One of the things I knew I had to try on my recent visit to Portugal was a horrible sounding concoction called Ginjinha. A syrupy, sickly sweet mixture of sour cherries, sugar, and alcohol (aguardente specifically, so serious alcohol), Ginjinha appears in every travel feature ever on Portugal, and is considered a typical drink of Lisbon, specifically.
The resulting tipple tastes a bit like a mixture of Robitussin mixed with firewater with a couple of sour cherries plopped into the bottom if you choose to have them. After the initial shock of the taste of the entire package, the really surprising thing to me was how sour those cherries were! I had the great delight of being offered sourcherry juice regularly on my Turkish Airlines flight over to Lisbon and had decided that I quite liked the stuff, but I was not prepared for the extreme sourness of those puppies. So cherry fans beware!
So why, you may ask, did I repeatedly indulge in something that I clearly was not that big a fan of? Why would I go back again and again to punish my tastebuds with flavors I am pretty sure I never want to have in my mouth again? Well, the truth is, the entire practice of drinking Ginjinha is just so great, so exactly the kind of thing I want to do when I am in Europe, that it could have been mud for all I cared; I was in Portugal, and I was going to do as
the guidebooks told me the Portuguese did!
Ginjinha is served at little stands or bars throughout the city that look like they have been there forever. Behind the counter of most of these outposts was an old Portuguese man (or woman), carefully pouring tiny plastic (or better yet, CHOCOLATE!) cups full of the sticky liquor. The chocolate cups helped the stuff go down a lot and were worth the extra 20 cents or so. They’d ask you if you wanted it with or without fruit, and then after handing over about 85 euro cents, you took your little cup to go, to either be enjoyed in the space outside the bar (and by space I mean street or sidewalk), or really to go, sipping or shooting the stuff as you walked on your merry way.
Aside from the obvious flocks of tourists participating in this ritual, there were also a ton of elderly Portuguese people throwing back cup after cup of the stuff, spitting their cherry pits on the ground. One of my travel rules of thumb is that if old local-looking people are doing it, it’s probably worth trying, and this time was no exception to that rule. It’s so different from something you’d be able to do here, so very European in the way I want Europe to be European, that no matter how it tasted, I knew I was going to love Ginjinha.