A blend of tradition and innovation
During my three day layover in Lisbon, I went on a gastronomical adventure. Lisbon’s culinary culture doesn’t have an “out with the old, in with the new” mentality. Many places I’ve eaten easily forget their roots, trying so hard to create extravagant, novel, overzealous dishes. Personally, I believe they should focus on the foods people love and modernize them. Well, Lisbon leads by example on that front. My tasting experience went from the traditional side of the scale, all the way to the top-of-the-top of the scale. First, we begin with tradition.
Dubbed the “best seafood in town” by Eater as well as several locals I chatted with, I had to see it for myself. I knew I was in the right place – from the loud guests, the old waiters, and a constant clacking of forks, knives, and little rubber hammers for cracking shells… this is the definition of authenticity. The guy holding the leg of jamon proves it.
I asked the gentleman which dish he recommends. He told me which are popular, but not recommended. It turns out the popular dishes are easy to eat. If you want something truly delicious, it’s going to take work.
Of course, I go for his recommendations.
Percebes (in Spanish & Portuguese) are goose barnacles, which look like little baby dinosaur feet, the spider crab, and the jumbo shrimp.
As I was dining by myself as I usually do, I was receiving a lot of attention from the elder waiters. They were all staring at me as I inspected the first dish, having a hard time understanding how on God’s green earth I can consume these strange, wet, crusty barnacles. The waiter sees my struggle. Therefore, he quickly approaches, grabbing a barnacle, peeling it at lightning speed, and handing me what was leftover – a fallic, bizarre, pale and jiggly piece of seafood, instructing me to place it in between my teeth and pull it out (picture four 70-something-year-olds just waiting for the action.)
Once I did, I realized that this was nothing more than a clam (or something that tastes similar.) The joy in eating it is more-so for the fun rather than the taste. They were good, but there was so much build up that I was a bit surprised at the simplicity of the taste. As I slowly peel each barnacle, one by one, I hear a yell from behind the bar “put it in your mouth and suck!” Oh. My. Dear. Baby. Jesus.
Next, the spider crab.
The waiter really surprised me when he came up to the table with a crab, asking if it looks good. Eyeballing it, I nodded as I suckle on my barnacle. I nearly spit it out when I realized that the crab was ALIVE!
The crab came out a few minutes later, however served in a dish and ready to be eaten. Now THAT’S fresh. The pure simplicity and freshness of the food was what made it so delicious. There weren’t any fancy ingredients, or some posh presentation. The crab was served by itself, in it’s own juices, the meat flaky and white.
Last, but not least, my favorite…
The jumbo shrimp.
The waiter asked my permission to do something to the shrimp. Of course, I let him have his way with it. He sliced the head open horizontally, sticking a small spoon into it’s brain juices, telling me to open wide…
I love this guy.
I slurped up the brain juices, not thinking at all about how awkward the situation actually was. My taste buds had taken complete control over my body; I was too busy having an explosive food orgasm in my mouth.
Whew, that was intense! This really was some of the best, most fresh seafood I’ve ever tasted.
Now, we continue our food journey through Lisbon. Next stop, A Cevicheria.