Thursday, August 21, 2008

Eating sardines in Lisbon -- mmmmm!

I still have one last post to write on eating in Paris, but since my focus has been on Portugal and Lisbon over recent posts, I thought you might like to see what we loved to eat there. When we first arrived in Lisbon (after our week up in the rural Beira), I had a list of things we should see and do.We quickly realized though, that we would enjoy and come to know the city better if we applied the same approach we took in Paris: in the French city, because we've already seen the "must-see" tourist sites, we're free to wander without compunctions, discovering as we go. We decided to try this accidental, serendipitous process in Lisbon, and if we missed some "must-sees," well, too bad. Maybe next time. So we just got out the map, plotted a general destination, and aimed ourselves at it, getting distracted along the way as we wished. We'd stop for a bica (very strong espresso) mid-morning, and then anytime between noon and 2, we'd find a spot for lunch -- our preference being to follow the smell of the grilled sardines. The plate above is very typical of the way this dish is served: always with an accompaniment of salad and plain boiled potatoes, sometimes with a garnish of grilled green pepper as you can see atop the salad above. The sardines, as you'll note, are served whole -- we watched them prepared on the big grill atop a bed of coals, and they're simply rolled in rock salt before being tossed on to cook. If you're squeamish at all, perhaps the whole little fish, eyes and all, is not for you (altho' don't worry, one doesn't eat the head!), but we are big fans of this simple, perfect food!

Sometimes, for variety, and where we could find it, Paul would order grilled squid, and thank goodness he was willing to work a trade. Again, if you're not a seafood fan, this may not appeal, but within a few miles of where these critters are brought to shore? Fresh, delicious, simply prepared -- hard to beat! And on a hot day, with a cold Sagres, sitting at a table on the street, Lisboans buzzing around you -- perfection!

The old cap-wearing fellow you can see gesticulating in the background over Paul's shoulder seemed to be helping the restaurant owner in some small capacity, as in directing us to sit down, then shuffling in to tell the owner to come out and look after us. He kept shuffling over to tell one more story he'd thought of to the amused and tolerant young man who was there with his girlfriend. Oh, and in case you think the old fellow's garb is indicative of the weather, no, Paul's got it right in the short-sleeved cotton -- it's in the mid-30s!
There had been a festa recently in this neighbourhood, and all the streets were hung with these colourful banners. As you can see, our table was actually set up in the street! Cars would drive gently around us and we had tableside entertainment as a guy double-parked his car just opposite us and proceeded to unload luggage to his home -- not just to the doorway, but going inside and then back out for more and then inside and then . . . he blocked traffic for at least ten minutes, and while cars honked behind, they were generally surprisingly patient, and the double-parker didn't get fussed at all. Indeed, by the time he was done unpacking, someone was vacating a parking spot right in front, and we watched our all-time champion parallel-parking job as he manoeuvred his Volvo into a spot that gave him, honestly -- I have it on video -- less than a foot to spare at either end. We wanted to applaud.
As much as taking the train out to Belem to see the tourist-worthy sites there, we felt we had soaked up important aspects of Portuguese culture savouring our streetside seafood meals. To show you how popular this dish is, check out this very cute Coke commercial, similar to one I watched on Portuguese television. The commercial depicts a romance between sardines and Coke, and shows them begging not to be separated -- it's a combination that I believe many North Americans would raise an eyebrow at, to say the least, on first imagining, and yet it works well -- the salty, smoky sardines complemented by the sharp sweetness of the coke.
Sadly, I must admit that we did separate ours, generally enjoying them with beer rather than coke -- and they were delicious!


  1. You two showed those sardines who the mammals are! Wow! I am a fish lover but I just cannot do the whole fish. Well, I haven't. But, in Portugal with a good glass of port in hand I might try it.

    I love smoked oysters and smoked herring. I think I will try one or the other with a coke just to see if there is a love affair in the making. I will save the sardines for another day.

  2. let me know the results of your research -- after all, I let you in on my napping's-correlation-with-intelligence studies;-)

  3. Remind me again why I live in North America?

  4. Tell me the sardines had been gutted at least before cooking....

    Otherwise it looks lovely! Tables set up in the street, I love it.

  5. Thomas: I know, and returning is tough. Really, you have to go, and you know Charlie wants to . . .
    Pseu: Yes, I'd love to be able to tell you that, but no, they're not -- you eat around the questionable bits and have an extra swallow of beer.

  6. Grilled sardines are one of my favourite treats, can hardly bear to see the photo. Fortunately there is a large Portuguese contingent in Toronto and we can get them!

  7. Duchesse: I noticed a Portuguese section while walking with my friend Tanis -- lucky you! Of course, we were getting these kind of platters for 5 Euros, prices you're unlikely to be duplicating in Toronto ;-)


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