Boa-Bao: The Cantonese Cantina That’s Spicing Up Lisboa

A trip through South East Asia without leaving the center of Lisbon? That’s right, Boa-Bao is here to take you on a tour of the culinary variety, and you don’t have to print your boarding pass…they’ve already done it for you.

This charming Cantonese cantina is built on tradition; the kitchen uses typical ingredients that you won’t find in the grocery shops in Martim Moniz or even in the storage closets of the clandestine restaurants sprinkled around them. Unlike the dingy ambiance of these restaurants, Boa-Bao’s interior recreates the feel of a 1920s Saigon market from its main room and adjoining patio to the counter at the bar.

The real draw of this spot in Chiado is the menus, which were compiled by an American / Dutch couple and seasoned by a Belgian chef. Start by sifting through the cocktail “passport” and choose from their impressive list of drinks including the Old Thoughts served in a cheeky ceramic monkey head under a burning chunk of bark. If you’re trying to stay away from the hard stuff, there’s also an impressive selection of Asian beers.

Use the restaurant’s “itinerary” to continue your adventure through street food staples from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Nepal, and China. Forget fusions, reinventions, and concepts; Boa Bao’s kitchen uses only authentic recipes and original ingredients in the things that they create. When it comes to dim sum, Vietnamese rolls, Taiwanese “bao” buns, glass noodle soups, curries, and wonderful woks, why f— with being creative? The flavor speaks for itself.

Last but not least, check out their desserts. The coconut “crème brûlée” for lack of a better title, is made with coconut, Thai basil, and lemongrass and lightly caramelized with a torch on top. If it’s date night, this sweet concoction will certainly get you both in the mood to be cozy and horizontal.

We had lunch with the brains of the operation and here’s what the founders Gregg, Nathalie, and Chris had to say about how they came to create their cantina. Of course, Nathalie did the talking.

What got you interested in Cantonese cuisine?
At Boa-Bao our concept is Pan Asian cuisine. Since all three of us partners have traveled and lived in several places in Asia throughout our lives, it became an integral part of our history. So that’s where the passion came from and our deep interest and love for Asian cuisine.

How and where along your travels did you meet your partners?
We all got to know each other in Belgium where we all lived in the past few years and found that we shared the same interests and future dreams. It was always in our plans to move to a sunny and warm country and that’s what lead us to start this venture together.

Chef Martim, Baktha, and Surendra

Why did you decide Lisbon was the right place for this endeavor?
We decided that Portugal was the place to start because we had all known Portugal for a long time and really liked the country. We have family and friends living here, which automatically created a sense of home. We also realized that Portugal would be a great market for our concept as Asian cuisine wasn’t something that hadn’t been explored yet in the city.

Ultimately, we didn’t decide on a city, we decided on a country. The next step was finding the right spot to start. We looked for the “right” place in Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve and found the first suitable spot in Lisbon. So, Lisbon became our starting point and we opened Boa-Bao on the 25th of March of this year.

Were there any stories/headaches/successes with founding the restaurant and building the space you would like to share?
Honestly? There are too many stories to share! The truth is it took us a very long time to find the right place and naturally starting a business always implies a lot of work with a lot of challenges along the way, but the moment we found the right space and started the construction, everything went very fast and really well. We worked with great people and we were also very lucky to find great staff.

Each day there is another challenge, but no matter what comes our way, we keep on working hard together as a team to maintain the success that the place has been. So, teamwork is the key!

If you could pick one dish from the menu that summarises your experience so far, which would it be and why?
All the flavors that build up our menu define our concept and represent us, but if we had to choose just one or two that summarize our experience – spicy, fresh, beautiful – it would be Tom Yang Kung, (definitely a dish we would highlight due to its complex flavours, spiciness, and beautiful aromas) and our calamari and black tiger shrimp with glass noodles (due to its fresh flavours of lime leaf, lemongrass, galangal, and garlic).

Want to eat like Atlas? Here’s what we tried:
Cocktail: Old Thoughts
Starters: Vegetarian dim sum assortment
Fried sun-dried beef strips Isaan-style
Sesame, prawn, and pork toast
Mains: Malaysian curry soup with seafood and egg noodles
Japchae Korean sweet potato noodle stir fry with beef
Steamed sea bass with lime, chili, garlic, and bokchoy
Desserts: Coconut crème brûlée with basil and lemongrass
Chocolate and ginger mousse
Photos by João Frazão for Boa-Bao.
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