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Feeling a Little Shellfish

Why Lisbon's Cervejaria Ramiro is one of Portugal's best seafood restaurants
Cervejaria Ramiro's giant tiger prawn | Photo: Courtesy of Cervejaria Ramiro
Giant Tiger Prawn

The 59-year-old Cervejaria Ramiro is one of the most famous seafood joints in Lisbon, but unlike just about every other restaurant in Portugal, you won't find any bacalhau on the menu. Instead, the family-owned Ramiro focuses exclusively on shellfish—and it's not messing around. With around 20 varieties (most of them swimming in massive tanks that line the restaurant's walls), it's a haven for anyone with a penchant for bottom-feeders and a serious craving for freshly steamed lobster.

With that many species (not to mention a probable language barrier), chances are you'll have a difficult time navigating the menu. After all, what exactly is an edible crab? And who's heard of a Mediterranean murex?

Here's a little shellfish what's-what to help you order the perfect Portuguese feast.

Prawn Star
Order a plate of shrimp in Portugal and they'll likely arrive peel-and-eat style: steamed, head-on and still in their shells. And that's what you'll get at Ramiro if you opt for a serving of the Algarve shrimp, harvested from Portugal's southernmost coast. But if you're in the mood for something more unusual, order the carabineros, also known as scarlet shrimp for their bright red color. Technically prawns, these guys, along with the restaurant's much larger giant tiger prawn, might remind you of lobster. Grilled and split down the middle, the latter is served in a pool of spicy melted chile butter with a lemon wedge, naturally.

Rock Lobster
You've got a couple of options when it comes to choosing your crustacean. If you're in the market for one of the bigger guys, opt for a warm-water lagosta nacional, or a rock or spiny lobster (remember: tail meat only here), or a cool-water lavagante, aka the European lobster, which has claw meat. You can even go smaller: Ramiro serves sweet langoustines (the menu lists them as Norwegian lobsters, or lagostim) and even slipper lobsters, aka witches or sea locusts. Though the name's not very appealing, these little guys are known for both their sweet tail meat and texture, which is most often described as being a cross between that of lobster and shrimp.

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Crab Mentality
In this category, you're looking primarily at three species: small, bright-red swimming crabs; much larger European spider crabs (you'll eat the legs); and something called an edible crab or brown crab, which arrives with a little white mallet for breaking down the knuckles and claws and extracting the meat. The best part though might just be what's in the body: Ramiro serves a sauce (in the shell, no less) made with the fattier brown meat, perfect for spooning over the butter-soaked garlic toasts that come with your meal.

Brachiopods, Bivalves and Barnacles
Let's get into the oysters, clams, barnacles and snails. The snails at Ramiro don't look like your common escargot. Rather, they are sea snails, which are known to be much milder and less earthy than their land-bound brethren. You'll find a couple of varieties here, like whelks, popular in Northern Europe and often likened to clams in taste, and the larger murex, popular in the Mediterranean but known to be a bit tougher.

It's in this category, too, that you'll find the strangest-looking thing on the menu: goose barnacles. Steamed but served cold, the bits require peeling, and it's well worth the effort. While grasping the hard shell (the toe, if you will), gently peel off the outer skin to reveal the briny, delicious neck meat.

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