They are as simple as it gets – yet some of Lisbon’s tascas can be the perfect place to rub shoulders with locals. Some of them are known for their hearty meals, while others focus on serving drinks or genuine fado performances. PDV has chosen those we believe could be the perfect gateway to Lisbon’s traditional culture.
With none of the pomp and circumstance of a restaurant or the sophistication of some pastelarias or cafés, the tasca is Portugal’s equivalent of a pub serving simple food. Generally unassuming and informal, tascas are simply furnished eateries, often with the inescapable TV in the background showing a football match. A part of the daily life of the average Portuguese, it’s the perfect place to have a beer and catch up with friends at the end of the day. There are, however, many types of tascas, and the word is often used colloquially to refer to any type of simple, no-frills establishment that serves hearty food and drinks. These can range from the very plain and small tavern-like place with a metal bar, dim fluorescent lights and formica tables, to those aiming at a slightly higher degree of sophistication by offering some speciality such as regional food or fado singing.
Where fado and ginjinha are king
Tasca do Jaime, in Lisbon’s old hilltop neighbourhood of Graça, has focused on fado. This tasca has been one of the most popular places to listen to amateur fado in Lisbon since it opened 22 years ago. The small, well-kept place has been enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the enthusiasm of its owner Senhor Jaime and the affability of Dona Laura, his wife. An obligatory stop for lovers of fado, this tasca is guaranteed to win you over thanks to its menu, regardless of your musical tastes. Snacking on something while sitting at one of the (few) available tables on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when fado performances take place, will avoid you Dona Laura’s famous glare, directed at those who occupy a table and only ask for a glass of water. Pastéis de bacalhau (deep-fried codfish cakes with potato, egg, onion and parsley) are always a good choice.
However, fado in Lisbon is always synonymous with Tasca do Chico, one of the few more traditional places where fado vadio (literally, vagrant fado – the rough, amateur version of the popular genre) is sung, in the bohemian nightlife district of Bairro Alto. The walls are lined with photographs and newspaper cuttings bearing witness to many famous people who have visited the establishment, while the few tables are often crowded, popular with young people during weekends. Fado performances take place every Monday and Wednesday.
Also very popular is A Baiuca, located in Alfama, Lisbon’s former Moorish quarter. The unpretentiousness of the place is already described in its name, as baiuca means a very low class of establishment. A very small room with a few old tables, this tasca is better known for being a fado venue than a restaurant, being one of the most picturesque places to listen to fado vadio. Beware of the compulsory minimum consumption required of customers. The owner and founder of A Baiuca, Henrique Gascon, also stresses that silence must be strictly observed during a fado performance.
In the same neigbourhood there is an abundance of tascas mostly frequented by locals, such as Tasquinha Ginja d’Alfama, a small place in one of the narrow streets of Alfama, Rua de São Pedro. The ginjinha, a sweet cherry liqueur loved by Lisboans, is its main calling card, but other quintessential staples served at tascas can also be found here: beer, pastéis de bacalhau and the traditional bifana (steak roll), and prego (pork roll), usually eaten with a dollop of mustard or mayonnaise.
Hearty food & beer in Lisbon’s baixa
Leaving Alfama behind and heading down towards the baixa, one can find several tascas and small restaurants. Adega dos Lombinhos is one of them. This is a small and discreet eatery in the heart of the city’s central business district, located on a side street mostly filled with restaurants which are well known for being tourist traps. The lombinhos - pork tenderloin -, are the main dish in this tasca, accompanied with generous serves of “chips, bread and rice“, according to Eduardo Amorim, who runs the place. Nothing more, nothing less. Red wine is only served directly from the small barrels and, as Amorim is keen to stress, “in a bottle, only vinho verde“. They serve pastéis de bacalhau, the perfect accompaniment to the inevitable imperial (as draught beer is colloquially known in central and southern Portugal) and, unlike any other place in Portugal, they do not serve coffee. And yet, despite the tasca‘s peculiarities, it is a world-famous establishment, Amorim reveals, proudly showing letters from former customers sent from all corners of the world and even a Japanese guidebook where the Adega features among the top choices for Lisbon.
More upscale and an essential place to go for a beer at the counter, A Palmeira – Rua do Crucifixo, 71-73, right next to the baixa exit of the Baixa-Chiado metro station – still serves good Portuguese meals while also serving quick snacks with beer or wine. The large wooden counter is an obligatory stop for many to drink an imperial or a glass of the house wine – directly from the barrel – with a small portion of complementary tremoços (pickled lupin beans) or chips. For something a little more substantial to snack at the counter, A Palmeira also serves roasted sausage or chouriço, and moelas (chicken gizzards). At the end of a corridor, the place also has a dining room – we guarantee the TV will be tuned in on the football – where they serve hearty, no-frills meals, which consist mainly of bacalhau or meat dishes.