Presunto I presume! Fish, Fado, & Ham – 2 nights in Lisbon

(Scroll down for the Fado video)

What to see on a short trip to Lisbon? Most cities have a grand hierarchy of sights – from the oldest and best preserved monuments through a variety of museums and galleries to the busy shopping and entertainment areas. For Lisbon however the hierarchy was flattened by a big earthquake in 1755 which destroyed everything.

So although there’s lots to be interested in, there’s no consensus on the best. Just turn up and let each hour lead into the next. A map and a walking guide will help. Brits will feel at home – the oldest treaty in the world was made between Britain and Portugal in 1373 and is still in force today. There is even a Parque Eduardo VII which commemorates the British king!

After damp and cold in London, the bright blue skies of Portugal are a welcome change. The airport is on the underground system and the ticket machines with English language help dispense reloadable travel cards. Within 30 minutes we were at our accommodation by Cais de Sodre in the town centre by the waterside.

For lunch we headed to the ‘Timeout Market’ across the road from our lodgings. The old market has been largely re-purposed as a giant canteen surrounded by stalls representing some of the best restaurants in Lisbon. A meal deal for 12 euros was fine for us.

Outside, the wide estuary was dotted with boats, many of them, strangely, with people standing to attention on the deck. It turned out that this was the 700th anniversary of the creation of the Portuguese navy. On the main square overlooking the water the forces paraded, the history was told in Portuguese then English.

700 year anniversary for Portugal’s navy

We walked around the old town guided in to The Castle, and a couple of the churches, past tile makers workshops and street artists. 

We found our way into a concert given by young people at The Music Academy and sat with the parents listening to Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

I had 3 wishes for our trip. The first was a fish dinner. Years previously business trips to Cascais near Lisbon gave me the taste for really fresh fish cooked simply. Our host made a recommendation, just 10 minutes walk away. Being out of season there was no need to book especially if we arrived by 8. Unfortunately he was wrong, the place was full. Google showed some places I researched earlier and by phoning I confirmed a table.

When we were sat in front of the menu I remembered that ‘seafood’ is different from ‘fish’! But never mind, I like both. We shared a big crab, which was nicely partitioned for two people. Cold of course. Then a clam soup prepared with vegetables garlic wine and tomato. Delicious.

For dessert we headed back to the ‘Timeout Market’ for a couple of the famous Pastéis de Nata to take back to our room.

The next day the weather was still fine and we took a tram to Belem. We headed straight to the new MAAT building designed by British architect Amanda Levete. During our visit this stunning building housed video art – absorbing and impressive.

Ladies & Gents communal wash basin

Hard against this and part of the same complex is an old power station with the original boilers by Babcock and Wilcox and a collection of comtemporary art.

We headed to the Centro Cultural de Belém where we found a fine lunch.
Belem is a primary destination with several of the Lisbon tourist icons present including the Torre de Belem, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos which in part survives the earthquake of 1755.
The church is a curious variation on Gothic.The monastery next door gives access to the gallery with a fine view of the interior, as well as a stunning tiled refectory and a beautiful courtyard.

The second of my wishes for this trip was ‘Presunto’. The last few years we visited Spain in winter time and bought a leg of Spanish ham to take home. We started with the cheapest offer in a local supermarket and graduated to ham from acorn eating black footed pigs from the hills in the south west (see here). Across the border it is said there are similar traditions in Portugal. Investigations on the internet however did not look promising, but at least I learned the word ‘Presunto’.

Presunto, I presume!

The fall-back for ham in Lisbon was to be the Spanish department store ‘ Corte Ingles’. After failing to find local shops we headed for the 13 floor monster direct from Belem, and on floor -1.5 found the food department with a range of Spanish hams as expected, but also some Portuguese Presunto. There has been some price inflation since my last trip, so even the cheaper front legs (palleta) seemed expensive.

Having got the ham I could now focus on wish number 3. Fado!

Many say the drama of Fado is overtaken by commercialism, with venues focussing on the tourist, and offering a poor combination of a crowded restaurant, overpriced food and non-authentic music. But we were happy.

Fish stew served in a loaf or bread!

We shared our venue with mostly Portuguese diners. The food was satisfactory, with a minimum charge of 30 euros per person to cover the entertainment, we two spent a little over 100 euros for 2 courses and drinks.

During the evening from 20:00 until 23:00 there were 4 music sets with 3 different singers, with a final set involving all the singers and some members of the audience – which the those who understood Portuguese found hilarious. The video above gives a good sense of the program.

The next morning we found our way to the famous bakery to try Bolo Rei – made to a secret recipe imported from the French Court.

A nice Christmas Cake to take home?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *