Hotel Tivoli in Lisbon serves a breakfast that feels more like a mid 19th century luncheon; Long plates of cheese, cured meats, sausages, waffles, endless amounts of fruit, sugary plums, croissants, and smoked salmon with capers. After I finish doing what I can only describe as “loading up on cheese” I feel ready to start my day. Before I leave the breakfast lounge, though, there is somebody that I must see. There is a person in the room with whom I feel a strong, cosmic connection, and I have been eyeing him up all morning trying to figure out how to express my gratitude for his service. He is the omelette chef. This stoic, prison guard of a cook stands solemnly in front of his station like he mourns the mere concept of eggs. He is a sad man who lives to serve you. You see, breaking each egg breaks his heart. He is affected by everything and nothing. Even the tall, ridiculous looking chef’s hat can’t hide the sadness behind his eyes. Looking at him, it brings back memories. I used to flip omelettes at a country club on Saturdays and Sundays, and I remember standing that still, like a lone tree in a cleared woods, waiting for dentists, lawyers, and local elites to decide what the fuck they want in their omelette. This man has my respect, even though truth be told, I’m not crazy about American omelettes. They’re always a lot of bell peppers (nothing but water content), bacon bits, ham cubes, and shredded cheese - stuff that comes in Value packs or on those eerily shiny menus at Denny’s. This omelette chef did have chives, though, and with his golem hands he made me the perfect French omelette (soft, still a little gooey inside). I was impressed. I took my omelette, wept for a moment while holding his hand, then went on my way.
Lisbon is amazing during the day. I probably walked 10 miles today just getting lost down little alleyways and streets. It’s touristy (people constantly trying to sell me cocaine), and yet not overrun by Americans yet. Actually, an elderly American woman completely butchered “thank you” to me in Portuguese. A friend pointed out that this went to my head, and she’s not wrong. As a white man all you ever want is someone to go “hmmm are you sure you’re white?!” and somebody mistaking me for a Portuguese local is a huge boost to my ego. I am tan, and therefore, of worth.
Can the Can was overrated
So far the best restaurants i’ve been to have all come from personal recommendations (shout out to Karl Hess and Sarah from Loupiotte). However, an article for Eater suggested Can the Can, and I had a feeling early on that it was going to be lacking in quality. Still, I was drawn to the anchovy hamburger, which was fine but nothing special. A mistake. I’m also a little upset that Eater told me I couldn’t write about Portugal because I’m a tourist, meanwhile whoever-the-fuck made this list of Essential Portuguese restaurants put this place that does an anchovy hamburger with bland steak frites and body-less homemade ketchup. This also proves a great point - yes you should be reading about where to go, but also pull some contacts. Ask around. Honest to god, you probably know somebody in Portugal. Ask them where they eat. That’s been the best food I’ve had so far.
Also, I have seen tons of signs for Italian restaurants. Crazy. Italian food truly took over the world in a hurry. No cuisine is more ubiquitous across the world, right? I have written in the past about chefs’ disdain for the food of the Italians, and seeing the number of Italian estaurants in Portugal also confirms that attitude. People love mediocre pasta, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, society’s culpability in its success seems to be a sore spot for many.
Pastel de nata are worth the hype. I had been subconsciously avoiding them because they’re so common in Lisbon, but damn they’re good. Admittedly, I was very drunk when I decided to purchase one. You see, I had been stumbling around random alleys for hours, shooting off in different directions based on random impulses before I suddenly made a b-line for some pastries. So, I don’t exactly remember the name of the cafe. It’s actually probably right underneath the pastel in the picture, but alas I can’t move it now. First of all, It’s like 1 € for a pastel. That’s cheap. They’re like donuts here. I wasn’t crazy unfamiliar with pastel de natas, as there’s a few Portuguese restaurants in Los Angeles that serve them, however they are nowhere near Hollywood. One is in Sherman Oaks and the other is in Artesia, called Portuguese Imports, which I wrote about here. The pastel at Portuguese Imports is good but the quality of everything is just heightened so much more in Lisbon. The custard is rich and gooey, and the nutty, browned sugar plays a key role as well. Truly a delight. There is some extra care that I can’t quite put my finger on, although you would definitely be hard pressed to find a pastel de nata that wasn’t good. By far the best thing I’ve eaten on this trip yet.
I haven’t spent much time with the other people going on the Viking cruise, but I imagine that will happen tomorrow when we take a shuttle to Porto (with a stop in Coimbra) to board our Viking Helgrim ship.