Tag Archives: Lisbon

Pastry Post-Doc in Austria/Portugal: Pois, Café

Pois, Café
Rua de São João da Praça 95
Lisbon, Portugal

Pois, Café sits nestled in a weathered stone building amongst Alfama’s small, hilly alleyways east of downtown Lisbon. One of the best cafes in a city overrun with them, its Austrian owners have managed to cultivate a niche with great sandwiches, even better Austrian cake selections, and a global influence. The broad selection is definitely appealing, particularly in contrast to a classic Lisboeta café. Moreover, it is a just a cool place to hang out. Pois, Café’s cavernous old interior is marked by stone arches, washed to a sunny white. Decorating the interior are a veritable crossroads of international books – mostly novels and travel guides –  all left by patrons over the years. You can sit and enjoy great food in a relaxing atmosphere while reading travel guides to places you never considered traveling to (Israel? Why not?). The cafe’s name tells you that you should: it is a riff on “Pois, é” a common northeastern Brazilian Portuguese expression meaning “Yeah” or “Of course.”

PoisCafe

Pois Café features a standard menu at as well as a rotating slate  of specials. The main offerings are various sandwiches, tostas and wraps with international flair ranging from 6 to 10 euros. There are other light dishes, (quiches seem to be a big favorite). Pois Café is mainly a breakfast and lunch place and  they also offer a nice brunch with pastries, yogurt, juice, muesli for less than 10 euros. For our lunch we had a Mozart sandwich (prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and arugula) as well as an Ilha sandwich (seen below – with a duo of Azorean cheeses, pear and paprika); both were around 7 Euros. The sandwiches were both delicious and fresh, and we enjoyed the unique flavor combos.

PoisCafeIlha

After finishing our meal, our attention quickly turned to the shiny glass case at the back of the restaurant, packed with Austrian cakes and sweets. At 4 euros per slice the price seemed high, but then again there is very little that can come  between us and a pastry. The cakes looked delicious  and we couldn’t resist after our chocolate cake cravings, especially given the general Portuguese lack of chocolate desserts. With a little influence from our server’s recommendations and a little more from our discerning eyes, we ordered the Tarte Russe (seen below), a cake with a chocolate base layer topped with a light lemon-flavored cream. For contrast, we also got a slice of passionfruit cheesecake. While very tasty, the cheesecake was a little light for those of you looking for a New York style cheesecake. But the Tarte Russe was a delightful bit of chocolate heaven. Pois Café definitely invites you to linger and it seems to have gained a strong following from the international community, tourists and locals alike. The restaurant is an absolute gem, and is definitely one of our favorite places for lunch in Lisbon.

PoisCafeTarteRusse

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Portuguese Pastry Post-Doc: Croissants at Pastelaria Benard

While the French are known for impossibly delicate and flaky pastries, the Portuguese prefer denser eggy and sugary cakes. The Portuguese take on the croissant is much the same. We heard that Pastelaria Benard had a reputation for the best croissants in Lisbon we were eager to try them (though we did not know what difference a Portuguese croissant would have in store for us). Pastelaria Benard (Rua Garret 104) is located right off of Largo Camões in the heart of Lisbon’s atmospheric Bairro Alto, right next to A Brasileira, one of Lisbon’s most internationally famous cafes. Benard, though less touristy, is just as antique, and practically exudes history.

 Croissants at Pastelaria Benard

In the old Pastelaria there is an entire shelf of croissants that are piping hot – fresh out of the oven – so we figured we were in for a treat. However, we were a little confused upon first bite. Yes, these so-called croissants were quite good, but nothing like the classic French croissant we have come to know and love. In this rendition, the dough is cakey and rich like a brioche, not flaky at all! At first we thought we perhaps ordered wrong – but they had given us two straight off of the “croissant shelf.” Though the alleged “croissant” was good in its own right, we are surprised the Portuguese have not given this confection another name, especially since the Portuguese have such creative names for their sweets. However, we have also seen French-style croissants in Lisbon also being called by the croissant moniker (or at least they appeared flakier than this). Very confusing! So be warned, pastry-philes looking for a croissant in Lisbon – you could be ordering a different treat altogether!

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The Best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon

Much to our surprise, our study of the Best Macarons in Paris continues to be one of the most popular 0n the internet. But we’ve taken a bit of criticism because of our small sample size – since we only had an afternoon, we had to prioritize with the two most popular locations (apparently we should have also gone to Gerard Mulot).

Yet as of today, our last day in Lisbon, we have been in this beautiful city for over two months. L has been tirelessly working on an exhaustive study of Portuguese pastries that would make the authors of Fabrico Próprio sit in awe (though we bought their fabulous book anyway!). We have been to scores and scores of Portuguese pastelarias, in every area of the city, and at this point may be some of the best experts in Portuguese pastries on either side of the Atlantic. And at every Lisboeta pastelaria, we have sampled their offering of Portugal’s most famous and emblematic sweet: the pastel de nata (or pastel de Belém), a small egg-tart pastry originating, so the story goes, with 18th century monks at  Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belém district and now produced throughout the lusophone world. Every street in Lisbon has at least three pastelarias, and every one makes pastéis de nata. We have eaten a lot of pastéis de nata during our time in Portugal and in our time here, combining exhaustive taste testing and testing again, we have concluded what we think is the best pastel de nata in town. There was, obviously, no shortage of contenders  but we settled on a ranking after several visits to each place. Surely, there are as many opinions on pastéis as there are pastelarias in Lisbon. However, we think you will have a successful pastel experience if you try these locations.

Pasteis de Nata

Pastéis de Nata in the Wild

The Ground Rules:

1. We only included pastelarias that were “Fabrico Próprio,”meaning the pastries were made in house. Any pastelaria worth its weight in egg cream will make its pastries on site, and the ones that do always say “FABRICO PROPRIO” on their sign. If you are visiting a pastelaria that does not say that, just move on, because you will be wasting your money.
2. Only classic pastéis count in this ranking. We needed a 1 to 1 comparison, so no fillings, fruit flavors, mini or giant size, etc. (Although try the pastel de chocolate at Versailles – great!)
3. Rankings are based on custards, crust, caramelization and overall appearance. Most pastéis were of a similar size and cost between 1-1.3€ so we did not include price as a factor.
4. A good tasting does not move you to the top of the ranking, but one bad one knocks you off. If we had a bad experience somewhere, we did not return: with so many in Lisbon, the best place should not be making any errors. If we had a good experience, we were sure to return at least once to test for consistency. Our top three finishers each got no less than three taste tests.

The Rest:

A caveat: we urge everyone who visits Lisbon to try as many pastéis as you can and form your own opinions. It’s really fun! And definitely not damaging to the pocketbook. But for us, so many pastelarias did not make the cut for the top three, and we did not include them in our final ranking. Some were flavorless or too eggy, some were burnt, had too thick a crust, or too thin (a major deal-breaker is when you bit into a pastel and the whole crust goes with it – you should be able to take out a single section of cream and crust in one bite). Among the most famous to be cut were the Confeitaria Nacional and, gasp, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. The Antiga Confeitaria is far and away the most famous place to grab a pastel in Lisbon, and every guidebook will direct you there. Lines are always out the door, and the inside seats hundreds and hundreds of people, all eating pastéis. But you can see the problem already: quality control. Wild inconsistency plagued the Antiga Confeitaria, even in the same batch of four: some were burnt, some were soggy, and some were underdone. With that, we give you our top three choices for the best pastéis in Lisbon.

Our Top Three Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon

3. Pastelaria Aloma
Rua Francisco Metrass, 67

Aloma Pasteis

Pastelaria Aloma is a small neighborhood pastelaria northwest of Bairro Alto, which wandered under everyone’s radar until, in 2012, it won the competition for best pastel in Lisbon. In a hilarious and welcome moment of fame capitalization they changed their website’s url to omelhorpasteldenatadelisboa.com (literally, TheBestPasteldeNataInLisbon.com), and plastered the new url all over their small store and delivery trucks. Quite off the beaten path, it takes some searching to find the place, but we were happy to see their quality control has not suffered as a result of their fame (they remain busy, but not crowded). We found the crust to be well-made, the filling very tasty, but the crust’s browning was inconsistent enough as to affect the flavor on one of our pastéis, bringing them to number 3.

2. Pastelaria Versailles
Avenida da República, 15
Versailles Pasteis

Pastelaria Versailles, conveniently located immediately above the Avenida da República exit at the Saldanha metro station, is a charming, old-world style (almost Parisian) cafe offering a wide variety of freshly-made pastries, as well as sandwiches and tea served by a jovial waitstaff that make this a great lunch spot, one of our favorites in Lisbon. As far as we can tell, pastéis de nata are not one of their specialties, and they have not appeared on any major rankings. But we found their pastéis to be magnificant examples: a perfect crust, with a delectable egg cream whose flavor we found to be second only to our overall winner. (And once again, if you go here, try to pastel de chocolate – a variation of the traditional pastel but with chocolate filling, a variety we saw almost nowhere else!)

Drumroll…..

1. Chique de Belém
Rua da Junqueira, 524

Chique PasteisIn the end, this was not even close. If you visit Lisbon you will, at some point, find yourself admiring the architectural wonders of the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. You will walk east on Rua da Junqueira, with the crowds, toward the front of the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém and you should, in our humble opinion, keep on walking. A few blocks further is the small, utterly charming, and fantastic Chique de Belém, easily our vote for the best pastel in Lisbon. Perfectly textured, elegantly flavored egg cream inside a crust with just the right balance of flakiness and support make this our go-to place for pastéis in Lisbon. In three visits and six samples we were shocked by the consistency of their output. Even better? Their outdoor seating area, right on the sidewalk, offers a view of Belém’s parks, where you can relax while the servers bring you the pastries of your choosing. And of course, you picked the pastéis.

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Roast Chestnuts herald the arrival of Winter in Lisbon

One sure sign that fall has arrived in Lisbon is the appearance of the roast chestnut vendors. As the holiday season approaches, they only become more popular. If the air is crisp enough, it is not uncommon for the Baixa area of Lisbon to be filled with smoke and steam from the roast chestnuts. The typical setup is a metal cart, as seen below, but there are some other nifty arrangements where the chestnut roaster is attached to the front of a motorcycle. For about 2€ you can get about a dozen chestnuts. The chestnuts are completely charred and perfect for staving off the winter chill, definitely a must-do for anyone visiting Lisbon in the colder months.

Chestnut vendors in Lisbon by Sr. Nefasto

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Portugal: Joshua’s Shoarma Grill

Joshua’s Shoarma Grill
Vasco de Gama Mall ( Various Locations in Lisbon)
Lisbon, Portugal

We finally made it up to the Parque das Nações in the North-East of Lisbon, home to the city’s superb Oceanarium (we highly recommend it). When approaching the Parque das Nações from the metro you will encounter the super-modern Vasco de Gama mall, which was appropriately decked out for the holidays. At the top of Vasco de Gama is a food court, with tapas, stir-fry, a Brazilian kilo restaurant and some Portuguese chains, including  Joshua’s Shoarma Grill. We actually read about this restaurant in our copy of Cozinhas do Mundo em Portugal (“World Cuisines in Portugal”), and we figured it would be a good stop on our quest for Middle Eastern food in the heart of bacalhau country. Joshua’s Shoarma Grill is a basic fast-food endeavor, with a selection of beef and chicken shewarma, falafel and some Mediterranean-inspired salads.

For about 7 euros apiece we each ordered a combo platter with a small drink and fries. True to type, M got the chicken pita and L got the falafel pita (we are creatures of habit). The funny thing about foreign fast food is that small fries and drink really does mean small (maybe 8 oz) – as opposed to an American “small soda” that is really 24 ounces. Very interesting. L enjoyed the falafel, though you can tell that they were not perhaps freshly cooked. M though his sandwich was way too greasy, unfortunately. The fries were a little limp and sad. A redeeming grace was the garlic sauce. Like Ali Baba Kebab, one of our recent finds, Joshua’s is a good place for a quick Middle Eastern fix. Overall L liked the falafel at Joshua’s better, but M decided Ali Baba Kebab was a better pick for carnivores. If you are in the vicinity of the Parque das Nações, prices tend to be a little inflated, so Joshua’s is a great pick for bargain hunters.

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Portugal: Ali Baba Kebab Haus

Ali Baba Kebab 
Rua Palma, just south of Martim Moniz Square
Lisbon

We love Middle Eastern food, so we were definitely excited to find a few options in Lisbon (more reviews to come). Walking down Martim Moniz square, M’s eye was immediately drawn to the döner spinning in the window. In the words of Ron Swanson, a character from one of our favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, “There’s a hot spinning cone of meat in that Greek restaurant next door. I don’t know what it is, but, I’d like to eat the whole thing.” That was pretty much our reaction upon seeing the Ali Baba Kebab Haus.

Unfortunately, we had just had dinner, so we vowed to return on another day. About a week later, before a night performance at the Dona Maria II National Theater in Rossio Square, we headed over to Ali Baba for a quick bite. When we arrived, the spot was filled with a fast-moving crowd composed of the local middle eastern community and a strong local/German tourist contingent (let us not forget the stunning popularity of döner kebabs in Germany).

Ali Baba serves Turkish food, and there are only three things on the menu: chicken döner, beef döner and falafel. You can get each filling option in a pita or a durum wrap, along with a side of salad or french fries. We each opted for a durum – M picked the chicken and L went with the falafel. All of these options are between only 3.5-6€. Once you pick your filling, you tell the sandwich maker what sorts of toppings you want, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, hot sauce (fantastic!) and garlic sauce (similarly awesome).

Fair warning – there are no tables, just a tiny stand-up counter in the very tiny store. No surprise, many people take the orders to go. M enjoyed his chicken döner, but found it a little greasy for his tastes. The Turkish-style falafel was tasty, and completely complemented by the garlic sauce. Though we had a little trouble eating the overstuffed durums at the stand-up counter you will definitely be hard-pressed to find a better cheap meal near Rossio Square.

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Pão por Deus: “Trick or Treating” on All Saints Day in Lisbon

Trick or Treat? – By Chris Devers

They don’t have trick-or-treating on Halloween in Lisbon, but there is a similar tradition that occurs on All Saints Day, November 1st, called  Pão-por-Deus. Instead of asking “Trick or Treat” Portuguese children go door to door asking, “Ó tia dá bolinho!?”(Originally – “Ó tia dá Pão por Deus?”) Literally – does auntie have any cookies? Traditionally the children would get bread from the neighbors and shop owners they visited, though it is now sometimes substituted for cookies, change or candies. This also leads to the other name for the holiday, “Dia de Bolinho.” Kids collect goodies in special drawstring bags, saquinhos, that are often decorated with embroidery or patches. Unlike Halloween, children go asking for Pão por Deus before noon (no costumes are involved, either).

November 1st, in addition to being All Saints Day, is also particularly known in Lisbon as the day of the destructive  1755 earthquake. This particular event is seen as triggering the Pão por Deus tradition, as the city was  devastated and people had to go asking for food.  The first Pão por Deus was held the following year, and continues today, though there is increasing influence form “Halloween”-type traditions. The holiday is most popular around Lisbon, but has also expanded to Brazil.

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Angolan Cuisine in Lisbon: Moamba

 Moamba
 Rua Fradesso da Silveira, 75
Lisbon, Portugal

If anywhere outside of Angola would have good Angolan food, it would be an Angolan restaurant directly across from the Angolan Embassy in the city with the world’s largest population of Angolan expatriates.

Surprisingly, though Moamba was full, there were few Angolans in the restaurant on this day – perhaps they were all still working at the consulate? But even though most patrons were Portuguese, looking around we could tell they staunchly avoided the small section of Portuguese cuisine on the menu, and went straight for the moamba, the house specialty and Angola’s national dish, which is served up hot, heavy and in bulk to almost everyone who walks through the door.

Moamba will remind the first-timer of other rich stews from the western African coast: a thick, oily dish of chicken stewed with tomatoes, okra, potatoes, and collard greens in a slightly spicy sauce. It is served with generous portions of tapioca and a yellow flour mash, similar to Nigerian fufu. Even the half-portion we ordered (9 euros), when combined with the tapioca, was far more than what was needed for the two of us.

To mix things up, L ordered the roast chicken, grilled and marinated with Angolan spices and served with piri-piri. She was less than willing to heap on the piri-piri, but M dove right in, slathering it on his moamba, some chicken, and the welcome fresh – and desnse! – bread served with our meal. The chicken, served with fries and a small inconsequential salad, hit the spot – places that serve a great, flavorful piece of grilled chicken are increasingly hard to come by, and it is no secret that a lot of our favorites have come from western and central African restaurants. When we head back to Lisbon in the fall (yes, the secret is out), Moamba will definitely be on our return list for a flavorful, inexpensive, and very hearty African lunch.

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Zuari: Goan Cuisine in Lisbon

  Zuari
R. São João da Mata 41,
1200 Lisbon

“Dois pessoas, por favor.” When Orlando, the 34-year owner of Zuari, one of Lisbon’s most acclaimed Goan restaurants, heard our request for a two-person lunch seating, he seemed confused. He looked around the completely empty restaurant, and an immediately frustrated look came over his face. “It’s all full!” We walked past empty table after empty table, as he directed us to a tiny little table in front of a door leading to the kitchen. Apparently the only available seating? Who else was there – ghosts? At noon on a Thursday?

No matter – we had seats, and we wanted to eat. Lisbon is probably one of the best locations for Goan food outside of the former Portuguese colony turned Indian state, but as with any establishment, we were worried that the owners had changed the dishes to conform to more sensitive, even muted, Portuguese tastes. Luckily, we were wrong. For starters, the menu was encouraging: entirely in Portuguese. Few tourists coming this way, apparently – far from the city center and the metro, that’s usually a good sign. Orlando patiently explained the menu to us, as we had never heard of “Sarapatel” before. He spoke quickly, and M caught words like carne (meat) and pedacos (pieces) of linga (tongue) and a quick statement that “tudo e bom” – it’s all very good. He then scurried away, finally explaining the reason he seemed so frazzled: a big party was going to start there in about twenty minutes.

In we put the order: a bottle of water, two sides of white rice. For a starter we went with the obligatory Apas, a type of bread unique to Goan cuisine ( €0,75). It has a texture similar to a very thin version of naan, and a similar flavor, yet somehow manages to remain thick and hearty. L tried to Chacuti de Galinha (€7,00), a type of chicken curry with coconut milk and “spices.” A few taste tests later, and we could detect mint, cumin, coriander, cardamom, and black pepper. A slight spicy kick with a fantastic flavor profile, and three pieces of chicken – the real stuff, still on the bone – was more than expected. M went with the Sarapatel (€7,00), a mix of diced and pulled pork and tongue, simmered in a spicy – very spicy – and flavorful sweet tomato-based sauce. The texture and taste reminded us of a very spicy version of Carolina barbecue pulled pork. Regular readers of the blog will know how we feel about that! Plus, the spice level was one of the few dishes ever to satisfy M’s Scoville scale requirement, and he didn’t even have to make a special request!

The only disappointment of the day was that Zuari was out of their famous mango ice cream, due to the party preparations. We would have liked to try it, but the unexpectedly complex flavors in our dishes, combined with the great price – €20,00 for the whole meal – made this easily our best meal in Lisbon thus far.

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