This cheap concoction from Portugal tastes like prune juice with a kick

Travel News from Stuff - 18-12-2023
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I sipped my first shot of ginjinha (ginja for short) in a small, standing-room only tavern in Lisbon. We’d chanced upon the place while scouring the cobbled streets of the Bairro Alto district looking for a dinner spot. It was . A mournful, desolate and hauntingly beautiful sound accompanied by the trill of a Portuguese guitar.

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The dimly-lit room was packed to the brim with tables and chairs, elbows and knees knocking about. In the corner, stood a tall, dark-haired man with a microphone. He was accompanied by another, seated with his guitar. It was intimate, like we'd stumbled onto a private performance in someone’s living room.

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The man’s voice was strong, clear, and commanding, then faltered and broke. The emotion was palpable, almost awkward. We didn’t understand the words, but minutes felt like hours and as the last chord was struck, the room erupted into applause. Afterwards, shots of ginjinha were passed around, like much-needed sustenance after a cathartic experience.

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It tastes a bit like prune juice, but with a kick. Don't let that description put you off though, it's delicious. Sweet, a bit tart and wholly addictive.

The Portuguese liqueur dates back to the 19th century and its invention is credited to a local Galician friar. It’s made from sour Morello cherries soaked in a Portuguese brandy known as aguardente, and infused with lots of sugar, cinnamon and cloves. A heady concoction.

You can order it ‘com elas’ (with a cherry) or ‘sem elas’ (without). If you order it with, it’s customary to suck on the sour cherry and spit the pit out onto the floor (I elected to discretely drop mine back into the glass). The sticky bar floor was evidence this was a popular choice.

You’ll find the iconic liqueur in restaurants, but most famously in tiny, hole-in-the-wall bars, where you line up at the window to order your shot and sip it on the street amongst a crowd of tourists and locals. It’s a social drink, best had when making new friends.

A ginjinha, near Rossio Square is across the street from the church where ginjinha was reportedly invented. It got a tick from the late Anthony Bourdain who sampled the liquor in an episode of No Reservations. It’ll set you back approximately €1.50 (NZ$2.63).

It’s not traditional, but if you're lucky, you can find a bar that serves a shot of the ruby red liqueur in a chocolate cup. Saude!

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