hours, but even then it’s still kind of chewy and weird. There are lots of variations of bacalhau you’ll find here: croquetas, seared with peppers and onions, and maybe the strangest is a kind of fish salad with shredded bacalhau, raw onion, olives, parsley, and little crispy noodles. I’ll admit, I have yet to enjoy a bacalhau dish.
Our bike ride was really an excuse to get to Belém without sitting on a train or bus for upwards of thirty minutes. We rode along the bike path on the river, soaking in the ocean air. We had four orders of important business in Belém: see the momument to the maritime explorers, go up the Tower of Belém, visit the Jerónimos Monastery, and eat the best pastel de nata in the greater Lisbon area. Only one of them was food related! Aren’t you proud, dear reader? Let’s get to the part you’re interested in, the pastry. Pastel de nata is an egg custard tartlet, usually infused with vanilla and sometimes cinnamon, and baked in such a way that the top gets speckled with little darkly caramelized bits. We had tried a few in Lisbon, and while I like them, custard pastries are not really my thing. In all of my research for Lisbon, everyone said you had to go to Pastéis de Belém for the best pastéis de nata, but I thought to myself, could they really be that much better than the ones I had already tried? The answer? Oh yes they could. These pastéis were served warm, already a huge advantage over the others I’d tasted. What else made it better? The smoothest custard ever, more cinnamon, and a cracklier, slightly saltier, and much butterier crust. If you are questioning if the trip to Belém is worth it for these sweets, stop it. Just go. (Also a tip if you’re going: There are two doors. The one on the right with the crazy line out the door is for takeaway. Go in the door on the left and enter their cavernous restaurant area – it goes on and on, room after room, forever. We only waited about 3 minutes for a table.)