Monthly Archives: December 2013

Lisbon Is All About…CAKE!!! (Part II)

People have been asking about this already, and, as promised, here it is: the Lisbon Cake Post.

PastelDeNataBefore I launch into it, I’ll let you in on a dark and dirty secret: The famous Portuguese custard tarts (pastéis de nata) – I’ve never been a fan. Shocking, I know!

I tried them a few times while I lived in London, and found them a bit insipid – quite cartony on the outside, and the flavour of the filling was just too eggy for me.

But now I’m a convert. The authentic article, fresh from the oven, is nothing short of orgasmic.

For my first taste of the real McCoy, I stepped inside the premises of the legendary Pastéis de Belém in the west of Lisbon:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe queue might look formidable, but that’s for the take-away counter. The bakery’s café is surprisingly spacious, harbouring a warren of dining rooms, and finding a table did not prove to be a problem.

There’s even an observation window!

Custard tarts in the making

I’ll have six trays, please!

Custard Tarts 1

It’s not all about custard tarts, of course. This is the traditional Portuguese Christmas cake:

Christmas cake

It’s called “Bolo Rei”, which means king cake.

I don't remember its name, and it doesn't look like much, but it's delicious. It's the lightest, airiest sponge imaginable, with a very moist centre. I've no idea how this is even achieved, but it totally works.

I don’t remember its name, and it doesn’t look like much, but it’s delicious. It’s the lightest, airiest sponge cake imaginable, with a very moist, almost runny centre. I’ve no idea how this is even achieved, but it totally works.

As you can imagine, I scoffed all sorts of cakeage during my one week in Lisbon, including a gloriously fluffy creation called “bolo de deus” (cake of God), which came in the form of a bun. Now, if I were God and had to entrust my buns to anyone, it would definitely be the Portuguese!

[For Part I of what Lisbon is all about, click here.]

Dreamy Steamy Cocido

After an entire week of stuffing myself with glorious Portuguese food, my first outing less than 16 hours after arriving back home involved… food. And lots of it. ‘Team Tapas’ was on its annual mission to indulge in the best cocido to be had anywhere in the province, served by  a restaurant called Finca Los Valdespinos in the village of Carmarenilla, 25 mins drive from Toledo.

Cocido is a typical dish of central Spain (of Madrid, in particular, and often referred to as “cocido madrileño”), and a very simple affair. It’s a stew made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans to readers from the US), noodles, vegetables, potatoes and different kinds of meats.

Unlike the stews you may be familiar with, cocido is not just slopped into a soup dish and put in front of you, but served up separately, in three courses. First comes the broth with noodles:

Carmen shows off her expert ladling technique.
That’s Ana in the back there, drafted in by Team Tapas as reinforcement.

Next in line are the chickpeas, veg and potatoes:

There's also a tomato-cumin sauce to go with the chickpeas, plus some cabbage, onions and pickled green chillies

Olga looking all dreamy….
There’s also a tomato-cumin sauce to go with the chickpeas, plus some cabbage, onions and pickled green chillies to be tossed in, according to taste.

Last up is the meat component:

From left to right: Beef, chicken, pork belly, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage).

From left to right: Beef, chicken, tocino (pork belly), chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage).

The restaurant was heaving, and they have several dining rooms.


I do quite like the light fittings 🙂

The decor of the place is … eccentric, to say the least. The rafter-riding witch you can see up there is not alone. She has an army of sisters, accompanied by straw chickens and all manner of rural paraphernalia cluttering up every available corner. It’s quite overwhelming. By contrast, what comes out of the kitchen is not just in excellent taste, but nothing short of divine!

Lisbon Is All About… (Part I)

…smokey streets:

ChestnutsThe smoke emanates from these little stalls selling deliciously succulent roast chestnuts. They are a common sight all over Europe at this time of the year, of course, but I’d never seen them being roasted in metal buckets before, from which the glistening brown morsels emerge all white, dusted with a fine covering of ash. Maybe this bucket-roasting technique is the reason why they are not in the least bit dry and so easy to peel.

…pygmy fire hydrants

Fire HydrantThere are legions of these foot-high midgets, perched on their little pedestals, strategically positioned all around town.

…cute little kiosks

KioskThe kiosks are just as ubiquitous as the fire hydrants, and fulfill a related purpose 😉 I took this pic on Christmas Day, which is why this little pink refill-station is closed.

…citrus trees in the streets


...and, you’ll have been waiting for this… THE FAMOUS TRAM!

TramThere will be more Lisbon Tram pictures, once I’ve had the chance to go through them all.

Lovely Lisbon: December Bloom

Although this is southern Europe, these latitudes aren’t exactly blessed with a profusion of flowers at this time of year. However, that makes makes it even more delightful when you do spot an explosion of spring colours somewhere.

First up is blossom-laden tree with a sea view backdrop:

Seaview blossoms


Next, some municipal planting, in front of a tiled wall. Very Lisbon 🙂

Flowers, tiles


This last one wasn’t taken in Lisbon, but in Sintra.