We only had two days in Madrid. I was not ready to leave. My husband had planned our next stop as Lisbon. I had barely heard of Lisbon. Why should we leave Spain? But then we got out of the airport and into the car that was sent by our host. Driving through the city, I immediately fell in love. Everything in Lisbon was so bright, colorful, and welcoming. By the time we left the car, I could not wait to explore this city.
When we pulled onto Rua da Rosa in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, I was even more sold. Every building was a new color and bright was bunting draped across the cobblestoned streets. This charming apartment on Rua da Rosa not only had the BEST location, but our host knocked it out of the park. Remember the driver she sent? It didn’t stop there. Paula, the property manager, spent an hour marking a map and telling us where to go. Before she left, she had made us a reservation for that evening and left us with her contact information for further questions.
Before I launch into anymore about how much I love Portugal, let me explain one downside. Never in our time in Portugal did I find a gluten free-menu or even a menu with markings. I never found a restaurant with gluten-free pasta or bread, though I did find stores with gluten-free products. But I still loved this country, this city, the people and the food. I was always able to eat incredibly well because the food focused on fresh meats, fish, and vegetables. Oh, and of course, batatas (potatoes)!
Our first night we ate in a very small restaurant called Mascote da Atalaia that held no more than 20 people. We had to arrive and order before the show started. Our host told us that Fado music was a must, but we did not know what was in store. I ordered a tuna steak with red peppers and my husband ordered beef of some kind. I am never a tuna fan, and I still don’t know why I ordered that, but the wine was great!
In the end, what I did love from this evening was the music. Fado is the traditional music of the region and traces back to the 1800s. My skin still tingles when I think of this musical experience, and no iPhone recorder will ever do the music justice. We tried. Another top off to the evening, when we got our bill, we learned just how affordable dining is in Portugal 🙂
The next night, we arrived right at 7:00, when most restaurants open, to the Cantinho Do Bem Estar. If our first restaurant was small, this one was smaller. Holding 10-12 diners, our host said their food was the best but the wait could be long. Thankfully, we were the first diners. This meal will forever be ranked in my favorites. EVER. The whole restaurant was run by a family. The son took orders, and the parents cooked. We started with prawns in a garlic sauce that we unashamedly ate every last bit of and followed by the best fish I had ever tired. Not to mention my first fish that came fully intact. Not one word about gluten-free on the menu, but all of their food was made with pure ingredients free of the fillers and additives that we celiacos fear so much!
There are two notable neighborhoods in Lisbon — Bairro Alto and the Alfama. I recommend staying in Bairro Alto. At night, it comes alive with people and music. It is also lined with restaurants and fun bars. But a day time trip to the Alfama is a must. You must ride the 28 tram there. It’s a historical tram that spans the city. Be warned the trams are packed by the time they reach you in Bairro Alto and full of pick-pockets, but worth the experience. We took the tram to the Alfama area and then slowly wandered back. While there we stumbled on the best meat, cheese, and wine shop. Our waiter asked us which of FOUR languages we preferred, and then served us an amazing snack. While there was no gluten-free bread, who needs it with all the amazing meat and cheese. Though, now I would always keep my own crackers in my purse 🙂 Definitely seek out The Corkscrew Wine Bar.
No stop in Lisbon is complete without sardines. We searched the winding streets of the Alfama for this spot recommended by our host. When we were almost ready to give up, we found what we were looking for. Thankfully, they squeezed us in to a large shared table. By the time we left, the wait was long so call and make a reservation. We each ordered a dish of sardines. That was our mistake, by the end of one plate, we had overdone it on sardines (delish but in small amounts), and we were looking longingly at the other types of grilled fish and meats around us. You can watch all the fish be covered in oil and salt and grilled in front of you. That’s it. Salt and oil. My hair literally smelled of sardines for days, but when you watch you food be prepared, you never have to doubt if it’s gluten-free. Good luck finding it, but definitely seek out Pateo 13. This time we did take a cab back from the Alfama as it was a long walk the first time. Cabs are very affordable in Lisbon!
My final recommended stop would be Comida de Santo. My husband studied in Brazil for a short time and fell forever in love with their food and Caipirinha drinks. For all the times I have made him search out one gluten-free place, I owed him a trip to find his favorite fare. In the end, it was a gluten-free paradise. Many of the flours used in Brazilian cooking are gluten-free, the dishes were delicious, and the staff was very knowledgeable.
Now, I have written about some of the foodie reasons that explain my love for Lisbon, but I haven’t even started to talk about the depths of the other reasons that this city stole my heart. I haven’t talked about the Plazas, Belem, or Sintra. I haven’t talked about the friendly people or the amazing and inexpensive wine. But for today, I will leave you with this, and return another time to rave some more.