As we are preparing for landing at Lisbon’s airport, we are approaching and passing over the city. And as it is already dark, the estuary of the Tagus River is a black spot underneath us with just two bridges – the 17 km long Vasco da Gama and the shorter, but no less unique with its architecture 25 of April cutting through the darkness like garlands made of light. We fly next to the monument of Christ the King with open arms that resembles the big statue in Rio de Janeiro. I can almost distinguish its features. The statue was built in 1959 as a memorial of thanksgiving to God for Portugal’s being spared the horrors and destruction of the war. Maybe Portugal was spared during the war; however, Nature did not do it any favors. In 1755, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck followed by three tsunamis and a fire, which destroyed 85% of the city, and about 1/3 of its population or around 90 000 people lost their lives. The aim to find the reasons for the disaster is also the beginning of modern seismology. Many of the buildings still keep the markings where the water reached during the flooding, and they are so high up that one can still feel chills of horror running up and down. Despite the devastation, the city was rebuilt in just a few years. Unfortunately, many castles and works of art of Titian, Rubens and Correggio, notes from the voyages of Vasco da Gama and other early navigators, as well as the entire Royal Archive were lost forever.
Lisbon is one of my favorite capitals of Europe. The atmosphere of the steep streets, the bright yellow old-fashioned trams, the peeling facades and the colorful tiles covering the houses in Alfama are unique. And how about the traffic? The bus drivers drive like it is their last day on Earth tires screeching, and truth be told, it is amazing how the crazy pedestrians do not get run over all the time, as they too, think of the red light and the walkway as something symbolic. They cross over the streets where and when they consider it convenient and the only time they hurry up is when the incoming speeding bus has no intention of slowing down. And I thought we, Bulgarians, lacked in discipline!
Then, why do I love this city so much? For the colors. For the fado. For the roasted chestnuts on the streets. For the amazing seafood. For the history. For the sights from the top of Alfama towards the Tagus River. For the sun that shines almost 365 days per year. For the casual style of the people. For the wine.
A popular legend says that Lisbon was founded by the mythical hero Ulysses when he travelled to the western end of the world. In Latin, the name of the city was Ulyssippo, later Olissipo. Other sources claim that the city dates back to the Phoenicians and the name is derived from the words for “safe harbor” – Alis-Ubo. Whichever is closer to the truth, we do know that the place was inhabited still during the Neolithic period when people were building megaliths – dolmens and menhirs that can still be seen today in the periphery of Lisbon. The many discovered artifacts prove that the trade with the Phoenicians was substantial, and the wide estuary of the Tagus before the river joins the Atlantic Ocean was a safe harbor for their ships. After Hannibal lost in the Punic wars to Rome, the Empire took away from the Carthaginians their hold over the Iberian Peninsula with Olissipo forming part of the Roman Province of Lusitania. Thus, Christianity reached the westernmost part of Europe. However, similar to Spain, the presence of the Islamic Moors from the 8th century displaced it for centuries to come. In Lisbon’s oldest district – Alfama – that survived by miracle during the devastating earthquake of 1755; one can still feel the Arabic influence. The name itself comes from “al-hamma”, which means hot baths. Only during the crusades, and specifically the so called Reconquista, the Norwegian crusaders managed to banish the invaders and to return Lisbon to Christianity.
In the Age of Discovery, Portugal, before anyone else, started exploring the African coast. The son of the king, Prince Henry the Navigator, dreaming of reaching far and unknown lands, started it all. He was followed by Vasco da Gama, Pedro Cabral, and Ferdinand Magellan. Opposite the Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, close to the 25 of April Bridge is the monument to the discoveries in memory of the great men who changed the map of the World. When you are there, you must also visit the Tower of Belem, which was built in show of the self-esteem and richness of Portugal in those times. And after you had spend some time at the river enjoying the view of the bridge that is an exact replica of the one in San Francisco, head straight to the famous since 1837 bakery Pastéis de Belém and get in the long queue in order to try the one and only Pastel de Belem. Only 5 people in the world know the recipe and they never take the same plane when traveling. All over the city you can try the Pastel de Nata but only in the Belem District, in the almost 200-year old bakery, you can try the original. And in the evening you might want to head to the Districts of Bairro Alto, Chiado or Baixa, but I would recommend Alfama with the ceramic tiles on the facades. Hop on the tram; sit in some of the cozy restaurants, listen to some fado, try a traditional dish and toast with a Portuguese wine. Whichever you go for, you will have chosen wisely. And then you can cry on the plane on your way back home.
And since I am not one of the 5 chosen ones, entrusted with the Pastel de Belem recipe, today I have prepared another recipe, but I am certain that you will not regret it. I would not have tried it myself if not for my dear friends, Vanya and Plamen. Thank you!
For the sandwich
– 2 slices of bread
– 2 sausages, grilled and each cut into four pieces
– 2 slices smoked ham
– 3 slices of your favourite cheese (if you can go for a Portuguese one)
– 6 mm thick grilled beef steak
For the sauce:
– ¼ cup milk
– 1 tablespoon corn starch
– 30 ml beer
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons tomato paste
– ¼ cup Port wine
– 1 cube beef stock
– 1 bay leaf
– salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 175C. In a small bowl, dissolve the corn starch in 2 tablespoons of the milk and stir well. In a sauce pan melt the butter on medium low heat. Add in the tomato paste and stir well. Pour in the rest of the milk, beer, Port, and add in the bay leaf and beef stock cube. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.Turn off the heat and discard the bay leaf. Stir the corn starch and milk mixture again and add it to the sauce, stirring well. Set aside.
Assemble the sandwich by placing a slice of cheese and one slice of bread on top of it on an oven safe dish. Lay another slice of cheese on the bread and then layer a slice of ham, four pieces of sausage, steak, the last four pieces of sausage and top it with the other slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Lay the other slice of bread on top and top with cheese. Secure the sandwich with toothpicks if you like.Pour the sauce on top of the sandwich and place the dish into the preheated oven and allow the cheese to melt, about 5-10 minutes.