Lisbon Food Tours: Wine Tasting, Cooking & Walking Tours
Portuguese food is a topic Tony and I knew very little about. Although we had encountered variations of Portuguese dishes in former colonies such as Macau, Brazil and the Indian regions of Goa and Diu, not much seemed familiar as we made our way through the narrow streets of Lisbon’s old town. Local specialties were advertised at every corner: Pastel de Belém, pata negra ham, bacalhau or vinho verde. But where to start?
Our awesome experience with various food tours in Rome had taught us that it’s sometimes better (and easier) to leave it up to the experts. Why fight it, right? So just as we did in Italy, we sought out the advice of local gourmands. In order to get a good understanding of what authentic Portuguese cuisine was really like, we chose three different Lisbon food tours: a wine tasting, a food walking tour, and a cooking class. As fast as you can say “salada de bacalhau com grão de bico”, we were on our way to becoming experts.
Lisbon Food Tours: Food & Culture Walking Tour in Mouraria
This walking tour with Taste of Lisboa Food Tours was not only designed to be a culinary experience, but also a cultural intro to Mouraria, one of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods with an ancient Moorish history and strong ties to the fado music scene. Tony and I met up with American visitors Mary and Christine near the Rossio train station where we were greeted by owner Felipa and our expert Lisbon guide Dani. Before heading out, Felipa humorously introduced us to a few important Portuguese phrases such as “a glass of wine, please” or “very delicious.” Just the basics when you’re out and about in Lisbon.
Our five-hour exploration took us through the winding cobbled streets to discover six different tasting stops. At a local deli, we sampled olive oils and breads, a smooth red wine from the Alentejo region, and the absolutely phenomenal pata negra ham (also known as Iberian ham which comes from black pigs fed on sweet acorns). How could I have gone through life without ever trying this fragrant meat? While scarfing down the addictive ham, Dani pointed out the deli’s wide variety of dried salted cods, which Lisboans devour by the ton.
As we moved on through the atmospheric neighborhood past street portraits of Amalia Rodrigues and other famous fado singers, we had the opportunity to do some serious sampling. We dove into savory codfish cakes and green wine, enjoyed rich cheeses from the Azores and Beira Baixa, and tasted flavorful bifana pork steak sandwiches. On a random side note, bifana sandwiches are so popular in Portugal that McDonald’s has introduced the McBifana – I’m not kidding. Afterwards, we tried sweet ginjinha cherry liquor and followed it up with a taste of Portugal’s colonial past by sampling samosas at a very local Mozambican restaurant hidden in the backalleys. Yum! Our last stop took us to the oldest pastry shop in downtown, where we indulged in warm pastel de nata, heavenly Portuguese egg tarts sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. These symbols of Portuguese food culture, which we have eaten in ex-colonies around the world, are one of the few things we already knew well.
We really enjoyed this fun Lisbon food tour that felt much more like a great afternoon with friends. Felipa and Dani introduced us to some mouthwatering classics while presenting cultural tidbits and lots of information on Lisbon’s amazing food scene. Check out all of their fantastic reviews on Tripadvisor, and make sure to visit them at www.tasteoflisboa.com to find out more about their other tours, prices and contact info.
Lisbon Food Tours: Portuguese Wine, Cheese and Chorizo Tasting
Our biggest culinary surprise in Lisbon was the wine. After getting a first taste during our food walk, we signed up for a wine tasting tour with Lisbon Winery, a wine bar in the atmospheric neighborhood of Bairro Alto. Our expert sommelier Alex, also called “the nose”, sat us down with a basket of bread and olive oil and inquired a bit about what we liked. Red or white, sweet or crisp, aged or young? Alex really listened and, without ever leaving the tasting room, took us on a wine journey through all of Portugal.
What I loved most about the experience was that it was as much a cheese and chorizo tasting as it was a wine tasting. Along with a selection of wines, Alex served six different cheeses made of cow, goat and sheep milk, arranged from young, mild and soft to aged, strong, and hard. Some of our favorites were Queijo de Azeitão and Terrincho Velho. The cheese plate also came with fruit, nuts and a complementing pumpkin jam. Alex paired each cheese with a different wine to enhance their flavors, starting with a dry fruity white wine from the Vinho Verde region (Anselmo Mendes Expressões 2013) and finishing with a sweet, soothing vintage port wine (Portal Vintage 2011). More wines were paired with six different tasty chorizos (pork sausages) and a helping of thinly-sliced pata negra ham. Absolutely delicious!
The Premium Portuguese Wine Tasting tour was definitely one of our favorite things to do in Lisbon. We also thought that Alex was absolutely amazing! He had a vast knowledge and was as enthusiastic about his wines as he was about his cheeses and chorizos. We really enjoyed learning about the different growing regions and sampling wines we wouldn’t normally have chosen ourselves. (Although I’m a red wine drinker, my favorite wine was the Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira Branco 2012, a white wine similar to German Riesling. For some reason, I couldn’t stop smelling it).
Obviously, we are not the only ones raving about Lisbon Winery’s wine tasting tour. Check out all of the great reviews on Tripadvisor, and visit their website at www.lisbonwinery.com to book ahead or learn more about wine tasting. Lisbon Winery also offers daily walk-in wine tastings. (Just make sure, you don’t plan anything afterwards…)
Lisbon Food Tours: Portuguese Cooking Class
A great way to learn about local traditional cuisine is to take a hands-on cooking class with like-minded travelers. Tony and I took Cooking Lisbon’s Portuguese Cooking Class together with an international team of other curious foodies: Aksah from Bolivia, Don from the U.S., and Telana from Australia. Our small group of five met at the large cooking studio near the Anjos metro stop where we were greeted by owner Luis and our cooking instructor Pedro.
The menu of the night consisted of typical Portuguese classics such as Brás-style codfish, chicken in a pot, and Farófias, a fluffy custard dessert. I was probably most excited to see how the cod was prepared. Although cod is not native to this region, Portugal is the number one consumer of cod in the world. For some reason, Portuguese prefer the taste of dried salted (and smelly) cod which has to be soaked for days before it can be used in the kitchen.
Luckily, our cod came pre-soaked; Aksah and I divided the cod in bite-size chunks, drank some wine, chopped carrots, and drank some more. For dessert, Telana beat the egg yolks, Don the egg whites, and Tony grated lemon zest. In between, we all nibbled on olives and chorizo. While I continued sampling wine, Tony mixed the chicken with garlic and a yummy paprika paste and helped Don layer the pot with pieces of chicken, tomato, onion and cilantro. Chef Pedro humorously ruled with a stainless steel ladle and had us all chopping, grating and whisking away. When the meal was finally ready to be served, we all stepped past the wine shelf into the dining area. For the next hour, we savored each dish, and of course, each other’s company.
Tony and I quite enjoyed our first home-cooked Portuguese dinner. Chef Pepe was clear in his instructions, helped where help was needed, and injected a bit of humor along the way. For more opinions on Cooking Lisbon, check out their excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, and visit them at www.cookinglisbon.com to find out more about their other cooking classes and Lisbon food tours.
Although food tourism in Portugal seems to be a relatively new concept, we were surprised by how professionally the Lisbon food tours were run. Everyone was really enthusiastic and eager to teach us a thing or two about Portuguese traditional foods and drinks. I walked away absolutely loving pata negra ham, Azeitão cheese, and the wine – all of it. I already know this wasn’t our last trip to Portugal; we’ll be coming back for more!