Sundays at home are normally a day for relaxing: writing, knitting or maybe curling up with a good book, and grazing from the kitchen, whatever looks appetising and is easy to eat with a book or magazine in one hand. Sundays whilst travelling are problematic, on the other hand. Hanging out in a hotel room generally doesn’t appeal but many things are not open, so doing the sights or even the failsafe browsing in bookstores isn’t an option. What to do?
I found the perfect alternative: a visit to Mercearia Criativa. This bijoux delicatessen near the Alameda metro stop in Lisbon is incredibly inviting on its website, and home-like in its reality.
My arrival was well timed, just as the pastry-maker was delivering Dona Amélias, tiny unfrosted cupcakes made very simply of flour, a very dark rich honey which imparts a wonderful flavour, a few currants and a touch of cinnamon. Dona Fátima Amaro makes all the cakes in her own home and delivers them to the shop, still warm and wafting rich scents. Baking is her passion – even if she hadn’t said that explicitly, I could tell by her enthusiasm as she answered my questions about the ingredients and baking. She even recommended the right tea – rooibos – to best complement the cake.
Carlos Moura-Carvalho and his wife started the Mercearia in May this year, as a place where they could share with others the kinds of wonderful hand-crafted and often organic foods that they themselves enjoy. But beyond just stocking good things, they have created an incredibly warm and welcoming ambience. The fittings and decoration are simple and home-like as is the food preparation area and there are a few small tables and an assortment of cook books and current magazines to hand if you want to sit and read over your tea and pastry. I spent close to four hours at the shop, and couldn’t help noticing that those who were not already friends when they arrived, were by the time they left. Visitors are welcomed and treated warmly and personally – again, the overwhelming impression is of being invited into a home, not a shop.
What on earth was I doing for four hours? Savouring the Dona Amélia cake and rooibos whilst reading the latest Time Out Lisboa which I found on the table, chatting intermittently with Carlos and his wife, and roaming and admiring the shop and the selection of goods. Also enjoying a perfect light lunch – paté, cheese and fantastic artisanal bread – and eventually trying another of Dona Fátima’s creations, an amazing chocolate and ginger cake, studded with almond slivers.
The couple have a passion for food, especially the hand-crafted; I asked Carlos how he knew of and sourced all these wonderful things, and he said he belongs to many tertúlias, small groups or clubs, from which he learned and made contacts. Earlier in the year his wife noticed that the store where she used to buy her bikinis was closed and the vacant shop for rent. She remembered the wonderful space and mentioned it to Carlos, and that was it – everything fell into place and they opened the Mercearia, so they could share with others all the foods and wines they love themselves.
There are olive oils and vinegars and a full range of other condiments, some now made for them under their own name – again by a woman who works from her own kitchen making small batches by hand, just 30 pots of chutney for example. Artisan cheeses including the only real Chevre (Granja dos Moinhos) made in Portugal, the range of CARM olive oils and olive products, a variety of breads, patés, I saw sheep’s butter and browsed through a wide selection of chouriços, alheiras and linguiças, fresh organic produce, and to serve it all forth some charming ceramic bowls, wooden boards and a lovely rustic-elegant pottery tea set.
Downstairs is a nice selection of wines and wine service accessories. Carlos’s wife was the one who chose the wines – mostly Douro I couldn’t help noticing (and approving!). They have had a wine tasting at the shop with CARM and are currently running a series of wine classes on Mondays throughout November with sommelier Armindo Saraiva from the restaurant Assinatura.
One thing which particularly interested me about their business, was their decision not to go the usual route of trying to advertise or publicise through newspapers and magazines, but to use only social networking tools to raise awareness. I first learned of the shop when Carlos contacted me on Facebook. Not recognising the name, I inquired why he was contacting me, I was curious about the connection. He replied to say he had found my blog whilst searching for information about some wines, and that he had a mercearia and wished to make professional contact. I followed the links to his website, was utterly captivated, and accepted the friend request.
Since then, I have seen a steady stream of postings from the Mercearia, wonderful appetising photos of produce, cakes, oysters, soup and cheeses. And with no effort on their part, the newspapers and magazines have found them and the Mercearia has already been featured several times by Time Out, as well as in a number of other magazines and the newspaper Publico, and Revista de Vinhos is keen to collaborate with them on some wine events. Not bad after six months in business and no mainstream PR effort.
Visit the shop at Avenida Guerra Junqueiro 4A, Lisboa, just a few steps from the Alameda Metro stop. They are open seven days a week from 10:00 to 20:00.
To whet your appetite, make a cup of tea and settle down to look through the Mercearia Criativa website – even if you can’t understand Portuguese, you will understand perfectly all the photos of glorious foods:
And on Facebook as Mercearia Criativa