As I wrote in my last blog posting, in Lisbon we discovered a “stunning market-cum-restaurant that other cities should copy immediately.” Today I’ll serve it up.
On a Saturday morning, my wife Jan and I had hired a guide with a three-wheeled vehicle to drive us up and down through hilly old Lisbon, checking out churches, street markets, and look-out points. Like this, for instance:
Sometime before noon, he dropped us off at the market that friends had recommended — the Mercado de Ribeira (or Mercado 24 de Julho, if you prefer), which is Lisbon’s main market and is located in the centre of the city, on the riverfront.
Our guide explained that when we entered the main door, we could turn to our right for the traditional market, and then proceed to the other half of the building for the Food Court. And off we went.
The traditional market — fruit, vegetables, seafood and so on — was immense, and loaded with goodies. Here’s an overall view:
And here’s Jan near the end of one of the rows:
Since Lisbon is Seafood City, naturally there were several stalls offering fresh fish, like this:
And then shrimp, of course:
But for us, of course, the main event was the Food Court, and it didn’t take us long to get there. And what an amazing place it is — have a look:
What amazed both of us was the quality of the place — the wooden tables and chairs were solid and clean and well-made; the food stalls around the perimeter of the court were well marked, with bold and modern typography on their signs, and there were wine bars and cocktail bars down the centre of the court. (I can imagine how a place like this could be a disaster in many cities — with cheap plastic furniture and a mish-mash of signs, like most of the airport food courts you’ve probably seen.)
Since we were there before noon, when things were just getting going, we had time to be served a glass of wine by a polite young man at this wine bar, who then gave us some good advice about how and where to order food:
Choosing what to eat is the hard part here — many of Lisbon’s top chefs have mini-restaurants around the Food Court, offering all sorts of goodies. But ordering is easy: Once you’ve decided what you want, you pay for it, and then are given an electronic device that will signal you when your food is ready to be picked up. Here’s the device I was given:
And here’s what I got for nine and a half euros — a plate of absolutely delicious, perfectly tender, crispy-skinned pork belly pieces, accompanied by a pea purée and charred bok choy. Wonderful:
Seafood-loving Jan had two dishes — a single giant shrimp that cost 12 and a half euros (yikes!) but was worth it (yes, I got a taste) and this seafood salad, which she loved:
So, what’s the secret of this place? Once we returned to Daglan, I did some Internet searching and learned that the traditional market had been running for years and years — but that the Food Court was opened in May 2014, when the management of Time Out Lisbon magazine bought the place. Aha! It was as I suspected — it takes strong management, with a commitment to quality, to make a place like this work.
Aside from the food and wine, by the way, we had a lot of fun. Our table-mates kept changing as the lunch proceeded, and eventually we got into quite a good discussion with (on my side of the table) a mature English woman who is a textile designer and whose charming daughter is a designer for Aquascutum, and then (on Jan’s side of the table) two young Japanese women who turned out to be bankers — and who (naturally) had to take photos of all of us. (At one point, I told them that Jan was Lady Gaga, which made them laugh, and caused one of them to start humming a Lady Gaga tune. Very cute.)
Finally, a few tips, if you ever get to this place:
Don’t go solo. If you can, go with at least one other person, so that you can take turns ordering and picking up your food, without losing your place at the table.
Don’t go late. Because we arrived early (before noon), we had lots of time to look around, and lots of choice for a place to sit. Later on, the place gets quite busy, like this:
Jan and I had the same reaction: If it’s this busy on a Saturday afternoon in February, what in the world would it be like in July or August?
Finally, I’m not suggesting that you travel all the way to Lisbon from wherever you are just to eat in this market. But if you are planning a business or pleasure trip to Lisbon, be sure not to miss this.