I spent just 36 hours in the UK before heading to the airport again – this time, destination Lisbon. After wandering around and exploring a little, we decided we would take advantage of their Tram system and head across the city to the Mercado de Campo de Ourique for lunch.
The market dates back to 1934 although it was heavily remodeled last year, morphing from traditional market into a popular dining destination offering an impressive 20 small bars and food counters where you can enjoy everything from sushi to traditional Portuguese cheese and cured meats, seafood and more.
Thats not to say that there arent still some great market stalls to be found inside the market as well, my mum was thrilled with their spice shop and bought an assortment of spices such as peppercorns from them whilst I loved the selection of beautifully packaged, brightly coloured tins of fish and purchased several of these to give as gifts to friends back home as well. Other stalls of interest include “Casa dos Ovos Moles em Lisbon” where you can sample the local egg yolk and sugar based sweet delicacy.
I was really excited to see Percebes on sale – they have intrigued me ever since I read “The Year of Eating Dangerously” by Tom Parker Bowles, where he has a chapter dedicated to the dramatic harvesting of these goose neck barnacle delicacies – and so ordered a 5 Eu portion of these with fresh lemon for my lunch whilst the rest of my family settled for Portuguese fish soup and a lovely platter of local cured black pork as well as a plate of the most beautiful sautéed prawns.
In order to eat percebes, you snap off the hard claw like shell base and extract the meat from inside the leathery tubing. Whilst they do look pretty frightening, once clean and prepared they look more like a squid tentacle and have a similar sort of chewy texture and rich briny flavour to them – I can certainly see why people would go to such efforts to harvest them.
The cured black pork was also delicious and I loved the peppery local olive oil they were served with as well, we bought several bottles of the olive oil to take home with us intact as we liked it so much. I also tried one of the empanadinas you can see in the image below made from “Alheira” as I was intrigued as to what this mystery ingredient might be.
The story behind “Alheira”, I was later to discover, is actually really interesting to a food geek like me! Dating back to the Portuguese inquisition, they were invented by the Jewish community as a way to conceal the fact that they were still unwilling to eat pork. Using chicken or kosher game meat, they were able to make realistic looking sausages that could be hung up in their windows and kitchens in order to give the appearance that they were eating pork and to help divert suspicions that they had not truly converted to Christianity.
I absolutely adore gin and tonic, but for some reason it is almost impossible to get a good one in Singapore or Bangkok. Gin has apparently been the latest spirit craze in Portugal and I spotted several stand alone gin bars like “Gin Corner” at the Mercado de Ourique over the course of our holiday, so naturally I was keen to check it out! I liked the sound of the lime zest and parsley garnish with London Hill gin and was really impressed with how it was made; from the oversize glass, to the good quantity of ice (allowing it to chill without diluting) the generous serving of gin and the garnish of lime zest and parsley made it really refreshing – perfect for a hot sunny day, even if my parents were a little surprised to see me on the spirits so early!
The Mercado de Ourique is on Rua Coelho Da Rocha on the 25E or 28E tram from Alfama. It is open daily from 10am until 11pm, extending through ’til 1am Thursday – Saturday when it plays host to live bands and dj’s making it a popular pre club spot with locals.