Dinner and a Show
There is nothing better for me than to walk in to a busy local restaurant and fill my senses all that the buzzing action. The smell of the freshly cooked food, the sound customers chatting, the wine bottles opening, the sight of the waiters rushing to get the orders out so the food doesn’t get cold, the décor and ambience of the place.
A Merendinha do Arco by the Rossio Arch is just that place and it has become one my favourite “Tascas” – Portuguese local eateries - that serves the best char grilled cutlass fish (peixe espada) and red bean rice that I have ever eaten. It’s a small place, with no fancy décor, just what the owner has put in in the more than 20 years of running the place.
It starts being special from the outside as it is located just in front of a beautiful 19th century animatograph, which has been converted into a cabaret (aka peep show), and I am positive that it is safe to say that it is the most beautiful cabaret on earth. The restaurant seats about 30 persons sharing 3 communal tables and it always filled with only locals, which gives it an even more real experience feel.
The menus are in Portuguese, but the waiters speak a little English, so you may have to do some sign language with the waiter to order your meal. Ask for the daily specials which include salt cod with chickpeas, viel&vegetable stew, fried black pork loin (to die for) and some house green white wine to go with your meal. Don’t forget that at the end of the meal everyone has a shot of aged distilled grape must liqueur, so be ready to feel as happy as you can after this experience.
My other big time favourite in Baixa is Ginginha Portuguesa, which literally a hole in the wall on the northeast corner of the Rossio square. Here the famous cherry liqueur called ginginha is dispensed to the local Lisboner and who normally has it after lunch, although there are those who are a little bit more hard-core that have it after their morning coffee.
There are no tables, no chairs, I mean you can’t even fit more than 3 persons from the entrance to the counter, but the bartender/shopkeeper is quite expedite in providing you with your quick fix of Portuguese tradition. You can ask for it with or without the macerated cherries in the cup, with each shot costing 1,35€. Ridiculous isn’t it? The best time to enjoy this is in a sunny cold winter mid-afternoon, where you can get some roasted chestnuts from the vender who is always just a few meters away from this spot and let the winter sun comfort you as you are indulging your palate and your sights to the Azevedo vintage hat shop (the last one in Lisbon left) that also shares that particular corner.
Bear in mind that this is just part of daily life in this part of the world…