My one evening in Lisbon was The Night of Two Huge Dinners.
Hotel do Chiado’s front desk probably caused the mix-up where a well-meaning couple from my ship stopped by on some unknown mission, only to leave me a note saying, “Sorry we missed you. See you tomorrow,” which was delivered to my room an hour before I was to meet an escorted “Dinner With Us or Starve” evening with We Hate Tourism Tours.
I didn’t know these people, so I took their message to mean the tour had come early and left me behind for no good reason.
So I dined alone in the deserted hotel restaurant, which had a spacious, windy terrace with a panoramic view of the city and Castelo de São Jorge on a distant hill.
After a martini, 4 delicious slices of brown bread and a big plate of scrambled eggs with chorizo to bury my disappointment, I was sipping an after-dinner chardonnay when I was summoned to the lobby.
My tour was waiting!
But if not for the persistence of Rodrigo, my WHTT guide, I would have been left behind for real. When Rodrigo didn’t find me waiting at the appointed time, yet the desk told him I was in the hotel, he insisted they search until they found me.
Happy but baffled, I joined 3 couples in Rodrigo’s 1990s-vintage van and off I went for dinner No. 2.
Rodrigo took us to Lucimar, where he’d celebrated his birthday. It’s the kind of unpretentious little place Anthony Bourdain would adore. Proprietor José Maria Simão worked out front with one waitress while his wife ran the kitchen.
Lucimar was usually closed on Sunday, but Rodrigo’s favorite football (soccer) team, FC Porto, was playing against Sporting Lisbon, so Lucimar was accommodating some boisterous fans who wanted to watch on the big-screen TV. I didn’t notice them silently slink out when it became apparent Porto would win (3:1).
Rodrigo ordered for us, starting with carafes of Ermelinda Freitas vinho tinto — red wine — soon followed by vinho verde — green wine.
Next came a repeat of my hotel dinner: ovos mexidos com farinheira — scrambled eggs with strongly seasoned chorizo/sausage. Portuguese eggs have bright orange yokes, and a crumbly texture when they’re scrambled, and they’re delicious.
I took a few bites to be polite, not suspecting what was still to come.
My group was staunchly UnFoodie. Nobody whipped out a camera to photograph anything. We were all in the moment and to hell with social media. The pics here came from Lucimar’s Facebook or Foursquare pages. I don’t think they’ll mind.
Rodrigo kept the plates coming, and I didn’t say no to any of it.
Next, a familiar Bourdain favorite — morcela com ananás — blood sausage with pineapple. It was cooked and seasoned so beautifully, retaining a tinge of iron, I almost forgot I was eating a big scab.
We also sampled pão com queijo da serra e mel — bread with sheep-milk cheese from the mountains, with honey. I discovered I much prefer sheep cheese to goat cheese. And I didn’t meet a slice of bread in Lisbon I didn’t love.
Next came piano de porco com arroz de feijão — barbecued pork ribs with “humid” beans and rice. The ribs were succulent. Remembering Tony’s strategy, I didn’t let beans and rice take up too much tummy real estate.
Then chocos grelhados com tinta — grilled squid with ink, and boiled potatoes. Rodrigo said you could order it without ink, but he thinks ink gives it better flavor. It certainly didn’t taste inky, nor were the tentacles rubbery.
We topped this feast off with the most decadent dish of all, and one for which Lucimar is hailed throughout Portugal as a master: the Francesinha. This is Rodrigo’s description…
The famous “sandwich from Porto” includes beef, ham, fresh sausage, cheese, cheese, cheese, secret sauce/gravy!
Here are some reviews of Lucimar’s Francesinha and, even if you can’t read Portuguese, I think you’ll get the gist that they are raves.
After this culinary orgy came desserts, including tarte de natas —cream pie…
…And bolo de bolacha — dipped-in-coffee-biscuits cake. Rodrigo said he ordered this as his birthday cake.
You can see more Lucimar food porn at Foursquare.
When we finally waddled out of Lucimar, Rodrigo showed us Lisbon by night.
We drove through neighborhoods so dense you could reach out and touch laundry hanging from windows, and down wide city thoroughfares where modern new office buildings stand beside ornate, stately — vacant and crumbling — old buildings.
Rodrigo pointed out where his grandmother once lived and the park where he learned to ride a bike, as well as the college where he’s finishing studies to become an electrical engineer.
Rodrigo filled us in about Lisbon’s crippled economy. When he graduates, he fears he’ll be forced to emigrate because even with a college degree and a solid profession, Lisbon offers slim chances to earn a good living.
We drove slowly around the Amoreiras Wall of Fame, an ever-changing art “museum” where graffiti is welcome. Much of it is biting social criticism and outrageously critical political statements, yet not much gets painted over as inappropriate.
Such unfettered negative public expression would be unimaginable in Washington, D.C.
I didn’t take any pictures because darkness + distance + movement = blur. But other people have captured Lisbon graffiti in all its brilliance.
The van climbed higher and higher until we reached the oldest section of wall left standing, built by the Moors at the top of the steep, narrow streets of Mouraria. We stood over the tightly-packed roofs of Alfama, which has streets so narrow no vehicles can get through, and only one person can pass at a time.
Our last, highest stop was at Graça, home to a serene little statue of Mary called Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of the Hill), overlooking Lisbon’s golden lights glittering beside the black, silent river Tagus, where my ship awaited.
Then Rodrigo produced a bottle of ginjinha — Portugal’s signature sour cherry liqueur — and we toasted our gracious host and his magnificent city.
He also played a fado CD for us. I’m guessing it was Amália Rodrigues, because Rodrigo mentioned she was extremely famous, but dead.
Rodrigo covered all the bases I could wish for, and it was nearly 2 a.m. when I returned to my hotel.
Without We Hate Tourism Tours, I never would have ventured out to see Lisbon by night on my own. We Hate Tourism helped me, as Bourdain used to exhort in his old No Reservations ads, feel more like a traveler than a tourist. We Hate Tourism takes you about as far as you can get from seeing Lisbon through an air-conditioned bus’s tinted windows with ugly Americans.
Bourdain and his crew couldn’t find a better local fixer for the sights and tastes of Lisbon than Rodrigo. I feel so fortunate to have spent one evening seeing Lisbon through his eyes — and his stomach.
My brief visit to Lisbon was stacking up to be so-so until Rodrigo peeled back a few layers and gave me a good sense of the city’s great nobility, pride, and generosity. I think we don’t hear much about Lisbon in the U.S. because it doesn’t clamor for attention, but suffers mostly in silence, with occasional outbreaks of grafitti.
I awoke Monday morning to a drizzly, foggy sailing day and took this picture from the bow of the ship that evening as Vision of the Seas glided down the Tagus, past the Monumento a Cristo Rei and under the 25 de Abril bridge, toward the sea.
Adeus, Lisboa! I’ll be back!