January 17, 2018 by Ellis Dixon
Tiago Pais’ Hunt for the 50 Best Tascas in Lisbon
Everyone in Lisbon has their favorite local tasca — a spot that is friendly but anonymous, impersonal but personal, and serves consistently good food at good prices. The 50 Best Tascas in Lisbon by Tiago Pais, the former executive editor of TimeOut and gastronomic journalist/photographer for Observador, is the ultimate eat-like-a-local guidebook that points out the places where the food is more than a meal, it’s an experience.
This book is comprehensive and therefore must have been quite a task to put together, even for the hungriest of writers, but Pais managed to compile an easily digestible yet comprehensive text. The only thing missing is the smell of the food as you peruse the pages laden with pictures of cooks, plates of the day, descriptions of dishes, and a quick history behind each tasca. We just had to get the story from Tiago Pais himself on how he made the list, how he tested each watering hole, how much weight he gained, and what he learned from the experience.
What gave you the idea to make the book?
I’ve always been a fan of tascas: these simple, honest, family-run restaurants where you can have hearty, homemade food. So my idea, having visited many of them for the last 10 years or so, was to compile a list of my favorites because there were a few Lisbon restaurant guides but not one dedicated exclusively to this kind of venue.
Did you have a street team in place or did you visit each of these places yourself?
No street team, this was a personal project. I tried all of them myself beforehand and, after that, I went to these 50 with Gonçalo F. Santos, the photographer who shot the beautiful pictures you can find inside the book.
About how many did you visit altogether and what was the thing that separated those that made the final cut overall?
I must have visited almost 100. What separated those that made the final cut was a mix of having great food, great service, sometimes a special dish that you won’t find anywhere else. The goal was to have as much of a complete list as possible.
What’s the tasca in the book you frequent the most?
Maybe Stop do Bairro (which, meanwhile changed its location, from Campo de Ourique to Campolide), or the ones in Alvalade, which is where I live: Adega da Bairrada, Adega Solar Minhoto, and Pomar de Alvalade.
What’s your advice for someone navigating the pratos do dia as a tourist? Should you just point to something or is there a better way?
Usually, someone will be able to explain what they are using a mix of Portuguese, English and sign language: tascas, especially those in neighborhoods like Chiado, Baixa, or Principe Real, are used to dealing with tourists. If it doesn’t work, point with conviction. Also, my book has a glossary with most dishes translated, so that might help.
What do you order when you don’t want to think — you just want to eat?
If it’s a cozido à Portuguesa day, I’ll go for that. Otherwise, I’m pretty fond of stuff like cabidela (chicken blood rice), pataniscas (cod fritters), and língua (veal tongue).
Were all the tascas open to having you in their kitchens? What was the most interesting thing you saw behind the scenes?
Some of them weren’t, so we couldn’t have those in the book, unfortunately. In most places, we saw a familiar atmosphere, no written recipes, all [the orders] are done by hand. And, of course, there are some small superstitions, like using the same pots for special recipes and stuff like that.
If you could summarize your experience putting the book together in a few words, what would it be?
I ate a lot, drank a lot, learned a lot, met some very interesting characters, and in the end made a book out of it. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Tascas aren’t typically about the ambiance, they’re about the food. Is there one that stands out for having both?
I disagree with you: I love their ambiance. The mess, the loud talking, the tight tables where you sit next to people you don’t know. That’s a very important part of what makes them special.
What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten on the book so far?
I’ve gotten great feedback. The other day someone told me that because of my book found out that he lived next to this great tasca for many years and didn’t know about it. Also, I think I’ve helped some of them get known and survive extinction or, at least, delay it for a few years.