I used to say, “I only go on tours when I am the tour guide.” Certainly a bold statement, but as a former tour guide and full-time traveller, I have been on hundreds of tours in dozens of countries, some of them disappointing. On my early days, I heard a Belizean tour guide in his early forties say to a mainly North America crowd, “The country of Belize is as big as the island of Wales.” I nearly asked, “Which one?” Unfortunately, that would be the first of many times I would hear a tour guide providing inaccurate information.
So with my fingers crossed, I arranged a tour with Filipa Valente, a foodie brought up in the big city and the founder of Taste of Lisboa. At the time, I had been writing about Portugal and as a native, a writer and a lover of the Portuguese gastronomy, I felt curious and compelled to learn what visitors experience when they visit Lisbon. And I dragged my non-Portuguese boyfriend along with me.
We met Filipa in the Largo de Sao Domingos, ready for the Downtown-Mouraria tour. It was described in the Taste of Lisboa website as a three and half hour “entertaining food and cultural walking tour that takes you off the beaten track to get a unique glimpse of the fascinating historical and ancient Lisbon.” I wanted to know what that meant and it turned out finding the meaning of these words was an enjoyable experience from the start.
Filipa welcomed all her guests with warmth and explained thoroughly what was going to happen during the tour. She encouraged us to introduce ourselves to each other and to learn each others’ names before leaving the square. It didn’t take us to find out that Taste of Lisboa’s motto – Real people, Real food – couldn’t be better suited.
We followed Filipa through the cobblestones, up steep stone steps, through the narrow streets where the fado singer and brothel worker Severa used to spend her days. As we walked, we visited several types of businesses, including a Bacalhoaria (a shop specialised in selling cod), a small typical restaurant – the kind where I could easily picture my father, a typical Portuguese man with a moustache sitting down – and modern restaurants with new products designed to open visitor’s gastronomic horizons.
In every stop, Filipa had something new and interesting to share, the history of the origin of the alheiras (poultry sausages) and the early days of the Ginginha. We learnt about the black ham question, a question of difference of opinion between the Portuguese and the Spanish regarding the ownership of the delicious black ham and fun facts about the gastronomic habits of the Portuguese.
While it is true, a well-prepared traveler could have a cheaper experience wondering the streets of Lisbon, the historical knowledge, cultural information, post-tour tips given to the group and individually were invaluable making this one of the best tours I’ve been for a long time. History, food, and curiosities walked side by side during the tour.
In other words, get close to Taste of Lisbon, but stay away from chile sacana.
Featured image CC by Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder
Photos by Sandra Guedes.