Good Hot Sauce
Portuguese piri piri sauce is wonderful for many things, but it’s just not that spicy. Tobasco is now widely available at most of the locations of Pingo Doce and Continente, but its uses are also a bit limited. For those of you who like to breathe fire once in awhile, check out the Chinese groceries on Rua Palma north of Martim Moniz, as well as the big store west of the plaza, for exciting hot sauces, including the infamous Sriracha and many others.
Glood stores carry British, West Indian, and African hot sauces in varying degrees of heat. And the big grocery store on the bottom of El Corte Inglês near Praça de Espanha often has a good selection too.
We’ve also fallen in love with two hot sauce makers carried sporadically by most big grocery stores in Portugal: Quinta da Avó, a brand of African hot sauces of amazing complexity and often spectacular heat (Africa Pura is our favorite), as well as Açores Gourmet. The Pimenta da Terra is our go-to when we need to drop a little hot sauce on fresh cheese, an Azorean specialty.
Rais forte is the Portuguese name, but good luck finding it — even if a Portuguese understands what you mean, they’ll likely show you wasabi, not horseradish. For the real thing, and not for that sauce thing people put in their salads or whatever, your options are limited.
El Corte Inglês sometimes carries German varieties, as do more and Jumbo stores, but the place in Lisbon that always has horseradish in stock is the chain of Russian stores MixMarkt (the big one is in Alvalade, at Av. do Brasil 90). In Cyrillic, horseradish reads “XPEN” — buy it, and bring a little to the bar next time you want a Bloody Mary, because otherwise it’s just tomato juice with a weak dusting of crappy black pepper.
Also, try putting some horseradish on the skinless side of salmon filets for an hour or more in the fridge, then fry them on the non-horseradish side for a couple of minutes, depending on thickness, then flip ‘em onto the sauce side and bake for 10 minutes. Trust us.
Real Sour Cream
Portuguese natas is what the locals have to contend with if they need sour cream, but really it’s just plain cream, best used for pastries and desserts. If you need the real stuff, creamy and gunky and with that tinge of sour, MixMarkt is again your answer: they carry at least two or three different varieties of varying degrees of fat content (2% is the standard you’ll want to drop on your borsht or fajitas). In Cyrillic, sour cream reads “CMETAНA.” Occasionally, Continente and El Corte Inglês carry sour cream too. Very occasionally, basically, almost never, you can find it at Celeiro (see below under “Cranberries”).
Speaking of fajitas, for a proper Mexican dinner you’ll need some jalapeños. Mexican food is becoming quite popular in Lisbon, but on this side of the Atlantic it’s still a luxury, with prices to boot, and usually dubious quality (except, of course, the excellent Pistolas y Corazon in Cais do Sodre on Rua da Boavista, 16). For home cooking, get your jalapeños (in a can, unfortunately) at El Corte Inglês or at the nearby Liberty American Store, at Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira 9D. Be prepared to be shocked by the price. We are still on the hunt for fresh ones, but for now, we’re satisfied.
Good Tequila, Rum and Vodka
Six years in, Lisbon is still going through a gin craze, so you won’t have a problem finding a hundred varieties of the stuff across the entire spectrum of colors, herbal infusion profiles, and corresponding prices. Good whiskey is also easy to get, thanks to a centuries-long connection between British and Scottish drunks and Lisbon’s ports.
For most other spirits, your best bet is one of the stores of Garrafeira Nacional, which has its largest location at R. de Santa Justa 18 (they also deliver the next day, free for orders over 50€). You’ll find an excellent selection of rums, and a decent selection of tequilas, including the 100% pure agave ones, which is what you really want to drink, and even a mezcal or two. Most of them will run upward of 30€. For something just as good but at almost half the price, you’ll probably want Hornitos, and the only shop that carries it, although they frequently run out, is Napoleão in Baixa, at R. dos Fanqueiros 70.
As for vodka: Stolichnaya was good enough for James Bond, so it’s good enough for us, and you can get it, as well as its green sister Moskovskaya, which is also drinkable, almost anywhere. The selection at MixMarkt is surprisingly strange, but they sell Ukraine’s Nemiroff Honey Pepper vodka, which will make you realize you can drink this spirit on the rocks and in polite company. For the best, however, at a very affordable price, there’s Russian Standard, carried at all outlets of Garrafeira Nacional.
Just like a proper Mexican dinner, doing Thanksgiving in Lisbon can be a bit difficult. The good news is you can go to any butcher a week in advance and request a turkey — which here we call peru — of any weight you like, and it will be murdered just for you and your guests’ pleasure the morning you request it for. For the cranberries, head to Liberty American Store (see above), where you can also sometimes get pecans, although both come with a hefty price tag. You can also go the dried cranberries route and plump them back up with cranberry juice (it tasted pretty good when we tried it!) and you can find the dried bio (organic) ones at Celeiro, which has several locations, including one next to the Rossio train station, at R. 1º de Dezembro 51. They also have the 100% cranberry juice but fair warning: it’s not cheap. A lot of regular grocery stores carry dried cranberries, but the juice itself is hard to find there.
Update 2018: Thanks to a Thanksgiving enthusiast mystery shopper, we’ve been informed that El Corte Inglês is carrying fresh cranberries this year. They also usually carry expensive pecans and karo syrup (if you’re planning to make a pie), but you don’t have to pay through the nose for your nuts this year because according to him, “Lidl’s nut game is strong and their pecans are something like 4€ for 200g.” Thanks, Ian!
Regular White Distilled Vinegar
Portugal (and Spain) have some of the best vinegar producers in the world, and many varieties are widely available in Lisbon — red wine, white wine, balsamic, cider, etc. But there’s a few times when only white vinegar will do: cleaning shower heads, getting rid of grease stains on clothes, neutralizing odors in washing machines and fridges, and more.
Unfortunately, the Portuguese aren’t keen on this boring type, but fear not. Chinese groceries in Martim Moniz almost always have it in their sauces sections, as does MixMarkt, which also carries vinegar essence at 25% — before using it, just dilute it to the standard 5% with regular distilled water (boiled water will do).
110-to-220 Power Transformer
Fancy Apple products can take either current, but some electronic equipment, such as the more esoteric sound systems, projectors you’ve brought from the U.S., and sewing machines, will need to have the current converted. Smaller electronics stores are your best bet, such as Regidia LDL in Alcântara at Rua 1º Maio-Alcântara 92. The big boys don’t carry transformers, nor know what the hell you’re talking about.
Sharpening Strop for Straight Razors
A weird one, huh? Well, it seems every dime store on Rua Augusta carries adorable gift box sets with shaving brushes and straight razors, because Lisbon just makes you sort of feel like that’s the best way to shave, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, even if you have one of the spinning-stone sharpener guys walking down the block every day, straight razors are not designed for that sort of sharpening on a regular basis. Luckily, there’s a professional barber supply store called Barbex on the third floor at Praça da Figueira 18 that carries the sharpening strop, but put down the razor before you look at the price tag. Not sure how to sharpen on a strop? Learn how here.