Lisbon – drinking Ginjinha

Ginjinha is a liqueur made by infusing sour Morello cherries in aguardente and adding sugar and cinnamon. Ginja is the Portuguese word for the sour cherry itself, whereas ginjinha is the alcohol made from the fruit. However, both terms can be used to refer to the drink.

Ginjinha is considered to be the official drink of Lisbon, so a rite of passage for any foodie tourist is to drink a glass or two at one of the little hole-in-the-wall bars along and around Rua das Portas de Santo Antão.

The oldest one is Ginjinha Espinheira (aka A Ginjinha) at 8 Largo São Domingos, which dates from 1840.

When ordering you’ll be asked the question ‘Com ou sem elas?’ which means ‘With or without them?’ referring to the sour cherries themselves which are bobbing around in the bottle. For the best experience, always go for ‘with’ as it helps you get the full cherry flavour and contributes to the creamy sensation in the mouth. Just watch out for the stone. The small glasses only cost €1 but they should be sipped and appreciated rather than downed in one.

In addition to ginjinha, Ginjinha Espinheira also serves own-brand Capilé (a distillation of maidenhair ferns) and Bagaço (grape pomace brandy).

The second oldest shop, opened in 1890, is Ginjinha Sem Rival, just over the square at 7 Rua das Portas de Santo Antão.

The bar also sells Eduardino, a ginjinha-based liqueur made with anise. It’s named after its inventor, a professional clown who worked at the Coliseum concert hall just down the street.

There’s another old place with nice tiles called Ginjinha Rubi just around the corner at 27 Rua Barros Queirós. Just under the stairs to Rossio station, at 37a Calçada do Carmo, you can find a more modern spot called Ginginha do Carmo. All these bars are tiny so their customers will often spill out onto the pavement outside creating a party atmosphere on the street.

As I found out from a kindly saleslady at the airport duty free, the best ginjinha is made with fruit produced in the Óbidos region in Portugal. Ginja de Óbidos was awarded PGI status in 2013 and drinking it has become a national tradition.

In Obidos ginjinha is typically consumed chilled and served in a chocolate shot cup. Although they’re not a Lisboan tradition, you can buy the chocolate cups and a bottle in Baixa at the Manuel Tavares grocery store at 1a Rua da Betesga. However, as it’s a shop and not a bar, you wont be able to drink it on the spot.

Another spirit to look out for is Aguardente de Medronhos, a traditional fruit brandy made from arbutus berries.

You can find all these places on my Google map.

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