Most tascas’ walls are covered with tiles, framed family or hometown pictures and soccer teams’ scarves. But inside A Provinciana, located between the neighborhoods of Restauradores and Rossio, the main decorative objects are dozens of original handmade wall clocks.
Some work, some don’t, but all have great meaning for Américo, the owner of this establishment that has been around for 70-plus years. “I built them. All of them. Every Sunday, our day off, I sit at my house building these clocks with what I have: old tiles, bits of wood, pieces of barrel,” he says, glancing proud at his creations.
Like many tascas in Lisbon, A Provinciana was founded by Galician immigrants during the 1930s. It still preserves some of its original elements, most notably the enormous wine barrels behind the counter. It’s one of the rare places in the city where it’s still possible to order a glass of wine directly from the barrel — even though the wine is now kept there not for aging or fermenting purposes, but just for serving.
Américo – who acquired this place in 1988 – is a lively host. Especially when it comes to clock-talking. He always ask customers if they can count how many clocks there are on the wall. By the way, that’s a trick question. We won’t reveal the answer to avoid spoiling the fun.
“They come here with the magazine in hands, point to the chanfana pictures, and I have to explain them that we only serve it on Tuesdays.”
Both Américo and his wife, Judite, come from the Centre region of Portugal. She talks less but cooks more. And cooks well. Her chanfana (goat stew), served every Tuesday, is famous. Not only among faithful Portuguese clients but also some unexpected Japanese ones – every once in a while, visitors from Japan will show up carrying a magazine where it was featured, several years ago. “They come here with the magazine in hands, point to the chanfana pictures, and I have to explain them that we only serve it on Tuesdays. It’s not easy,” he recalls.
Even if it’s not chanfana day, customers will find other typical Portuguese recipes, like feijoada (bean and meat stew, served on Wednesdays), cozido à portuguesa (A Portuguese boiled dinner, served on Thursdays) or caldeirada de bacalhau (codfish stew, served on Saturdays). It’s quite impressive to observe Judite work in her tiny kitchen, making all these classic dishes – and many others – flawlessly.
It’s very hard to get even a cramped table spot during the lunch rush hour – yes, tables are shared, elbows touch, and the faithful clientele is as heterogeneous as possible: from construction workers to bank managers. But is it worth waiting? Absolutely. Not only because of the clocks and the food, but also because A Provinciana is surrounded by tourist traps, especially in the neighboring street Rua das Portas de Santo Antão. Thus, it’s a safe spot among mined land. A deception-proof shelter in a restaurant warzone. In other words, the place to be.