Crying Over Cod
As much as possible, I try to avoid jet lag by just willing it not to exist. (Some trips this works better than others. I’m looking at you, 3 am wake up in Italy.) Traveling is a lot more enjoyable if you can kick the time difference as soon as possible. This usually means making yourself stay awake on the arrival day, and going to sleep no later than 9 or 10pm. This can be tough, hence our accidental nap on day 1. But we did manage to then stay awake until 10:30 or so and wake up around 9am Lisbon time on day 2. Jet lag vanquished!
Our Air BnB was only a short walk from Castelo do Sao Jorge, a medieval-era castle that still stands guard over the city. We didn’t even know there was a castle when we booked this leg of the trip. (Oops, how about that research, eh?) So this was a great little surprise!
We were not expecting how hilly Lisbon is. Our calf muscles definitely felt it (plus the five-floor walk up to our Air BnB), but walking more than you ever expect is one of the things I’ve embraced about travel. Plus, it evens out when you eat all of that pastel de nata. Or something.
The grounds of the castle offered incredible views, and so many peacocks! We LOVE animals, so any unexpected wildlife is A+++. The peacocks were so used to people and they were expert models.
We climbed all around and visited the castle’s camera obscura, a mirrored lense on the highest turret that offered a 360 degree view of Lisbon. We weren’t allowed to take photos or videos of it, so you’ll just have to take my word that it was cool and totally worth the short wait.
Next we bought some fresh local berries because, of course, and headed down to Alfama, the artsy neighborhood by the water. Another unexpected Lisbon thing: Tuk Tuks everywhere! We didn’t actually take one (nor did we take the trolley, which looked lovely) because we are walking fiends, but they were awesome and brought back some very fond Thai memories. The roads in Lisbon are tiny and cobblestoned and I love them. No wonder people love SoHo and the West Village in NY so much; what is it about cobblestone streets? Romantic as eff, that’s for sure.
We visited the Feira de Ladra, or fair of thieves, a craft street market that happened in Alfama every Tuesday and Saturday. I love when I happen to be in a city on one of the days that these things go up. I did buy an azulejo tile, though from a small artisan shop, not the Feira. Definitely an eye feast, though!
For dinner that night we went to Cantinho do Avillez, which. GUYS. Laura Baranik, my dear friend and former food critic, recommended this place and I CANNOT SECOND IT ENOUGH. It was my favorite meal the whole trip (and we ate tons of excellent food!)
So chef Jose Avillez is a big deal in Portugal and has a few restaurants. Cantinho is one that is so reasonably priced, but the quality is unbelievable. Pretty much from the get go we decided to go IN on this dinner, and the whole thing only came out to 99 Euros. Allow me to go into mouth-watering detail:
We started with a bottle of Vinho Verde, because wine in general in Lisbon is CHEAP AND DELICIOUS. I’m not really a white wine person and was totally surprised when I tasted Vinho Verde earlier that day and loved it. It was a crisp 85 degrees Fahrenheit in Lisboa that day, and the chilled wine was DAMN SMOOTH.
To start, we had A LUMP OF BAKED NIZA CHEESE and seared scallops that actually fell apart in my mouth. Another thing about meals in Portugal: you’re served bread and olives as a starter, and if you eat them, you’re charged for it. We almost always just ate and paid for the olives because I freaking love olives and these Iberian Peninsula olives were FRESH. Since we were going in on this meal, the extra 2 Euro for the bread spread was a no brainer.
Then, for the main course. Doug and I almost always share meals because we’ve been blessed by the relationship gods with similar tastes. Laura specifically recommended the bacalhao with “exploding olives.” She said it actually brought tears to her eyes, and how were we NOT supposed to order it after that?
It did not disappoint. The cod was even more buttery and melt-y than the scallops, and the olives all but disintegrated when speared with a fork. You know how cooked cherry tomatoes squirt when you pierce them? Think that, but olives, and more elegant. The cod had a motherf*king runny egg nestled in the middle, and was dressed with bread crumbs and some kind of lettuce. All of the flavors sort of melted together to create heaven.
We also shared a steak sandwich, and wow was it good. It was so simple – steak, butter, and bread, but when the ingredients are all so fresh and cooked so perfectly I wouldn’t have wanted anything else on it. We tried our best to savor this meal but ended up eating it in .2 seconds. #noregrets.
Then, for desert, the menu boasted that a dish called Hazelnut x3 would “change your life.” Done. Our server, Io (who was amazing and I would honestly go back to Lisbon just to visit), was wary of the fact that we wanted to cry and then have our lives changed during this meal. But like, mission accomplished.
The dessert was hazelnut ice cream topped with whipped hazelnut cream and crushed hazelnuts. Boom. We also had a warm chocolate cake, because we were living and I am a chocolate fiend, and tried a glass of the port that was recommended with the hazelnut. Another thing I have now discovered that I like: dry white port! I always associated dessert wines with being too syrupy and sweet, but no ma’am, this nectar of the heavens was smooth and nutty and just dry enough.
After sadly saying goodbye to Io and the Cantinho, we wandered down to Pink Street, Lisbon’s former Red Light District, to Pensao de Amor, our air bnb host’s favorite bar. The interior was BEAUTIFUL. I felt like I was in some kind of Harry Potter parlor, except sexy. They definitely played on the former-brothel theme; the level of aphrodisiac in each cocktail was marked by the image of an erect penis. Gotta love Europe.
We shared a 3-peni cocktail that came in a teapot and had violet liqueur, blood orange, and something else. I honestly don’t remember but it was DELICIOUS, and I have never felt so simultaneously classy and vampy whilst sipping a beverage. Out of a china teacup. Thank you, Lisbon.