IT’S just the thing you need on a chilly night – chilly for Portugal, that is – a little shot of ginjinha from a hole in the wall bar on the Rossio. On a recent trip to Lisbon we did it every night as a pre-prandial before hitting the town.
Despite the name, it has nothing to do with gin or ginger. It’s a locally made cherry-infused brandy boosted with sugar to take away the rawness and cinnamon because, well, the Portuguese love cinnamon. And for just E1.40 for a thimbleful, with a cherry or two, it’s a bargain.
In places posher than the A Ginjinha bar on the Largo Sao Domingos (which serves it in tiny plastic cups) you might get it in a chocolate ‘thimble’ which you eat after draining. That will cost more.
But the tiny bar has history: it’s been there since 1840. The floor and counter can also get very sticky from the spilled drink so make sure you don’t get jostled in the queue.
It wasn’t until after I’d had a noggin or two that I remembered I have been making something very similar back home in Sheffield but more of that later.
Ginja, as it is also known, is made from a Portuguese brandy called aguardente (which literally means fire water) in which sour Morello cherries are infused. This is then sweetened with sugar and flavoured further with cinnamon. You can have it with or without the cherries but be warned they have not been stoned. And with these tiny quantities nor will you.
I’m not going to pretend it’s a fantastic taste but it is pleasant and warming and is enjoyable as a little ritual.
The bartender serves it from a bottle packed full of cherries which he keeps topped up with alcohol from one of three spigots on the back wall. He first pours the ginja, holding back the cherries with the bottle cap, then with a deft flick of the wrist sends two or three of the tiny cherries into your cup.
I was going to write that you can’t miss the bar but we managed to do it on our first trip to Lisbon!
Each year when I pick cherries in Attercliffe cemetery I use the smallest for jams and jellies and keep the juiciest and biggest for fruit salads. And I always fill a Kilner jar with pitted cherries immersed in cheap brandy. They liven up puddings and fruit salads in the following months. Then when the cherries have all been eaten, we drink the cherry brandy left. There’s no extra sugar or cinnamon and it doesn’t seem to need it.
Tonight we had just enough to fill two shot glasses and say cheers to Lisbon! Next year I will be picking extra cherries for a bottle or two of Sheffield-style ginjinha.