When last week I was telling a friend I was meeting Lazy Flavors for a gastronomic experience in Lisbon, her first comment was “lazy? That’s so you!” Out of context, I would have felt offended, but this kind of laziness IS so me. I usually have a love/hate relationship with tours. Just the name “tours” has me thinking of all sorts of bad things: the rush, the poor content, the painful lack of empathy from the guide. Still, I never say no to trying new things at least once. It’s a bit like taking a swim in a beach you’re not familiar with: you won’t know if the water is warm or cold until you dip your toe in.
I’m not a skilled cook but I’m a skilled eater, so when I read the snippet of the About Fish experience I was intrigued, to say the least. Me? Preparing a fish? I was skeptical but willing to give it a go.
The Meeting Point
Praça do Príncipe Real, 10 a.m., in front of Quiosque de Refresco. Sounds like a friend messaging another friend to meet up for coffee, doesn’t it? That’s the spirit. Verónica and Mariana not only meet you and take you to the starting point; they welcome you, they talk to you about what is going to happen, they take the time to explain you the meeting point and its surroundings — it’s more than a geographical convenience, Príncipe Real has become one of the foodies go-to in Lisbon, combining great outdoors with beautiful architecture, and, of course, amazing restaurants. As we walk down Rua de São Marçal towards Praça das Flores we talk about the city, what it means to be passionate about Lisbon and how we never stop telling people about the hidden gems and corners that truly are what makes up its enchantment. It’s a cool Autumn morning, the breeze is light and the pace is unhurried. The group is small and intimate (even though we just met) and we take in the sounds, the smells and the views of our surroundings. The city always talks to you (a light mellow whisper to be frank), you just have to listen.
The First Stop: Peixaria Centenária
As we reach the Praça das Flores the ambiance feels secluded, almost secretive, I can even add girlish — in the sense that Lisbon is a lady. We look inside the Peixaria, a long and narrow space, and color starts popping: the turquoise tiles of the wall to our right, the glistening bright fish in the middle, the vegetables and olive oil bottles to our left, the crisp white ceiling with a classic plaster decoration in the middle. Among all the ice and freshness all we feel is warmth and a sense of familiar — not familiar in the sense of deja vu, not familiar in the sense of genetics, familiar in the sense of comfort. You would now say “that’s because you’re on a tour”. It is not. Every single customer that walks in (regular, first timer or occasional passer-by) is greeted with the same dedication.
The shop is owned by Filipe, Joana, and Rui who come from a long lineage of experienced fishmongers. Tânia is the vibrant and fresh fishmonger who, together with Filipe, assisted the group on our fish masterclass. As they teach us the characteristics of fresh fish and what high-quality looks and feels like (the redness of the gills, the brightness of the eyes, the firmness of the flesh), not only you immediately feel their knowledge, you grasp something that is utterly important in this business: they are reliable. While we were learning to prepare our gilt head bream (a fish with a very strong presence in the Portuguese cuisine), customers came in and never for a moment I felt a lack of attention from our (very patient) instructors, nor I felt the customers were being neglected.
I’d love to tell you I turned my fish into beautiful seamless fillets, but let’s just say that the final look doesn’t make any justice to the respect I feel for Portuguese products and how they matter to our culture and cuisine. Nevertheless, I believe the continual support of Filipe and Tânia helped to salvage some of it.
The Detour: Quiosque de Refresco
Across the shop, at a corner of the Praça das Flores, a smaller Quiosque de Refresco with its top painted lavender. While at the nearby DeCastro restaurant Chef Gonçalo Ribeiro creates a wonderful dish with the fish we just prepared, we gather around the small 1800’s restored kiosk. The Portuguese do this a lot: we gather. We don’t need a motive. We just crave each other’s company and we find any pretext to start a conversation. Maybe it’s our need for assembly allied to a great weather throughout most of the year that leads us to sit outside a cafe or a kiosk like this — all it takes is a sidewalk just wide enough to accommodate a couple of chairs and tables.
These bright colored kiosks (the one in Principe Real is a vibrant raspberry red) take you on a time travel bringing back the old times refreshments produced by Sabores de Santa Clara: a layer of thick syrup in the bottom of a glass to which you add cold water (sparkling or mineral), a few ice cubes and stir it. We tasted the gooseberry, the Gorreana green tea and the thyme – lemon, sitting around the iron table painted in the same color as the kiosk and assessing how these little stoppage moments are such a constant in the Portuguese way of life, around an espresso, around a chilled beer or a glass of wine or these newly found refreshments, around a meal or a quick snack.
The Final Stop: Restaurant deCastro
Not only it was the perfect ending for an experience like this, we were also eager to find out what the Chef Gonçalo Ribeiro was creating with the fish we had just handed to him a few minutes earlier. As the time slowly passed (and we lost track of it), and while the suspense to experience the main course rose, we were embodying the most familiar and idiosyncratic of the Portuguese traditions: a conversation over the table accompanied by food and wine.
The ingredients were very close to home (the codfish, the green beans, the sausage, the beef) but there was a lightness to them and a refreshing sense of novelty that surprised us at every bite. Here there is a respect and passion for the Portuguese ingredients, not overpowered by exotic seasonings, nor carelessly and exaggeratedly deconstructed into courses we couldn’t recognize as Portuguese cuisine.
The result in taste is just as crisp and as authentic as the house wines blended by the Chef Miguel Castro e Silva and the environment is everything but stiff and presumptuous.
As the conversation and the tasting lingered, Chef Gonçalo Ribeiro approached our table to finally reveal his creation. One side of me was slightly embarrassed with my poor fishmonger skills and the other side of me was truly impressed with his adventurous sense of creativity. Yes. Adventurous. I believe the least of the problems here is to know what fish you will get to cook. Still, the Chef was kind enough to hold back on any critiques and embrace the experience with a candid sense of humor.
About the experience
At Tripper, I believe it is fundamental that I fully disclose on which experiences I decided to take and share with readers. Because I believe that the memory of a country’s culture is a better souvenir than an overpriced fridge magnet or a low-quality keychain or a heartless collection of landmark pictures, I choose my recommendations carefully and thoroughly. I will never write about something I don’t feel passionate about and I will never recommend any experience that has been negative or hasn’t lived up to my expectations.
Lazy Flavors appealed to me from the very start, for its concept, its vision and their down-to-earth approach that I admire. I accepted their invitation to attend the About Fish experience and my review is independent and purely based on my very positive experience.
How To Book Your Favorite Experience
To know more about this and other experiences around the Portuguese gastronomy check the Lazy Flavors website here. To stay up to date with all the news and pictures of recent events follow them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.