Editorial Note: This is a guest post by Marisa Dias Antunes, a Portuguese native who was kind enough to share a very unique perspective on the traditional Portuguese drink, Ginja. An additional thanks to Sonia Nolasco for her translation.
If someone asked you: “do you want ginjinha with or without ‘them’,” what would be your first thought? Mind you, this question would seem less odd if you dived into the world of ginja, where one can savor this bright red viscous liquid “with” the two cherries it’s made, as dictates the Portuguese tradition, or without. When entering this very unique world, chances are that you’ll be encouraged to pair your ginja (ginginha) with chocolate. In Obidos, it’s even served in a decadent mini chocolate mug. It’s delightful, but for this native, the pairing I crave most often is with sardines!
Made from ginja berries, aguardente, sugar and a little bit of salt, it is one of the most appreciated liqueurs in Portugal and plays a significant role amid the narrow streets in-and-around São Jorge Castle, Bairro Alto, Chiado, Rossio, Restauradores, Alfama and Madragoa during the summer months in Lisbon. I would even dare say that during the summer season, Lisbon’s perfume is of sardines and ginja. Strolling the cobblestoned streets of Lisbon, one can embark on a bittersweet journey—actually a more bitter than sweet, as the tasty sardine will highlight the sour in the ginjinha.
There will be dozens of restaurants and tents where you can partake in this most peculiar pairing. All you’ll need is to discover your desired locale and order this pairing to send your taste buds into new off the chart territories, relishing the combo of a velvety ginja and a well-charred sardine.
Don’t feel intimidated if the locals stare at you bewildered; they’re used to the traditional way of drinking ginja, which is in between or after meals. But, the new generation is coming up with new and inventive ways of drinking it. For some restaurants, in the historic center of Lisbon, “with or without them,” may no longer only mean if you want the fruit at the bottom of your cup—it may very well signify the pairing of ginja with a good, fatty and salty sardine. And believe me, if you’re in Lisbon during the summer, you won’t want to miss this flavorful adventure.