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Bifana Crawl

You know what’s better than eating one bifana?  Eating two bifanas.  And you know what’s even better than that?  Eating three.

Actually, I should probably explain what a bifana is, since even I hadn’t heard of them before I started preparing for this trip.  It’s a Portuguese specialty; a sandwich made with thick slices of pork stewed in a sauce made from wine, garlic, and other spices, and served on a roll.   Mustard and hot sauce are available on the side, but it’s an exceptionally simple sandwich: just tender, flavourful pork, and bread.

Inside the restaurant

The first place I went to was a restaurant called Beira Gare.  It’s super easy to order — you sidle up to the bar and ask for a bifana, and they immediately slice a roll in half, pull some of the sliced pork out from the bubbling juices, and before you know it the assembled sandwich is on a plate in front of you.

Tasty bifana

I devoured the first sandwich and almost immediately realized that I couldn’t just leave it at that.  I had to try at least one more.  You know, for the blog.

So I found myself at Casa das Bifanas, where the ordering process is identical — go to the bar, ask for a bifana, and consume said bifana.  The whole thing — from ordering to consumption — takes about five minutes.  It’s great.

Tasty bifana

By now I was actually getting pretty full, but I had a thought: at this point I was just a guy who ate a couple of sandwiches.  If I ate one more, then I did something.  So I ate one more.

My final bifana was procured at As Bifanas do Alfonso, which was the smallest restaurant by far — about the size of a large walk-in closet.  But the ordering process was identical, and the sandwich was just as satisfying.

Yet another tasty bifana

Because that’s the thing — all three sandwiches tasted pretty much the same.  Which is to say that they were all similarly great: an addictive mingling of tender pork and soft, ever-so-slightly crusty bread that soaks up the juices.  Even the sweet mustard seemed to be the same at all three places (it compliments the very salty sandwich quite well).

Still, if I had to choose, Beira Gare would be my favourite, if only because the pork there was slightly more tender (they were also more generous with the meat, but at €2.50, fifty cents more expensive than the other two contenders).  Afonso would be a close second; that one had the most pronounced garlicky flavour.  But they were all pretty damn great.

The Portuguese really love Sardines

Sardine storeNeed proof?  There’s a novelty store in downtown Lisbon that looks like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — and they only sell colourful cans of sardines with various years printed on them.

Sardine store

To my great shame, I did not buy a can of sardines.  Some sardine fan I am.

The Coconut Tart of your Dreams

A little pile of heavenRemember that market where I bought the delicious sausage sandwich?  I also bought an awe-inspiringly good coconut tart that was so good I figured that it deserved its own post.

I bought it from Pastelarias Roma, a dessert vendor in the market.  I like coconut desserts a lot, so I was probably in the tank for this one right from the get-go, but man this was good.  It was kind of like a cross between a coconut macaroon and a coconut cream pie; it was very macaroon-like, particularly the crisp exterior, but it was also a little bit syrupy and creamy, with a mild custardy flavour.  It was contained by a crust that was kind of like an ice cream cone, but thinner and crispier.

So damn good

There are a few things that I’m going to be dreaming about when this trip is over — that, I’m pretty confident, is going to be one of them.

Hills are Jerks

What a jerkSo, here’s a fact: Lisbon is an extremely hilly city.  Here’s another fact: those hills are jerks.

At first it’s like, “wow cool, look at all of that interesting hilly architecture!  It really gives the city character! I wonder how they build everything on a slant like that!” Then you walk up your fifth or six ultra-steep incline of the day with the scorchingly hot Portuguese sun being as unforgiving as always and it’s more like “Hey hill? You’re a stupid jerk and you have a stupid jerk face and I hope you die.”

Check out some more stupid jerk hills after the jump.

A Sandwich Full of Sausage

I spoke the other day about the joys of random discovery; you can add this to the supporting documentation for that argument.

I was wandering around the other day and I saw an impressive-looking statue of a man on a horse (who turns out to be King John I, a Portuguese king from the 1300s).  I thought to myself, I should probably photograph that, because like all tourists I am drawn to elaborate statues like a moth to a flame.

Horse guy statue

It turned out there was some kind of makeshift market behind the statue called Mercado da Baixa, and it included this place:

Big old pile of sausages

I mean, look at that.  It’s a griddle full of grease and random sausages.  If you can say no to that, clearly you are a stronger man than I.  I took one look and knew instantly that I needed those sausages in my life.

Obviously I ordered a sandwich.

Sausage sandwich

The reason some of the sausages look so dark is that the last pieces she crammed into the sandwich were from a morcela sausage, which is a blood sausage.  Now, I know the knee-jerk reaction from many people who grew up in North America is that this is gross, but trust me, it is not gross.  It has an addictively intense flavour that doesn’t have any of the organ-like notes you might be afraid of, and the texture is almost creamy (again, this sounds weird for a sausage, but trust me: it’s so good).

It was actually the best sausage in the bunch, but the other ones (including chorizo) were quite good too.  The bread was a bit overwhelmingly crusty, but it was still a top-shelf sandwich.

Things You Learn about yourself when you Travel

It's so damn hot.I’m currently in Lisbon, and since I’m trying to be frugal and save money wherever I can, I’m staying in an Airbnb.  The place is actually really nice, especially for what it costs, but there’s no air conditioning and I straight-up cannot handle it.  For context, it’s generally in the high 20s or low 30s here, so it’s hot.

Now, I’m used to pretty aggressive air conditioning at home, which probably doesn’t help, but I figured, hey, how bad could it be?  I’ll get used to it.

I want to travel back in time and punch myself in the stomach.

I’m certainly willing to rough it — I have to for an extended trip like this to be financially feasible, but apparently there is a line and that’s where I draw it.  I need to fall into the sweet, sweet embrace of climate-controlled air, particularly when I’m trying to go to sleep.

Lesson learned.

On Randomness and Egg Tarts

With all of the information available on the internet, it’s very easy to just plan out everything in advance and leave nothing to chance. But sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than just randomly wandering around and seeing what you find.

Case in point: this bakery that I stumbled across while walking around the city.

Bakery in Lisbon

It wound up having a pretty amazing egg tart that was probably one of the better versions of that dish that I’ve ever had.

Egg tart

The crust was perfectly flaky with just the right amount of crispiness, and the filling had a really satisfying custardy flavour.  With a light dusting of cinnamon on top, it was really something special.