Bacalao, Pasteles de Nata, and …more Good Food

John and I arrive early in dreary Lisbon this past puente and of course make a bee-line for the first coffee shop we find. The streets are quiet, but the pastry shops are already open and serving their signature baked goods to the morning crowd.

After our routine 2-hour coffee, we suddenly realize that his jacket is gone, along with his passport, mobile, mp3-player, house keys, and monthly metro card…not such a good start to our vacation. So after a a visit to the police station and the British Embassy, we settle in to our hostel, take a siesta, and re-gather our holiday spirits.

What we noticed first about the city is that it’s much drabber than Madrid. Lots of dilapidated buildings, paint jobs and renovations needed. It’s also incredibly hilly — my legs got really sore from walking up and down all day. But that’s where the trams and elevadores come in.

But the best thing was the food! A signature Portugese dish is bacalao, or codfish, and I tried it a couple different ways: baked, grilled, and in a rice stew. Food there is not only a lot cheaper than what I’m used to Madrid, but far better in flavor and quality. You can find seafood dishes for 6.50 euros that come with potatoes, veggies, and a salad.

I also tried some grilled squid.

On to dessert…the most popular pastry in Lisbon is the “pastei de nata,” or also “pastei de Belém,” because they originated from the neighborhood of that name in the far western part of the city. They are basically little egg custard pastries, almost the same as the ones you would find in a Chinatown bakery, except they’re eaten at room temperature and are a bit crunchier.

And they’re even better dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon…

We explored the riverside, the castle, Barrio Alto (which is the main shopping and going-out district), and basically walked around in circles all over the city center until we could find our way without a map by the second day.

A view of the “Golden Gate” bridge replica.

The castle Sao Jorge.

By the river Tagus.

The monastery in Belém.

Lisbon by night.

On the fourth and last day, we went to a little village about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon by train, called Sintra. It’s small, picturesque, and cozy, but was heaped with Spanish tourists. Sintra boasts a very unique-looking palace (at least from the outside) atop an endless hill, as well as a castle and cute wine/marmalade shops.

I was glad we got to get out of Lisbon for a bit, as it was getting smaller and smaller the longer we were there. On the whole it was a nice weekend escape from Madrid (and from Spanish food), and we even got to meet up with two friends who were also spending the puente there.


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