Monday 4 November 2013

Ginjinha--A National Liqueur

“With or without a cherry?” asked the server behind the counter.

“With a cherry,” I answered.

I heard a plop and before I could blink, my small, white, plastic shot glass was filled with ginjinha and two drunken cherries. 

Ginjinha, or ginja for short, began as an experiment by a 19th century friar named Francisco, who infused cherries with brandy and sugar. It became an instant success. Today, ginjinha is sold throughout Lisbon in various bars and cafes.  None though as famous as, A Ginjinha in Rossio (Largo de Sao Domingos).

Ginjiha bottles wall to wall

A Ginjinha is best described as “a whole in the wall”, because it is quite literally, A-Whole-In-The-Wall. It is smaller than most of today’s modern walk-in closets, and serves nothing but the famous liqueur. It has been in business, at the same location, since 1840. 

That's all there is to it.

Here you will find tourists from all over the world, university students ending their day and locals who just need their fix. A Ginjihna produces their own brand of the liqueur, and puts out over 150,000 liters of the product each year.

To get your shot of ginjinha,  get in line and patiently wait your turn, as you snake up to the front to answer that one important question (with or without a cherry).  Once your drink is poured, take it outside to enjoy in the square.  There is no seating in the cafĂ©, so find a spot on a step in the square, or stand and chat with other ginjinha drinkers around you. There are plenty and it’s a great way to meet people.

Everyone enjoying ginjinha

If you take your drink com ginja (with cherry) as I did, the proper way to enjoy it (although there are no fixed rules about this), is to sip the liqueur first, then suck the cherry, leaving you with one dilemma. What to do with the pit? There are two options--spit it into the cup you are holding, then dispose of it. Or do as the locals do--spit it onto the floor. Mine went into the cup. I just couldn't do the alternative.