Lisbon – Cherry Pits and All

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

When in Lisbon…when in Rome…what we’re trying to say is, when traveling, its a nice idea to try to do as the locals do! “Going local” is excellent advice for any traveler, and during my short stay in Lisbon I tried my best to act like a local, which to me meant having my morning coffee on the terrace at the Café A Brasileira, riding the yellow trams out to the Belém district to get Pastel de Nata at the Pastéis de Belém, and taking the Elevador de Santa Justa up to Carmo Square. (That last one might actually be a bit touristy – but it was very cool.)

Another thing I learned to appreciate in Lisbon was Ginjinha, the traditional morello cherry liqueur of Portugal. Many shops will serve a drink of Ginjinha to customers and it is often homemade, but the coolest way to drink Ginjinha is at one of the many storefront Ginjinha bars in Lisbon.  If you happen to be new to Lisbon, and suddenly find yourself wondering why everyone is standing around, sipping red liquid from tiny plastic cups, surrounded by a sea of cherry pits – congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon a storefront Ginjinha Bar!

Yellow Trams in Lisbon

Yellow Trams in Lisbon

Ginjinha is made by infusing ginja berries (as sour Morello cherries are locally known) in brandy. Sugar is also added, along with cinnamon and, perhaps, other ingredients. Ginjinha is traditionally served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup. If you didn’t get a cherry in the bottom of your cup – ask for one!

Not surprisingly, there are numerous stories about the origins of Ginjinha, however, most people are content to give credit to Francisco Espinheira, a Galician friar who lived at the Igreja de São Domingos (Church of St. Dominic) in the Santa Justa area of Lisbon. As the story goes, the friar had the idea to soak some cherries in the local aguardente (Portuguese brandy) along with some sugar and spices. The rest, as they say, is history in terms of the popularity of the drink, and the Igreja de São Domingos went on to become the first place in the city to sell Ginjinha.

A Ginjinja in Lisbon (of course)

A Ginjinja in Lisbon (of course)

As a matter of fact, the neighborhood around the church remains one of the best places to sample Ginjinha, for tourists and locals alike. Here, carved into the side of a building across the square from the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II you’ll find a counter front with the name “A. Ginjinha” painted in an arch across the top. Hand the gentleman at the counter a euro, and be sure and tell him “obrigado” or “obrigada” if you are female. You might get a glass shot glass, but if it’s a busy time it will be plastic. Never mind…just find yourself a spot of the sidewalk, sip the delightful cherry liqueur and – don’t be shy – eat the cherry and then spit the pit out on the sidewalk for those who journey behind you to trample upon.

Homemade Ginjinha is common, although there are many commercially produced varieties. Ginjinha Portuguese has been awarded PGI status by the European Union and one particular version, Ginjinha de Óbidos e Alcobaça, has applied for PGI status as well.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

One Response to Lisbon – Cherry Pits and All

  1. Obidos is also a popular source. There it is served in a small chocolate cup, which you eat at the end

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