Food and drink, Ginjinha – the drink of Lisbon

Ginjinha – the drink of Lisbon

Porto has port, the Algarve and Alentejo regions have medronho, while Lisbon and the area just to the north have a type of cherry brandy unique to Portugal called ginjinha (or ginja). It is a sweet liqueur made with the sour morello cherry (ginja) which grows in this region and it can be found on the menu of any bar, but in Lisbon there are also several ginjinha bars which specialise in serving this drink. The most famous is A Ginjinha Espinheira in Largo de São Domingos near Rossio square, which is where the drink is said to have originated in the 1840s.

Picture (1971)
A Ginjinha Espinheira, Largo de São Domingos, Lisbon

The drink is said to have been created by a monk, who combined morello cherries with brandy, sugar, cinnamon and water. An entrepreneur, Francisco Espinheira, saw an opportunity and sold the resulting cherry brandy in his bar which was named after him and where his portrait hangs above the counter. (Ginjinha was even claimed to have medicinal properties and it is true that the taste and consistency is reminiscent of cherry-flavoured cough syrup.) The bar has to be one of the smallest in the world and, once they have bought their glass of ginjinha, customers stand in the street to drink it. Some people ask for a ‘ginja com elas’ (with an alcohol-soaked cherry from the bottle in the glass) while others ask for a ‘ginja sem elas’ (without the cherry). Copy the Lisboetas and order a ‘com elas’ and after finishing your drink suck the alcohol from the cherry, but maybe leave spitting the cherry pip onto the ground to the locals. Other ginjinha bars also in the Rossio area include Ginjinha do Carmo in Calçada do Carmo and Ginjinha Sem Rival in Rua das Portas de Santo Antão.

Ginjinha is also widely available in Alcobaça and Óbidos in the Centro region, north of Lisbon. In Óbidos a shot of ginjinha is often served in a small chocolate cup which you can eat after drinking the liqueur, and great value at only €1 a shot.

Saúde!

6 thoughts on “Ginjinha – the drink of Lisbon”

    1. A glass of port is perfect after a meal, while I prefer to drink ginjinha on its own. I’ve only had medronho once and seem to remember not enjoying it. Maybe I should give it another go!

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