I had no idea that we were going to eat so well in Porto, Portugal. We were in town for a few days because I was presenting at an international conference. I honestly had not done too much research on Porto because I had to put all my effort towards planning the accompanying getaway in Ibiza the week prior.
We arrived in Porto after a quick flight from Madrid and it was still quite early in the evening, but we were starving! We stayed at a nondescript hotel in an area near the university where the conference was being held. Our stuff was dumped off in the room and we set out on foot to find a decent dinner.
We wandered into a small empty and sterile restaurant, unsure if they were actually open for business. The server greeted us with a big grin and was happy to get us seated with menus right away. We did our best to decipher the Portuguese menus and eventually gave up and asked him what their specialty was. He eagerly replied, “The Francesinha! Haven’t you heard of it? It’s the most famous sandwich in the world!” No we had not, but we were intrigued and willing to leave our hunger in his hands. He looked at my husband and said, “Beef for you and chicken for her.” We shrugged and had a good laugh after he ran back into the kitchen.
We were nowhere near prepared for what came out on those plates. Picture this (well, you don’t have to because there is a picture above)– a slice of starchy white bread topped with a halved sausage, topped with a grilled chicken breast topped with white cheese and another slice of bread. Top that with more melted cheese and then pour the most delectable tomato-based enchilada type sauce over the entire thing. Served with a giant platter of french fries, I later learned that the Francesinha can have up to 2500 cal per serving! But let me tell you, I never truly knew comfort food until I ate this. What a start to our culinary journey!
Our first free day was spent in the heart of the city. We took the especially easy-to-navigate metro into town and were greeted with glorious weather. We strolled down the shopping district of Via Catarina, with its unique little shops and filled our bags with souvenirs. In the last few years I have found great joy in tracking down the oldest cafés wherever we visit. The Majestic Café on Via Catarina was just that. You enter in through the delicately decorated art nouveau storefront and step into another, more elegant, time. The dining room is busy with tourists but makes for a wonderful people watching experience. Complete with piano player and servers in white jackets, the meal was a delight. Our lunch, as well as the coffee and dessert, was worth the slightly pricey bill. You can’t find good octopus just anywhere!
Another trademark of the city that you can’t help notice is the beautifully tiled buildings. The majority are made up of cobalt blues and whites and decorate everything from churches to bus stations to old apartment buildings. We wandered into the San Bento train station just to view the tiles and were delighted to step out into the departure and arrival area which was covered, but basically outdoors. A backdrop of old homes and greenery rose up on the hilltop behind the station. We then made our way to the medieval cathedral up on the hill and took in the views of the endless red tiled roofs. It was a great way to get the lay of the land and it gave us the first glimpse of the Douro River. And that bridge. I love me a good bridge.
|Casa de Musica|
|The conference lunches were great too!|
|University of Porto|
Each year of this particular conference, they host an excellent dinner usually at a historic or interesting site. This particular year it was held at the Casa de Musica, the city’s opera house. It was a lovely modern building with dramatic angles, that made for an elegant night out.
|Home of the world’s best sandwich|
Our final full day was a rainy one. I remember staring out our hotel window thinking “Crap. I’ve been looking forward to this walking food tour all week.” We took the train back to the center of town and by then it was only a light drizzle. We hung out on a street corner and were eventually joined by a few Australians and an American and British couple. Our tour guide for Taste Porto arrived and I knew this was going to be a great day. Andre was so full of life and passion for his city and the food that he was about to introduce us to.
The perfect start to the morning was at Loja dos Pasteis de Chaves. We were treated to a sweet pastry and a savory pastry made from a certified recipe from the region of Chaves. Our next stop was a coffeehouse called Café Cristina. We received a lesson in coffee roasting and indulged in a small, strong coffee. Heaven for this caffeine lover. Now we were ready for some walking!
The small group made our way through a 100-year-old open air market, admiring all the produce stands, flowers, and butcher shops. We landed at a the Bolhao Wine House. We nibbled on sardines soaked in olive oil and tomato paste, a sweet cheese-based pastry, and a sweet muscatel wine. The owners gave us a quick history lesson on the market and we were surprised to learn that the renovated wine house was their grandmother’s flower stand 100 years ago.
The highlight of the tour was Flor dos Congregrados. This restaurant is over 160 years old and is only found by walking up a windy black-and-white checkered path, off the main square. Our main meal of the day was an unbelievable sandwich of pork loin and smoked ham that takes a total of 24 hours to make! This has got to be one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had. Paired with a sparkling red wine, everybody in the group felt that they got their money’s worth right then and there.
Dessert was next. We dodged raindrops to get to Leitaria da Quinta do Paco, a bakery that specializes in eclairs. The variety was unbelievable and they were perfectly airy. Our tour came to a close at Taberna do Lago, a shop and eatery that highlights ingredients from various Portuguese regions. We were showered with more wine while noshing on cheese, bread, olives, ham, and a chorizo sausage that Andre cooked on a table-top fire.
It was really an unbelievable experience. I am sold on walking food tours and would love to try them all over of the world. But something makes me think that Taste Porto is one of the best.
|Traditional meal at a street cafe|