We recently spent three days in Porto and we fell in love with this beautiful and relaxed coastal city. Porto’s location at the mouth of Douro is not just scenic. The fertile surrounding land makes Porto a gastronomic centre in Portugal, and veritable paradise for foodies. During our recent visit, exploring the foodie highlights of Porto was top of our itinerary.
Porto – A city for foodies
Portuguese cuisine is known for being rich in seafood. Although influenced by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, it also has flavours that reflect its colonial history. Piri piri sauce originates from Portugal. It is made from small chillis of the same name which are grown in various African countries. (Including South Africa, where it is called peri peri, familiar to Brit fans of the “cheeky Nando’s“!). The Portuguese also exported these chillis to the former colony of Goa, India.
Porto is home to a number of famed Portuguese dishes and it is also the home of port wine. Due to it’s location in northerly Portugal facing out onto the Atlantic, food from Porto tends to be thought of more as comfort food when compared to the lighter, often more Mediterranean influenced dishes on the southern coast.
The people of Porto even have a nickname – Tripeiros – with its origins in tripe, offal meat from the stomach of a cow. The name came about in around the 15th century when Meat was shipped out of the country from Porto. The good cuts left port on the ships, whilst the cheaper cuts were left behind for the local people.
The meal survives with the nickname. Tripas is served comes in various forms but is mostly stewed together with beans, vegetables and sausages.
Food tour – the best foodie highlights of Porto
We decided to do a food tour in order to cram in as many foodie highlights of Porto as possible and chose the Urban Adventures Bites and Sights food tour of Porto. We have used Urban Adventures before, for example when we did a cooking school in Marrakech and we like the fact that they use local guides.
Natas – custard confections
We arranged to meet our guide Sara at the Bolhão Metro station in the city centre. Sara is a Porto native, with fluent English, a wicked sense of humour, and a clear love of her home city. She took us first to Nata Lisboa, a small coffee shop selling Portuguese Pastéis de Natas. These are small open pastries filled with egg custard and sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon. It’s a sweet, creamy, wobbly confection, small but perfect. The Portuguese enjoy them either with coffee, or with an infusion of lemon zest. Both work equally well as a balance to the sweet custard. Having tasted only one of these, it is clear to see why they are the first of the foodie highlights of Porto.
Mercado do Bolhão
After the pastries, we walked to the Mercado do Bolhão, the beautiful 19th century covered market of Porto. Sara told us that although it is one of the most loved spots by both locals and tourists alike, it has been scheduled for refurbishment by the local council for some time. This would involve the Market being closed, hence nobody really complains about why it is taking so long.
The market is a wonderful sensory experience that should be high on any list of foodie highlights of Porto. There are so many kinds of cheeses, cured meats, wines, olives, fruits and vegetables for sale, that we could happily shop there each day. As well, there are many different kinds of fresh meat and fish. Alongside a variety of tourist souvenir stalls selling magnets, key rings and various goods made of cork. Portugal produces about half of the cork used in the world.
Deli delights to make you eat and cry for more!
After the Mercado, we crossed the street to a deli called Comer e Chorar Por Mais. This means “Eat and Cry for More”, which is the best name I have ever heard for a deli!
Outside, there was a huge basket of deep red Portuguese cherries, which were in season during our visit. Inside the deli is like a treasure trove of Portuguese foodie goodies. The walls are lined from floor to ceiling with shelves stacked full of different bottles of port wine, counters displaying different cheeses and meats, baskets overflowing with brightly coloured sardine cans, bottles filled with green olive oil, and freshly-baked crusty loaves of bread.
Whilst our hostess was preparing some trays of samples for us, we drank a small sample of port wine. Sara pointed out one of the bottles of 1963 vintage to us. If you wanted to buy it, it would set you back a cool €7,000 per bottle! Our samples arrived and we munched our way through a delicious assortment of cheeses, including a spicy option, and dried meats together with some crusty bread.
This little deli seems to be a staple of food tours in the city. Even if you don’t plan to do a food tour, you could still visit Comer e Chorar Por Mais to enjoy a fine little selection of the foodie highlights of Porto.
Spicy and scrumptious bifanas – Porto’s version of the steak sandwich
We headed downhill in the direction of the river, and stopped at Conga. Sara told us that this is THE place in Porto to taste bifanas. It has been a local haunt in Porto for more than 40 years. Bifanas are essentially a simple steak sandwich made with pork, however different regions of Portugal can have their own specific ways of preparing the sandwiches. At Conga, there is a big cauldron in the window containing hot, spicy broth where they stew the pork all day. When a customer comes in and orders a bifana, they sieve out a portion of the pork, stuff it into a bread roll and briefly dip the sandwich in the broth, before serving it up hot on a plate.
The sandwich itself is wonderful – only meat and bread but due to the meat stewing, the flavour is spicy, deep and warming. Sara told us that locals will typically enjoy bifanas when watching a football game with cold beers. We can definitely recommend trying a bifana at Conga. The place itself is fairly plain to look at, but this simple little sandwich is one of our favourite foodie highlights of Porto.
Bolinhas de Bacalao and Eduardinho
Salted codfish (Bacalao) is a staple feature of Portuguese cuisine. There are thought to be more than 1000 dishes featuring this iconic ingredient. Sara took us to another small local haunt that most tourists would never stumble across – Casa Leandro. Bolinhas de Bacalao are fishcakes made of the famed salted codfish, and Casa Leandro serves some of the best in town. They make them in-house fresh each day, from codfish, parsley, potatoes and who knows what other delicious goodness.
We ate ours at a small table outside, served with shots of Eduardinho liqueur. This is a little-known tipple, with a great story behind it. The legend goes that Eduardinho was a clown, who suffered from stage fright. He would order many different spirits and mix them into the same glass when he was in town for his shows. The drink has outlived him and is based on his original recipe. Despite sounding like something awful, it is actually quite nice to drink, although quite sweet.
We finished our food tour with a tasting of port wine at a small wine bar called The Wine Box. Although this was a lovely way to end the tour, it did not compare to our visit to Grahams Port Lodge two days later.
Overall, we can highly recommend the Porto Bites and Sights tour. It is a great way to experience some of the best foodie highlights of Porto in only half a day. A friendly local is always the best person to ask for places to eat, and you will definitely experience places that you wouldn’t usually go as a tourist. Sara was also a great guide who we enjoyed chatting to and she made the tour feel unique.
Grahams 1890 Lodge
Visiting a port lodge is pretty much top of the list of foodie highlights of Porto, but the question is which one to visit? They are all located across the river from the city of Porto, in Vila Nova de Gaia. Many familiar port brands can be found there, Sandimans being one of the biggest and most recognisable. We had asked Sara about which were the best port lodges to visit. She had mentioned a couple, including Real Companhia Velha, which is the only Portuguese big brand in Gaia. But she said that Grahams has some of the best views over Porto, being further up the hill.
We opted for the tour plus tasting. There is a selection of different tastings, based on the type/age of port that is being tasted. One of the great things about doing this as a couple is that you can both opt for different tastings. They lay out the tasting tables in advance so you can sit with your partner (or group). This way, you are all at the table with your different ports for tasting, and can share the glasses if you wish. Warning – some of them are so good you may regret agreeing to share!
The tour starts with a short film about the history of Grahams port. It is still run today by members of the Symington family, whose history with the namesake Graham family runs back five generations. After the film, a guide takes you through the cellars explaining the growing, harvesting and production process of the port.
The lodge itself contains more than four million litres of port wine. The vats contain 165,000 litres each.
When you walk through the cellars, you can find port wines from many years dating around 100 years. Our guide told us that 100 year old port wine was recently opened and tasted by some well-respected wine journalists. Apparently it was still very drinkable, although port wine is not necessarily best drunk after 100 years.
After the cellar tour, we went to the tasting room. The guide talked us through each of the ports that we had chosen, explaining the differences between the colours, scents and flavours that we could expect from each.
After the tasting, we sat on the terrace and had a very wonderful, Portuguese speciality drink – white port and tonic. This is a rare, summery treat that can also be served with fresh fruit and herbs. It makes a softer, lighter alternative to a gin and tonic.
The big daddy
We could not leave Porto without trying the iconic Franceshina. This dish features all over Porto, and everywhere claims to do the best one! This dish is thought to have originated with an emigre who moved from Portugal to France and back again. On his return, he tried to adapt the croque monsieur to Portuguese tastes. Suffice to say, it no longer resembles a croque monsieur and doesn’t really live up to its name either (Franceshina means “Little Frenchie”!).
This beast of a dish comes in many variations. Usual is varying layers of ham, salami-like pork meat, fresh sausage meat and some kind of steak or roast meat, between two slices of bread, topped with cheese, doused in a beer-tomato sauce, optionally topped with an egg and/or served with fries. Like I said, beast of a dish.
Many places in Porto claim to have the best Franceshinas in town. Sara recommended Cafe Santiago however we unfortunately never made it there. We did try one at one of the riverside cafes, and it was every bit as stomach-puffing as you’d expect.
Porto is a veritable heaven for foodies. We enjoyed it so much, we had to write a whole separate post about our foodie highlights of Porto compared to the rest of our three days there. Along with one of the worlds finest seafood cuisines, there is a vibrant restaurant scene and a local love of food culture.
Porto is one of our new foodie cities. We seriously recommend it to any of our foodie readers! What is your favourite foodie city? Tell us in the comments below!
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