Fado in Bairro Alto.
There’s no doubt: Portugal is a seafaring nation. The Portuguese sing about the sea, celebrate those who conquered it, and will eat almost anything that comes from it. They eat the most fish per capita in Europe and, with the opening of the country’s first cannery in 1854, tinned fish has been their go-to fast food: a cheap protein when food was scarce, especially during the World Wars. Portuguese staples like sardines and tuna, plus squid, eel and mackerel are caught fresh, preserved and packaged in olive oil, vinegar, tomato sauce or vegetables. “At any given time, we have about 125 different kinds in stock,” says Regina Maria Cabral Ferreira, proprietor of Conserveira de Lisboa, one of the city’s oldest canneries. Almost everything inside the quaint Baixa district shop is original to its 1930 founding.
Among the rows of colourful tins lining the wall are Conserveira’s three house brands: Minor, Prata do Mar and top-of-the-line Tricana, recognizable for the bonnet-clad lady on its label. “All our fish are caught in Portuguese waters,” says Ferreira, who runs the operation with her children. Tuna is caught in the Azores; sardines in Matosinhos. Though food is no longer scarce, Lisbon’s tinned fish business is booming. Locals devour the canned contents in pasta or on sourdough bread, while upscale menus across the city increasingly feature preserved fish. The little packages also make great souvenirs: Conserveira staff lovingly wrap each purchase in brown paper and twine.
Wine is another tasty souvenir. When the Romans arrived here some 2,000 years ago, the region’s viticulture was already firmly established, thanks to Tartessian and Phoenician occupiers. Wine remains a part of daily life: Residents consume an average of 54 litres annually. Vinho Verde (green wine) becomes my go-to varietal. Its grapes grow in the lush hills of northern Portugal, just below the Spanish border. While the wine isn’t actually green in colour (the name refers to its leafy growing region), it is crisp, refreshing and best imbibed on a sunny terrace.
It’s also cheap—very cheap. I picked up a decent bottle for €3 at a corner store by my hotel. In restaurants, quality vintages are also surprisingly affordable, ringing in at 10 to 20 euros. Even at the airport duty-free, you can score a good bottle for pocket change. Ask locals to name the best place in town to sip chilled Vinho Verde and you’ll likely get one response: anywhere outdoors. Thankfully, government officials agree. Municipalities maintain miradouros, terrace lookouts situated atop each of Lisbon’s seven hills. Bring your own bottle or snag a café table at a foodand-drink quiosque (kiosk). Located at the top of Ascensor da Glória, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara offers one of the best views in town, especially at sunset. I order a hearty bowl of gazpacho, thick crusty bread and wine for less than 9 euros.