Mercado da Vila, Cascais
When I travel, if possible, I would always try to visit a local food market as I believe it is the most authentic place to be in any city/town/village. At the food market, not only you would find the best local produce, but you would also see how the locals interact with each other, and it’s unlikely that you would be ripped off if you shop with the locals!
Cascais: Mercado da Vila; 6th row middle & Bottom left: Grão d‘amor
In Cascais (the seaside town 30 minutes from Lisbon), there is a bustling municipal market (Mercado da Vila) that sells fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, seafood and other local produce such as cheeses, bread, olives, pastries and sweets etc. And on Wednesdays, there is a jumble sale type of market that sells cheap clothing and shoes etc just outside of the food market.
Usually the eateries in or near the markets are most likely to be reliable due to its proximaty to the fresh produce. I discovered a cute cafe Grão d‘amor on top of the market and had a small fish soup full of fresh fish for €2.50, a real bargain!
Fish market and Marisco Na Praca
The market is also home to one of most popular seafood restaurants in town, Marisco Na Praca. Everything is ordered by weight, so the customers choose their seafood preferences and they would suggest the cooking methods. The prices here are low but the quality is very good. My favourites were the local shrimps since they taste different from the standard shrimps, and judging from other tables, their seafood rice dish seems like a popular choice too.
Top row left, middle and 2nd row: Botequim da Mouraria and the owner/chef Domingos; Bottom left & middle: Salsa Verde; Bottom right: Cafe Alentejo
I have heard a lot about Alentejo cuisine and wine before I visited the region, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect until I arrived. Unfortunately for a pescetarian like myself, I struggled to order at some restaurants as most items on the menus seem to be geared towards meat-eaters. From what I have seen and tasted, this region’s cuisine is hearty, simple and slightly peasant-like with a lot of cheeses and sausages.
In Evora, the bar-like Botequim da Mouraria is one of the most well-known restaurants in town to experience typical local cuisine. The wine collection here is huge as well, and instead of going through the list, I simply asked the owner pick a local red wine for me. There are only 12 counter seats, the best part is that you are mostly to end up chatting to your neighbours like I did. I spent much of my meal chatting to a Russian lady and her architect daughter with the owner joining in occasionally. It was relaxing, cosy and fun, probably the most memorable evening during my trip.
And after being deprived from vegetables for days, I was more than relieved to find Salsa Verde, a vegetarian buffet-style cafe for a light lunch. Fresh juice and a plate of vegetarian meal was less than €8, an affordable and healthy option for vegetarians.
Pastelaria Conventual pão de rala; 2nd left: Sign for Cafetaria Páteo de S. Miguel
I am quite sure that most Portuguese have a sweet tooth! I seldom eat sweets and desserts, but I felt ‘obliged’ to taste the local sweets and pastries while I was there. In Evora, Pastelaria Conventual pão de rala is THE place for those who are addicted to sugar! Most of the sweets here are made on the premises from recipes originated in the local convents. The cafe is cosy and friendly, but after one bite of their famous pão de rala, I felt like I was consuming my whole year’s worth of sugar in one go! I later tried their Queijinho do Céu back in the hotel, and found it less sweet and more ‘edible’ for my taste bud.
Behind the Cathedral, there is another cafeteria that is well-known for their Patéis de Nata (custard tart). The cafe is called Cafetaria Páteo de S. Miguel and their tarts are considered to be as good as the famous Patéis de Bélem!
After consuming so much sweet stuff, I was beginning to wonder about the statistics on diabetes in Portugal… and guess what? I later found out that Portugal has a higher rate of diabetes than any other country in the EU, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published in 2012. And boy, I am not at all surprised by this!
Saturday food market in Estremoz; 6th row middle & Bottom: Gadanha Mercearia; 6th row right: A Cadeia
One of the main attraction in Estremoz is its weekly Saturday markets in the town’s main square. Aside from an antiques/car-boot sale type of market, there is also a food market selling fresh vegetables, fruits, bread, cheeses and sausages etc. I couldn’t resist buying strawberries and satsumas here as I felt like my diet had been rather unbalanced since my arrival here.
Not far from the square, Gadanha Mercearia is a modern restaurant/cafe/deli to sample local cuisine with a contemporary touch. The wine here is produced locally, and the a glass of wine is cheaper than a cup of coffee in London!
In the evening, I had dinner at the prison-turned restaurant A Cadeia Quinhentista near the castle on the top of the hill. The prices are not cheap here (in Portuguese standard), but I didn’t think the food lived up to its reputation nor did I like the formal and rather cold service. It was one of the most expensive but also most disappointing meal of my trip!
First 3 rows: Mercado da Ribeira; 4th to bottom rows: Mercado de Campo de Ourique
Finally, I was glad to be heading back to Lisbon as I was feeling rather bloated after 2 days of substantial Alentejo cuisine! In Lisbon, the newest and most popular food market/court is the Time out Lisboa’s recently renovated Mercado da Ribeira near Cais do Sodré train station. The 5-million-euro project restored and transformed a 13th century former fish/food market into the hippest culinary destination in town. With seating for 750 people, there are 35 establishments selling and serving a variety of local specialties and international cuisines. Prices here are reasonable, and best of all, you can pick and eat and drink your way around the market provided your stomach can handle it!
Elsewhere in Campo de Ourique, a quiet residential area where I was staying, there is another smaller but less touristy food market/court Mercado de Campo de Ourique. Although the food hall here is smaller than the Time out one, there are still plenty of choices available, and it is especially popular with the locals who live nearby.
Top & bottom left row: Linha d’Agua in Jardim Amália Rodrigues; Bottom right: a wise ‘motto’ found at a local wine shop!
One of the best parts of this trip was having alfresco lunches in the midst of winter, and I became addicted to eating outdoor whenever it was available. In Lisbon, my favourite outdoor cafe is Linha d’Agua on the top of Jardim Amália Rodrigues. I loved the tranquil and relaxing setting, the cafeteria-style food here is simple but fresh and reasonably priced, and it seems to be a popular choice amongst local students.
Top & 2nd rows: A Tentadora; 3rd row: A Padaria Portuguesa; 4th & 5th rows: Pastelaria Aloma
When I visited Lisbon previously, my friend and I visited many well-known cafes and pastelarias recommended by guidebooks including the famous Pastelería de Belem. But on this trip, I decided skip these places and headed for the local ones instead. In Campo de Ourique, I stumbled upon an art nouveau style cafe that is great for people-watching called A Tentadora. It is full of elderly locals, and prices are cheap as well (an expresso for €0.60 and €1 for a white Americano), so if you are skimped, spending a few hours here is not a bad option!
If like me, you don’t want to travel all the way to Belem and queue for some pastel de Natac (custard tarts), then the orginal Pastelaria Aloma shop in Campo de Ourique is a must! The 70-year old Lisbon institution is not as touristy as Pastelería de Belem, and it has won the best Pastel de Nata award (yes, there is a competition for it) in Lisbon in two consecutive years, so their tarts are definitely one of the best in town. The shop has recently expanded and opened 3 new outlets (including one at he Time out Mercado da Ribeira), but the friendly and cosy original one is my favourite.
Bakeries and pastelería are ubiquitous in Lisbon, but curiously, the local chain bakery and cafe A Padaria Portuguesa seems to be very popular amongst locals. I didn’t realise it is chain until later, but I think the shop stands out for its contemporary style interior. The food and service here is good, so it is easy to understand why it attracts mostly younger customers.
As much as I enjoyed eating and drinking in Portugal, I felt that a week of indulgence was more than my stomach and liver could bear. It is true to say that good things come in small doses, because all that I craved for by the end of the trip were just fruits and vegetables! And I am most likely to stay away from the sweet stuff for quite a while…