Discovering Spice Route flavours in Lisbon

Discovering Spice Route flavours in Lisbon

Kerry Murray

Lisbon is a small city by European standards but is rapidly growing as a trendy destination. Its narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque architecture and fantastic weather are just a few of many great reasons to visit this pretty city.

Portugal has an incredible food culture and Lisbon, being the capital, is a veritable hot pot of the country´s most traditional dishes. Here you can sample typical foods from all over the nation: bifanas and pregos (pork and beef steaks, respectively) amazing fish and shellfish, fresh from the Atlantic. And of course the quintessential Bacalhau (cod), prepared in a dizzying variety of ways and so typically Portuguese that you´d have to try it at least once. A quick search online or through a guidebook will easily point you in the direction of many great restaurants all specialising in Portuguese fare. From the humble tascas (bar serving food) to multiple Michelin star fine dining, and everything in between.

If however, you´re visiting Lisbon and are looking for something a little less typical, things aren´t always so easy to find. Portugal has a rich seafaring heritage and Lisbon, the city that launched countless ships throughout the Age of Exploration, has a culinary legacy influenced by these travels. Which is where this particular guide comes in: a gastronomic trip along the Portuguese Spice Route.

Goa, India: Jesus é Goes

The name of the restaurant “Jesus é Goes” is Portuguese for “Jesus is Goan” (from Goa) and perfectly describes the relationship between Portugal and India, both historically and currently as Jesus Fernandes, the chef and owner, was born in India to a Catholic family and relocated to Portugal in his teens.

The food culture in the Goan region was heavily influenced by Portuguese culture during the colonial era. The menu reflects this combination of cultures: creamy coconut milk, warm Indian spice blends and everything liberally sprinkled with coriander, a very common ingredient in Portuguese cooking and reputedly introduced by the sailors on their arrival in the East. Shrimp Curry with Okra and the Chicken in Coconut milk and Piripiri are 2 of the specialities, as well as several pork and goat dishes.

Jesus é Goes is a small restaurant that until recently catered mostly to locals, but travellers are slowly finding out about the place. With only 16 seats available reservations are recommended, particularly for dinner and over the weekend.

Jesus é Goes | Photo: Emanuele Siracusa

Jesus é Goes | Photo: Emanuele Siracusa

Mozambique: Ibo Restaurant

Mozambique was discovered by the Portuguese navigators in the 14th century in their quest to find a route to India and several settlements were created along the coast to serve as trading posts and refuelling stations for the ships plying the route. This strip of Africa served as a halfway point between Europe and India and as such, Mozambican food as we know it today, is a result of this melting pot of African, Asian and European influences.

On the banks of the Tagus River, Ibo Restaurante is a modern Portuguese restaurant that pays homage to its Mozambican roots. The interior is clean and minimal, with huge windows facing the water, making the most of the exquisite view and flooding the restaurant with natural light. At first glance, there is nothing strikingly African about the place, but the black and white photographs displayed on the walls and the Mozambican specialities on the menu make it clear that this isn´t just another modern waterfront eatery in Lisbon.

Opened in July 2008 the restaurant is named after Ibo Island, the capital of the Quirimba Archipelago off the coast of northern Mozambique, a land that the owner Daniel Pedrosa Lopes and his son, head chef João Pedrosa, consider to be their home. The most iconic of their Mozambican dishes would have to be the curries: mild and creamy with a sweetness imparted by the generous use of coconut milk. Not at all like the fiery Indian curries that are more famous, these dishes are influenced by the Goan cuisine of southern India and combine perfectly with the tropical produce and incredible seafood that the east coast of Africa is famous for.

Photo: Emanuele Siracusa

Photo: Emanuele Siracusa

Cape Verde: Mesa Kreol

Cape Verde is an island nation off the west coast of Africa, first inhabited by Portuguese explorers in the 15th-century and later used as a stopover point on the trade routes between Portugal, Africa and Brazil. This constant exchange of cultures, languages and food has greatly influenced the Creole style cuisine that Cape Verde is famous for today.

Mesa Kreol is situated a stones-throw away from the Sé de Lisboa, one of the city´s most famous churches, in the oldest part of the city. It´s a small, unassuming place that you could easily walk past without noticing, but if you´re in need of some African fusion home cooking and a bit of live Cape Verde music, then you´ve found the right place. While our waiter insists that Mesa Kreol isn´t strictly a Cape Verde restaurant, the cuisine from this island nation features heavily on the menu, alongside several other classic Creole dishes from across the Portuguese-speaking diaspora: Brazil, Mozambique and Guinea.

India: Psi Vegetarian Restaurant

Vegetarian cuisine is having a bit of a renaissance in Portugal right now, particularly in Lisbon and the bigger cities, but it hasn´t always been so. Portuguese food is traditionally very meat and fish-centric and until recently there weren´t many options for someone on a plant-based diet. Restaurante Psi is one of the few exceptions to this rule and is one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in the city, run by Najma Saiyad, a doctor and philanthropist of North Indian ancestry but born and raised in Mozambique. The restaurant was originally a dilapidated garden in a semi-residential area, and she set out renovating the property and bringing life back to the garden. The Dalia Lama inaugurated Psi in 2001, to coincide with the grand opening; a dream turned reality for Najma and an event that to this day lends a touch of magic and spirituality to the place.

Najma´s son, Yasser Saiyad, is the current chef and owner and under his guidance, Psi has become one of the most popular vegetarian restaurants in Lisbon. On the menu are a variety of Eastern and Mediterranean inspired dishes, with flavours from India, Thailand and the Middle East featuring strongly. Obviously, all the food is strictly vegetarian, but the menu includes an ever-increasing number of vegan options and there are also gluten-free dishes available.

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