What You Need to Know About Lisbon’s Culture of Illegal Chinese Restaurants
Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and Portugal’s main centre of education, economy and culture. Its picturesque alleys of Bairro Alto and the fancy boulevards from Rossio to Tejo are just a fraction of places to go and see during the day. And by night, you’ll hear traditional Fado tunes coming out of every bar, inviting you to join the vibrant nightlife. Lisbon’s atmosphere is overall an exciting mix of fast-paced city life and Mediterranean flair that provides the needed balance between work and life.
But when you go off the usual streets and places full of tourists, you may experience a whole different side of Lisbon, one that isn’t mentioned in any common guide and for outsiders quite difficult to access. Without knowing the right places beforehand, it’s practically invisible. I talk about Lisbon’s rising underground scene of secret Chinese restaurants.
“You probably mean the „illegal“ Chinese. There are three of them close to Martim Moniz. One at the end of the street Beco da Oliveira and two are in a building in street Rua do Terreirinho (number 40 if I remember correctly).” — Henning, Erasmus Student from Lisbon on Hubble
The most prominent spot for such restaurants is around the metro station Martim Moniz in the neighborhood of Mouraria. They are often hidden in apartment buildings and back alleys, and the more you proceed into the side streets of Mouraria, the creepier it gets.
“I’m not pretty sure about the name of the restaurant but I think it is Chinês Clandestino. As the name says, it is a clandestine restaurant, so it’s like a secret spot to have a nice meal. Here you have the address: Mouraria — Rua da Guia, 9, 2 Dto, Mouraria, Lisboa. Have fun!” — Daniela, World Citizen on Hubble
The friendly and colorful Lisbon you once knew (well, a few minutes ago) is gone. Streets are plastered with garbage instead of the azure blue Azulejo tiles. Now, heated discussions in all kinds of languages come in place of the relaxing, traditional melodies from the Old Town. You would love nothing more than to turn around, hop onto the metro back to Bairro Alto and quickly forget about your unsuccessful adventure, but the goal is already within your reach. You can’t go back now, can you?
You wind up standing in front of a slightly rundown house. The door is open most of the time and leads to a dark hallway. It feels like you’re in a movie…No, not the one’s with a happy ending. You dare to go upstairs. The smell of food fills your nose but the fear of getting kidnapped and waking up tomorrow without a kidney is the only thing you can think of.
Nervously, you read the number of the apartment where you have to go from a little, crumpled-up piece of paper which you got from your Airbnb host. It’s the right place. You gather all your courage and knock on the door. You regret it, why did you even come here, you should have gone to McDonal — … Suddenly, an old, Asian lady opens the door and invites you warmly in. Although you don’t understand a word, it feels like everyone is very kind to you. Maybe this isn’t so bad at all. At least your organs are safe.
In the restaurant, it’s a completely different world. A bit modest, but clean, traditional and cozy. A few people are having dinner, others play ancient board games. The old lady sits down and continues to watch a TV show while you proceed to one of the 8 tables in total. There’s no pressure. You sit down, choose a meal and after all the stress you get rewarded with incredible amounts of tasty food at a good price. Regular restaurants have nothing on the unmatched dishes and familiar vibe. It’s like you would eat at your grandparent’s home, well if your grandparents should be from Asia and… I mean you get it.
I can’t recommend those places enough. Instead of going to the same locations over and over again, you should try one of these secret restaurants. It’s an exciting part of everyday life in Lisbon and when you want to see its true nature while having a cheap night-out, this is it!
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