Today Melissa shares a love letter to ginjinha — one of the treasures of Portugal. If you like this post, you can join Melissa live for a virtual experience all about Portuguese food, history, and travel tips. Check out her online Devour Tours Portugal experience here.
Everywhere you go in Portugal, you’ll find a certain iconic local liqueur. Your trip isn’t complete until you’ve tried it—but what is ginjinha, and why is it so special?
As a self-described ginjinha fanatic, I have a few ideas. There’s something about this drink’s simple combination of ingredients and celebratory spirit that makes it a favorite of locals and tourists alike. The only way to truly understand is to try it, but here’s my attempt at the next best thing: to explain why I’m totally head over heels in love with ginjinha.
What is ginjinha?
Ginjinha is a Portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries. It’s dark red in color and is served in small shot glasses or edible chocolate cups. It can be found at roadside stands and restaurants from Porto to the Algarve and everywhere in between, and is an essential experience that every visitor should have.
The difference between ginja and ginjinha
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that these two words are often used interchangeably. So what’s the deal? Are they actually different?
Technically, ginja is the Portuguese word for the sour cherry itself, whereas ginjinha is the alcohol made from this fruit. However, you can refer to the drink as either one. In fact, many brands market it as ginja, including the famous Ginja de Óbidos. I often switch back and forth between the two terms, and it’s never caused any confusion.
Why is ginjinha so good?
Most people either love ginjinha or hate it as soon as they try it. I fall firmly into the first camp, and I’ll tell you why.
Ginjinha has an unmistakeable cherry flavor that hits you full on. It’s simultaneously sweet and strong, which is my favorite kind of alcohol; it’s why I love Spanish vermouth, Pedro Ximénez, and Port wine as well. I’m a sucker for something that tastes good and packs a punch, and ginjinha does exactly that. In other words, it’s like a liquid dessert that gets you tipsy… what’s not to like?
How to drink ginja
First things first: it’s not a shot. Just because it’s served in a shot glass, that doesn’t mean you need to toss it back like tequila. It’s best to sip it slowly, savor the taste, and enjoy it.
Then there’s the question of the cup itself. Many places have started serving ginjinha in small cups made of dark chocolate, which you can devour right after you take the last sip. This isn’t the traditional way to drink it, but there’s no denying that it’s delicious. The chocolate perfectly complements the cherry flavor, and turns it from a simple drink into a whole experience.
Finally, the eternal question: com ou sem elas? Literally, this means “with or without them?” And refers to the sour cherries themselves, which can usually be found bobbing at the bottom of the bottle. For the full experience, always go for com (with). The cherries are soft and strikingly sour—just watch out for the pit!
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Why ginjinha has a special place in my heart
I first tried ginjinha at a local festival in Ferrel (just north of Lisbon), where I bought it from a street vendor. I was immediately hooked. Since then I’ve had it in Lisbon, on the streets of Óbidos, at countless restaurants, and even straight from the bottle.
What do all these experiences have in common? In every case, ginjinha adds a festive flair and a special treat to any occasion. It’s the perfect drink for a toast, to celebrate, or to end a delicious meal. It also makes a great gift; I’ve bought bottles (big and small) for people I care about, to say thank you or show that I’m thinking about them.
An authentic taste of Portugal
Above all, the best thing about ginjinha is that it so clearly and lovingly represents its place of origin. It’s an undeniable symbol of Portuguese culture, and a local product that brings together people of every origin and age (18 and over, of course).
I love ginjinha not just because it tastes good and only costs €1 per glass, but because it’s always connected to good memories. It’s something to be shared and savored, just like all the best eating—and drinking—experiences.
Have you tried ginjinha yet? Are you as obsessed with it as I am? Tell me in the comments!