Falling in Love with Lisbon, Part 2

By Karen

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.

Lucimar1

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!

Lucimar-franch

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…

Lucimar-tartedenatas

…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.

Lisbon-Harbor

Adeus, Lisboa! I’ll be back!

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7 Responses to Falling in Love with Lisbon, Part 2

  1. adele says:

    First off, Dorothy and I would like to wish everyone at Cats Working a happy Thanksgivukkah.

    Karen, I loved your account of Lisbon, and it makes me wish every European city I’ve visited had something like We Hate Tourism Tours. Except for a few days in London, where I spoke almost the same language, I’ve always traveled with friends, but cities at night, particularly when you don’t speak the language, are daunting — to be able to spend one’s first night with a guide like Rodrigo sounds just about perfect.

    And the food — Italian eggs have that orangey-gold yolk, and they are tasty (actually, every so often one can get farm eggs here that are like that). I have tried to like blood sausage, but whether black pudding or morcilla or whatever the French blood sausage is called is just too rich for me — pineapple might be just the thing to cut some of the richness (of course thanks to you, I will now think of it as a scab in sausage casing).That sandwich seems to be a Portuguese baroque riff on a Croque Monsieur. Seems like every culture has something like that. In fact Louisville, Kentucky boasts the Hot Brown, which is ham, hamburger or turkey on toast with a Mornay sauce, tomato and bacon,and my own state capital, Springfield, Illinois, has a loathsome creation called The Horseshoe, meat, ;usually hamburger on Texas toast, heaped with French fries and covered with a Welsh Rarebit like cheese sauce. I imagine the Franchesina is sinfully good.

    Glad you got to hear some Fado, and from what I’ve read and listened to, there’s no one better than Amalia Rodrugues. I love listening to Portuguese sung — it’s kind of Spanish with the seductive soft pronunciation of French.

    Sounds like you had a great trip, with the luxury of a cruise and an opportunity to start to get to know a city. And the Lisbon grafitti is quite impressive.

  2. MorganLF says:

    Oh Jesus , I have been amping myself up to try a version of Bourdains fave blood pudding/sausage if ever presented to me. But now that you have added scab factor ….screw it never..I’m put off.

    Happy holiday and glad you enjoyed your trip.

  3. catsworking says:

    Blood sausage does not have the “bouncy” texture you find inside pork, or even turkey, sausage. There’s definitely a clot factor that makes it pretty dense, which is why I thought of scabs. Of course, I didn’t verbalize that at the table because I was sitting beside Rodrigo, and the other people were really nice and I didn’t want to gross them out.

    Rodrigo, as it turns out, is a Bourdain fan himself, and told me he’s honored to be thought of as something of a culinary ambassador for Lisbon.

    Speaking of Bourdain, it was almost like the guy was stalking me during WHOLE TRIP. That may well be my next post.

    Happy Thanksgiving to everybody. There was no blood sausage on the menu here. Right now I’m up to my ears putting up the tree. The cats are all sacked out in my bedroom, so they are in for a shock when they stumble into the living room at dinner time.

  4. Olá Karen,

    It’s lovely to read this detailed description of our tour. I’m really happy I insisted with your hotel staff so that they located you!!! I can see you did some investigation, too! Thank you for your words.

    The music you listened in the van was Fado from Amália Rodrigues indeed. Watch this video from the late 80’s, with Amália singing at Lisbon Coliseum.

    Note the warmth she gets from the crowd in the end. She was an icon – an ambassador of Portugal.

    Hey Karen, don’t you want to pay us a visit these next days? The FIRST Lisbon Francesinha Festival starts today, until December 8!
    I’m so sorry if your mouth just started watering! I’m going there tonight after playing football with my friends, in order to recover the levels of energy and cholesterol loss during the game 🙂
    The 4 best Francesinha restaurants from Porto will feed us at the festival: http://tmnentradalivre.sapo.pt/noticias/1-festival-da-francesinha-decorre-na-fil-21700
    I will let you know if they were as good as Lucimar’s.

    Kisses from Lisbon to you and your cats 🙂

  5. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Rodrigo! So nice to hear from you. I’m sure I have a lot of readers who are sorry they can’t attend the Francesinha Festival. That sandwich was so decadent, it would probably be declared illegal in New York City.

    I’m glad to get confirmation that I found the right Fado singer you played in the van. There’s something wrong with the video of Amalia Rodrigues you kindly posted, but clicking the link to YouTube works. I am listening to her right now. Thank you!

    I listened to a lot of happy live Portuguese music on TV at the hotel. Young and old people in the audience were dancing to it and having a great time. I must say, overall, I do enjoy your country’s music a lot more than the screaming junk Americans claim is our music today.

    I hope to return to Lisbon someday soon.

  6. Hi Karen! The intimate way of small group travel sounds great and we’re glad “We Hate Travel Tours” does that! Plus we love that name too! Now we know who to look for when we would want to go to countries where we could run into language difficulty. Always good to do the trip with a native as a guide.

  7. catsworking says:

    Tuxi, I still think of that night very fondly. The gang at We Hate Travel is on to a great business model. They could franchise it in other European countries, if they haven’t already. I never would have seen Lisbon up close the way I did without my trusty guide, Rodrigo.

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