“I try will to forget, with a few ginjinhas. For giving a drink to pain is the best way to do that….”
- from one the many Fados that speak lovingly of Ginja
If your walking around Praça do Rossio, in Lisbon, you may find a group of people waiting at a corner in front of a little storefront. And you may wonder: “What are they doing here?” The answer is simple: they are waiting to hoist a “Ginginha”- one of the traditional tiny storefronts that sell the famous Portuguese sweet cherry liqueur of the same name. So, as a visitor, relocated American, or a retiree - you need to read this.
Ginjinha is a very tiny bar where a maximum of three people can order a ginja - one of the reasons of the crowd at the door (and the tiny space beyond). When your turn comes, make sure you already know if you want with or without cherries in it. The ginjas are on the bottom of the bottle and it requires a fair bit of skill to get just one or two into your glass. But they can do it!
They have quite a kick to them, but we suggest you try them (as long as you are not driving). For 1.10€, you can have a truly local experience and hang around at Largo de São Domingos with the locals, while you wonder if you should pop back in for another.
But, after all, what is ginja? It’s a flavorful, sweet cherry liqueur and is the unofficial drink of Portugal’s capital. Porto is more of an export – real Lisboetas love ginja. Trying it is a rich and affordable experience. The white tinted cheery came from Asia and it was already popular in Portugal around 15th and 16th century. Back then, fruit orchards surrounded Lisbon. The story tells that a Galician friar of Santo António Church, Francisco Espinheira, mixed ginja with aguardente (a Portuguese brandy), sugar, water and cinnamon. The success was immediate!
A few blocks from the Rossio is another tiny ginja bar the size of a doorway-literally, so you must have your ginja on the street with the other locals on the Rua Portas de Santo Antão. The Ginja Sem Rival, or ginja without equal, is also know as ‘Eduardino’ and has been run by one family since the 1840s. But the ginja is all homemade, and the bar proudly boasts that its product has never won or competed in any competition.
Next to the Arco da Bandeira, there is a little ginja house that in the 1830s was a hotbed for revolutionaries, poets, Fado singers, and artists. The Tendinha was captured in song in the Fado “Tendinha” as made famous by Hermínia Silva and Amalia Rodrigues. Still there, some 180 years later, it now boasts a modern 1960’s interior, and views of Lisbon’s main square.
If you’re in Lisbon, be Lisboeta! There’s no specific time for drinking a Ginja, the Portuguese tend to drink all day. So, if you’re hanging out in Bairro Alto, a neighborhood with more than 250 bars, you may stop at the hole-in-the-wall Ginjinha das Gáveas. Popular for young Lisboetas and travelers, you may find incredible cheap drinks (€1 for a ginginha).
In many places of Portugal, especially in the Lisbon and areas west of, there are many producers of this traditional liqueur. In Óbidos, one-hour north from Lisbon, Ginjinha has a strong flavor, with a deep ginja fragrance. With dark red color, you may find two types of liqueur: simple or with fruits, and they might be flavored with vanilla or a cinnamon stick. It is commonly served in the medieval village in a small edible chocolate cup.
Not far away, in Alcobaça, ginginha has been produced since 1930 in a handmade process and using fresh ginja cherries from the region, that back in the days belong to the Cistern monks. This recipe is inspired in the old recipes from the monks and use only natural ingredients, without any preservatives.
Ginjinha also traveled to the Azores and it is one of the flavors of the many liqueurs produced by the well-known liqueur factory “Muller do Capote.” Along with the famous passion fruit liqueur, consider one of the Azorean delicacies; ginja, pineapple, blackberry and banana are some of the other greatest flavors. All of the liqueurs are made from 100% natural ingredients, with the best fruits in the region, and made from a home-recipe.
The truth is that you can drink a ginginha all over Portugal. You just need to enter a tavern, a coffee or a restaurant and say in your best Portuguese: “É uma ginginha, por favor!” (A ginginha, please!)