On the comment section of the post about wine there was some talk of ginjinha, aka, ginja. So it seemed like a good idea to devote a post entirely to it.
Why? Because so many people coming to Portugal drink it and because there seems to be some confusion about it.
Non-Portuguese readers might not know this but we’re very fond of fruit liqueur. Especially people who live in the countryside and have access to fruit trees will, at some point in their lives, try their hand at making fruit liqueur. Favourite fruits include sour cherry, medronho* (from the arbutus unedo tree, if you’re going technical about it), chestnut, juniper berry, acorn, fig, tangerine, bitter almond (known as Amarguinha), anise (known as Anis escarchado), pear… and I’m sure I’m forgetting something! Ginja is made with sour cherry and it’s not supposed to have any artificial colourings or preservatives.
Where can I drink it? Virtually anywhere in Portugal, although Lisbon, Óbidos and Alcobaça are the places where you’re more likely to find it. Alcobaça claims to be the birthplace of ginja and says that Óbidos ‘stole’ it. However, Óbidos has more tourists than Alcobaça and they also have a chocolate fair. So, they came up with the idea of serving ginja in little chocolate cups – you drink the ginja and then eat the cup. This is not likely to be found in Lisbon, which can make for some unhappy tourists. In Lisbon, if you go to the typical places, they’ll probably serve you ginja in a small plastic cup. Plastic?! Yes, plastic. Why is that? Two main reasons: these are really small places (built in the 1920’s and 1930’s and one of them was actually built in the late 19th century) so that means you usually have to drink outside; because of that there were many glasses being either broken or stolen (tourists thought the tiny glass cups were cute), so… plastic it is! If you drink ginja in any regular bar or restaurant you’ll receive your drink in a small glass cup.
What else do I need to know? Usually the person serving you the drink will ask you ‘Com elas ou sem elas?’ meaning ‘With or without them?’ (the sour cherries that are inside the bottle, that is!). You might think that no fruit means more drink but it’s very nice to finish your ginja with eating one or two sour cherries. But, like so many other things in life, it’s also a question of personal taste, so I suggest you try both! 🙂
Also please bear in mind that not all ginja is created equal. This means some brands are better than others and the fanciest ones are made with carefully hand picked sour cherries.
As a final note I’d just like to add that some people
(who can’t handle any alcohol) will have their ginjinha with no sour cherries and with a little ice. This is not very common (your granny might like it) but it’s better than mixing it with Coke or something like that. Some time ago I came across a blog post written by a young tourist from the US who said he mixed ginjinha with Coke and it tasted like cough syrup. Oh, the horror! Oh, the shame!
*A note about medronho: you might come across this tree, particularly in the Algarve. If you do and it the fruit is entirely or almost entirely red it is perfectly edible, but… have no more than 2 or 3 or you might have some, let’s put it mildly, ‘belly problems’. It’s very nice and sweet, though.