Taste of Portugal: 18 Tastings Tour Review
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
Food Score: 41/50
Guide Score: 13/25
Cost Score: 18/25
Overall Score: 72/100
Summary: If your priority is food and you don't care so much about your guide this might be the food tour for you. You'll experience an interesting mix of Portuguese and international flavors from Portugal's former of Mozambique. Be careful to set your expectations on the size of portions and the number (I don't think I got 18 as their name suggests).
Taste of Portugal: 18 Tastings Tour Review
My expectations were high for this food tour.
With the prospect of having 18 tastings over the following 4 hours, I was both excited, nervous and a little skeptical at the amount of food I was going to be eating.
Despite my doubts, the reviews for this food tour were phenomenal. One of my paradoxical problems with food tours is that no one seems to have a bad experience. If all the food tours are amazing how do you choose the best? This was one of my reasons for starting this website.
Our meeting point was one of the most commercial and busiest places in Lisbon, the name even alludes to this: 'Praça do Comércio'!
With the throngs of people, it wasn't easy to find our food tour guide. I felt a bit awkward approaching a random person asking if he was our guide. I wish he had made himself more obvious like the previous food tour I was on.
Luckily I found Sam without too much trouble under the arch of Praça do Comércio. As we were waiting for other guests I was abruptly asked to move by a tourist who was trying to get a better photo without me being in the frame!
Sam was originally from Mexico and had been leading the tours in Lisbon for 1 year. I am a little wary of AirBnB experiences that have become a victim of their own success, expanding from 1 host to multiple guides rapidly. I was curious about how this experience would be as Sam was not the original person who started the tour.
Normally guides are quite extroverted but Sam seemed quite humble which I appreciated. As we started the tour Sam provided some interesting tidbits of information about the city, however as it was loud and busy it was difficult to hear what he was saying. Luckily as we meandered through the cobbled streets of Lisbon it became less rowdy and we could hear more of what Sam was saying including some interesting facts about the famous Santa
Justa elevator that was built by one of the students of the architect that built the Eiffel tower.
Local Top Tip: Don't wait in line with the hordes of tourists. Turn left at the top of the stairs and you'll see an arc, walk up and you'll get to the elevator with no line and pay. There is no line climb one level and you are at the top of the elevator. Also, there is a better view if you go to Topo Chiado.
With no breakfast, lunch fast approaching, and all this walking I was starting to hear the growls from my belly asking when we would be eating. Luckily my stomach was in for a treat.
First Stop - Manteigaria Silva
Address : Rua D. Antão de Almada 1 C and D, 1100-197 Lisbon
Hours: 9am-7.30pm, Monday-Sunday
Our first stop was Manteigaria Silva, an old butter shop that expanded to sell a feast of traditional Portuguese groceries. I enjoy exploring grocery stores on my travels as you truly get a feel for some of the more traditional items that locals buy and this shop was a treasure trove of gems.
We waited outside, huddled around an empty barrel of Port, which we would be using as a makeshift table. The owner of the shop presented a plate with the shop's bounty, beautifully displayed. A basket of traditional Portuguese bread was placed next to the cheese and a glass of Port.
We raised our glasses for the first time of the day, and celebrated our first tasting:
(1) Four-month aged São Jorge Cheese with Quince Marmalade, (2) Presunto Ham with Cornbread & (3) Port
The Portuguese have been making cheese for 2000 years so they know a thing or two about the craft.
With its wheel-like shape and thick, mustard yellow rind, São Jorge Cheese is made using traditional techniques on the stunning islands of the Azores (the cows here are said to be the happiest in the world, grazing on lush grass while enjoying the impossibly beautiful views.)
I take a slab of the golden cheese and glistening quince marmalade. The cheese has a clean, slightly spicy flavor which is immediately countered by the sweet taste of the marmalade. I have long appreciated the contrast of sweet and sour, ever since trying sweet and sour chicken for the first time as a child.
I want more! I could easily have another slab of the cheese but unfortunately, there is only one per person. I take a sip of the vintage port and notice how its full body cuts through the fat of the cheese.
As customers entered the shop they lustfully looked at our urban picnic with its tempting treasures. I took a piece of the freshly baked cornbread and wrapped it like a birthday present with the presunto ham.
(The difference between Italian prosciutto Ham and the often mischaracterized Portuguese presunto ham is that the Portuguese variety is smoked while prosciutto is air-dried.)
The ham is so thin and delicate that it almost melts in my mouth. The salty, smoked flavor of the meat complements the hearty cornbread with its full texture and flavor.
These mouthwatering morsels barely made a dent on my enormous, breakfast-less, appetite. It was time to walk to our next stop but not before taking a detour to learn some of Lisbon's culture and history:
There is something intriguing about The church of St. Dominic. From the outside, the church looks humble, worn, with a story to tell. When you step inside, the magnitude of the building and its rough facade blows you away. Like an old man who has war stories to share, this Church has a dark history and I wish we had more time to learn more.
We weaved through a labyrinthine of Lisbon's streets. Murals of local residents adorn the street walls, dedicated be a Lisbon artist to the characters of this local neighborhood. I am always keen to see the real people behind a neighborhood and this outdoor art display allowed the residents such as "Chicken George" the local BBQ king and other locals to be seen by visitors of Lisbon.
As we turned a corner we entered a beautiful courtyard with a restaurant on one side, shaded by a flowing tree. A table was freshly prepared and waiting for us. We sat down, ready for our next tasting.
Stop 2: Jasmim da Mouraria
Walking around Lisbon on a hot summer's day is tiring, this courtyard was like an oasis and a welcome rest from the heat.
Piled high like a volcano, black-eyed peas falling from the sides, I was presented with a bowl of salad.
(4) Salted Cod & Black-Eyed Pea Salad with (5) White Wine
The Portuguese have over 365 recipes for cod and it seems like each time I have a cod dish, it's something new.
Cod salad doesn't sound appetizing, maybe because we don't tend to make salads with white fish. But it works so well!
The salad dressing, a vinegary elixir, cut through the oily fish. The beans were buttery, soft and contrasted well with the crunchy bread that I shoveled the salad on. The wine was crisp and went perfectly with the cod.
I felt like I could have stayed at this idyllic spot for another hour, feasting on more bread, beans, and wine, but we were being beckoned to leave.
Stop 3: Cantinho do Aziz
For such a small country Portugal has a rich history of exploration and discovery, becoming the richest country in the world during the 1500s.
This history is evident in the food and I always appreciate a food tour that highlights these more indirect connections to a countries cuisines.
This food tour did exactly that. Transporting us to Africa for our next tasting.
In a colorful back alley with faded portraits painted on the walls, Cantinho do Aziz, a Mozambican influenced cafe was hiding.
I've never experienced Mozambican food and I was excited at the prospect. Often when you have a countries cuisine for the first time we benchmark our opinion based on that one experience. I felt hopeful and lucky that my first experience would be at a restaurant that looked authentic and good enough to be part of this food tour.
As we sat down we were greeted the owner, Khalid. Khalid told us that he arrived in Portugal after the war, in 1982. His father decided to move to Portugal. Khalid was born in Mozambique but spent only a year there before coming to Lisbon. Khalid's father, Aziz, worked in a restaurant but managed to save money and in 1983 he started his own restaurant. Because of word of mouth the popularity of Aziz's restaurant grew, and it became the success that it is today and the place that everyone comes to when they want some home-cooked Mozambique food.
6. Cashew Juice, Chamussas, Vegetable & Cabbage Curry & Piri Piri Sauce
"What can I get you to drink?" Khalid asked. "Beer, wine, or Cashew juice? Cashew juice? Like the nut? No, this is a tropical drink that comes from the cashew apple. We hadn't even started on the food and I was already experiencing things that I had never heard of. Needless to say, I didn't opt for my usual beer and ordered the cashew juice.
Within a few minutes my drink arrived, it looked similar to cloudy apple juice.
As I took a sip of the exotic drink it tasted like a cross between a pineapple and apple juice with a slightly tangy taste.
Two triangular, pastry parcels called Chamussas' were placed on our table, one meat and one vegetarian, which we were asked to share. Personally being as hungry as I was I would have devoured one of each but I was happy to share as it gave me the opportunity to examine the inside of this golden pastry snack.
The meat Chamussas contained mince mixed with a variety of spices, including cumin, garlic, and chili. Despite the chili, these parcels of goodness were not too hot.... until I added some Piri Piri sauce. I've tried Piri Piri sauce before but this was the first time I was trying an authentic African version. The bowl of Piri Piri sauce looked like the rim of a volcano. Inside was an oily, scary magma of chilies that looked dangerous. I was warned that the sauce was nicknamed "little bastard", for obvious reasons. I was warned not to take much but I wanted to give it a fair chance. I smothered my chamussas and took a bite. I felt like my mouth was experiencing a fireworks display of flavor and heat. Made from chili peppers, lemon juice, and spices, boiled down to a thick paste, this sauce was the best Piri Piri sauce I had ever tried.
Just because something is vegetarian it doesn't mean it can't have flavor. This was proved with the two dishes that were placed on the table radiating intense aromas and flavors: a cabbage curry and another of beans, okra, and other African vegetables.
Both were delicious but the Okra curry was my favorite with its unique flavors, taste and textures. The cabbage curry didn't look as appetizing but tasted amazing, it reminded me of the traditional Portuguese Caldo Verde Soup with an African twist, mixed with peanuts and coconut milk.
There was ample food to go around and unlike the other stops where I was left wanting more, here I could eat to my heart's (and stomach's!) content.
After this Mozamiquican feast, I needed a walk. We continued our journey through the weaving streets of this multicultural area of Lisbon. Samuel told us that unlike most cities Lisbon did not have a Chinatown or a little India. The area of Martim Moniz is a multicultural mix of ethnic restaurants where you can choose between Bangladeshi, Burmese, and Chinese. This was the cheapest area that immigrants would come and settle in. Their history, traditions, culture and most importantly food have remained ever since.
Local Top Tip: Do you want to experience an illegal Chinese restaurant while in Lisbon? These unregistered establishments allow you to experience a meal as if you were in Chinese dining room. A cheap and unique experience it comes highly recommended. They aren't always easy to find, however: If you see a door with a sticker or a Chinese lantern above a window it is usually a good indication. Try your luck, press on the door buzzer and have one of the most unique meals on your travels in Portugal.
Stop 4 - Tasca Tipica
Next to a chalk map of Portugal, we sit huddled around a table in a local tavern in the heart of Alfama, one of the oldest districts of Lisbon.
Custom made stone plates, constructed in the traditional way, with the restaurant's name embossed around the rim are distributed. After stepping into Mozambique, and tasting its wonderful food, I am now looking forward to returning to Portugal to try something traditional.
9. Canned Sardines, Octopus Salad, Flame Grilled Chouriço Assado, and Red Wine & Ginja
A 2017 Castelao red is poured, gurgling into my glass. The wine, a tribute to the village of Villa de Palma, one of the wine centers of the region, goes by the same name as the wine.
Portugal is a haven of seafood and one of my favorite Portuguese dishes is grilled octopus.
Today it isn't grilled it's in a salad, cut into small pieces with tomatoes, onions and a slightly acidic dressing. Octopus can be rubbery and unappetizing, but this salad was perfect and I was a little sad that there wasn't more to go around. I was one of the last people to receive the bowl and I wanted to ensure that everyone had their fair share so I only took a very small portion of the remaining amount.
Sardines are one of the most popular fish in Portugal and if you aren't in town during the sardine season (June-September), the next best alternative is the canned variety. Perfectly preserved, like a time capsule, the Portuguese sardine is not like canned meat that you might find in the US or UK. It's a truly Portuguese stable that you must try. Normally canned sardines are marinating in olive oil, glistening, tender and falling apart. Today we are presented with sardines in a spicy tomato sauce. I place one on a piece of bread and enjoy this original form of Portuguese fast food.
Next up: flame-grilled Chouriço Assado. Moonshine alcohol is used as fuel for grilling this sausage which infuses the smokey, paprika flavor of the chourico assado. Cut into bite-sized chunks of caramelized meaty goodness, this was my favorite of the three dishes.
Before leaving we had a final surprise, a toast of Ginja, a sweet cherry liquor that is typically Portuguese. This elixir is said to be the holy grail, invented in Lisbon by a monk,it can apparently cure any sickness! It has a medicinal like quality and I can see why people might think that it could cure any illness, though if you had more than a few shots you may get very ill as a result! After finishing the shot we were ready for dessert and our final stop of the food tour.
Stop 5: Fabrica Cafe
I was certainly craving something sweet after all the savory food that we had consumed. I had an idea where we might be going, but when we turned the corner and I saw the familiar storefront of Fabrica Cafe, I knew that we were in for a treat!
14. Pastel de Feijão & Coffee
To avoid crowding the small cafe, we waited outside in the afternoon sun. Samuel came back with our desserts.
When I first saw the pastry I wondered if they had shrunk since the last time I had been to the cafe with a previous food tour. It appeared the pastries had been cut in half which was disappointing. I wondered if this was to save money or because it was presumed we were too full to appreciate a normal-sized pastry (for the record, I would gladly have a full-sized version!)
Samuel told us how the dessert is made but compared to the previous tour which described the story of how António Amorim, spent 4 years devising the concept for this dessert, I felt like I hadn't learned as much on this food tour. Despite this and the Pastel de Feijao being half, the normal size the taste was just as good.
As we finished our pastel's we said our goodbyes. I felt satisfied but not as happy and basking in culinary glory that I normally feel after a food tour. Maybe it was the expectation of having 18 dishes (I only counted 14 even with the half-sized pastry!) and the phenomenal reviews which did not compare to my high expectations.
What makes a good food tour guide? I am looking for stories and insights. Someone who knows the restaurants and the vendors, like a childhood friend. Someone who is able to recommend hidden gems that I would not easily find myself on Tripadvisor or Google.
Samuel, our guide, was a nice enough chap but I didn't feel the passion, pride, and desire to show us the city like some guides that have taken me on food tours. This food tour on AirBnB was obviously successful but often they become a victim of their own success when they expand quickly to meet demand.
Samuel had knowledge of the history and a few insider tips, but because his voice wasn't the loudest, it was difficult to hear him at times.
Guides Favorite Restaurant: Ramiro
The cost of this food tour is 69 Euros. It is joint 8th (out of 18) most expensive. Price does not equal value, so let's break down the cost of to see how it ranks on 4 factors:
The Number of Tastings
The Duration of the Tour
The Number of Guests
The Cancellation Policy
1. The Number of Tastings:
The tour advertises 18 tastings but I only counted 15 (I don't generally include rice, breads or sauces). I felt let down with both the number and the size of the portions and you should consider this before going on this tour.
If we take their 15 tastings and divide it by 62 Euros =
69/15 = $4.60 per tasting. Which is the most expensive food tour that we have reviewed in Lisbon. Also, the Pastel de Feijao was cut in half, and a number of the other tastings were a lot smaller than other food tours in Lisbon.
2. The Duration of the Food Tour:
The tour lasts for 3.5 hours. If we divide the duration of the tour into the cost we can get a better idea of the value.
The tour works out costing 19.71 Euros per hour which ranks 3rd.
3. The Number of Guests:
In a city like Lisbon, with its hobbit-sized streets and throngs of tourists during peak season the size of your group can become an important factor when judging a tour. I was lucky, there were only 7 people on our tour however at the start I found it difficult to hear our guide because of the noise and his quiet voice. According to their webpage, the maximum number of guests is 10 which is the 8th/18 largest group size.
4. Cancellation Policy
Travelling isn't always rainbows and Instagram worthy photos. Sometimes disasters happen or other times the weather is bad or we are so exhausted that we feel like we don't want to do what we had planned. When a tour has a flexible cancellation policy I am prepared to pay more, just as I would for a flexible airfare. The tour has a relatively flexible cancellation policy with the following criteria:
For a full refund, cancel at least 7 days before the experience is scheduled to start or within 24 hours of purchase.
You can reschedule the date or time of your experience up to 72 hours before the experience is scheduled to start.