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As the heart of a nation known to be a culinary magpie, Lisbon is riding high on a gastronomic revolution which has celebrated its traditional and contemporary cuisines to great effect. Words: Audrey Gillan

My friend is drawing a freeform map of the world at the behest of our guide, Célia Pedroso. I’m not only impressed by the ability to take a paper tablecloth and just lay out the world by pen in a matter of moments, but when Célia begins to place pieces of cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise and chillies onto the various countries before us, the reach of Portugal during its period of Discoveries — which began in 1415 — is kind of astonishing.

As a small, sea-facing country, there was nowhere else for the expansionist royal court to go but out across the Atlantic and into the world. During this time of adventure (and colonialism, and with it incredible cruelty), the country became the biggest conqueror, the richest in Europe and also the one that would change the culinary plate forever. The spice trade had already imported new flavours to Europe, but the Portuguese brought these treasures to the masses, making spices cheaper and more accessible, changing our cooking forever.

We’ve joined Célia, from Culinary Backstreets on the Lisbon Awakens: A Culinary Crossroads Reborn tour. Pointing to our map, she tells us that Lisbon became a global village, and indeed through all this trade it was at one point the richest city in Europe. We take in Vasco da Gama’s arrival in India in 1498 and then quickly scoot through the taking of Brazil, where hot piri piri chillies were discovered and then transported to India and Malaysia. We learn that in some countries the word for orange is ‘Portugal’.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

From ancient villages to stories from the locals, we uncover some of the Aegean Sea’s most gleaming pearls as we island-hop across the paradise idylls of Greece’s Cyclades. Elsewhere, we discover authentic Maori culture in New Zealand; wind our way along the Volga in Russia; and spend a long weekend in Tunis. Our urban highlights this issue include Istanbul, Lisbon, Mumbai and Bordeaux while our photo story introduces the freedivers of Jeju Island in South Korea.