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 bar is named after a nineteenth-century monk, Francisco Espinheira, who combined morello cherries with brandy, sugar, cinnamon and water and sold the resulting cherry brandy as a medicinal aid (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 Ginja 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!