Vintage Food Tour
Getting under the skin of a new city by exploring its food culture, is rapidly becoming one of the most popular ways to travel. What’s not to love? Local guides who know exactly where to take you to showcase regional treats or artisanal specialities help cut out the hours of aimless wandering many of us endure. The search for a sample of homemade fare or to die for taverns and cute cafés we can rave about is what its all about, amirite? Plus there’s always some local history thrown in for good measure as you walk around your chosen destination. Exercise, local knowledge, history lesson and a full tum. I can’t think of a better way to explore. On my recent trip to Porto, I wanted to do all of the above and chose Taste Porto as they had a number of delicious sounding tours on offer at prices to suit many budgets. The Vintage Food Tour caught my eye.
Modern gastro delights are all well and good but what foods and experiences were staples for our local counterparts? What did they grow up snacking on? What dishes have begun to fade from the dinner table in favour of more fusion based dishes? This tour showcases old hangouts, coupled with historical anecdotes and tidbits and some delicious port. Come with me and learn about the vintage palette in Porto.
Having met our guide, Joana, by the bustling Bolhao market we walked to the Mercearia do Bolhao in our little group. What looks like a small supermarket of wines, provisions and tubs of self-service condiments was the first stop. Into the back of the shop we were led to try out folar and the most delicious sheep cheese with fig jam. The folar bread is a large loaf (popular around Easter time) with chunks of ham baked into it. While I was never fed a combo of sheep cheese and meaty bread by my gran there is certainly an air of old-school about this dish. The past is being resurrected with the rise in popularity of this style of store and dish.
Our next stop was past Liberdade/ Freedom Square and a mini history lesson about the statue of King Peter IV and Portugal’s rulers. Confeitaria Ateneia, the oldest chocolate producer in Porto, supplies sweet treats and coffee to those in need of a pick me up in a retro art nouveau style premises. Since I’m not a coffee drinker (and the coffee is said to be strong), I cannot vouch for its taste but the others on my tour seemed to enjoy it. Right, enough dillydallying, off to sample some of Porto’s more famous fishy offerings.
Oh sardines, you taste fin-tastic!
Loja das Conservas is one of the prettiest and most organised looking canned fish shops I have ever seen. Porto, nay Portugal in general sure knows how to showcase cans of fish! These decorative tins contain Piri-Piri fish, fish in brine, fish in oil, fish paté….you get where this is going and all presented beautifully made for a visually appealing visit. I am a fan of fish and enjoyed tinned sardines in tomato on toast as a kid but if you aren’t a fan you are missing out on the delicious combo that is fish and VINHO VERDE! I had never sampled it before coming to Porto and I am now a BIG fan. The crisp, fresh, fruity vinho verde (literally means green wine but translates as ‘young wine and is drunk soon after bottling. It comes in white, red and rosé) compliments the seafood beautifully and is absolutely worth sampling. Porto is famed for its seafood and no visit is complete without some teeny fishies.
Tascö was the epitome of chilled, cosy. The chalkboard on the wall highlighting the staff’s favourite bands and playlists gives it a casual vibe. Our guide told us that the chef makes tapas that are the true essence of Portuguese cooking and the restaurant is always booked. I’ll admit the dishes thus far on the trip had been just bites, really. Tasters. I was looking forward to a slightly more substantial tasting dish in this locale. Cod, a very popular choice of fish, was the main ingredient in patanisca (salt cod fritters), worth noting if you are not a fish fan. We also tried a poultry meat “sausage” and a glass of wine. If I am honest, this stop was my least favourite food wise. The decor was fun and the vibe relaxed but I wasn’t a fan of the food. A personal choice perhaps so do let me know what your verdict was. This example of home cooked food didn’t thrill me. I tried the same cod fritters in another restaurant in another town and liked them better the second time around. I felt the Tasco ones were a little batter heavy and light on the cod.
At Confeitaria Aliança, a baked goods stop, we sampled some of Porto’s pastries. Joana filled us in on the history of the cakes. Where monasteries and priests turned to beer brewing nuns in convents turned to baking. The egg whites were used to starch the habits that the sisters in the cloisters wore. Eggs come with yolks and these were superfluous to the laundry process so the nuns found a use for them, baking pastries. The yellow tint to the pastry coming from the yolks. I’m always a fan of pastries and these were tasty and fun to hear about their origins.
Taxca revives the old, traditional tavern which our guide told us was as authentic as you can get. The older taverns used to be popular amongst locals but their lackadaisical attitude towards hygiene meant they couldn’t stand up to improved health standard laws and many closed. Now, adhering to food safety laws but still retaining that old tavern feel this spot serves great prosciutto sandwiches, delicious octopus salad all washed down with a sparkling Espadal wine. This ‘wine of the poor’ is a ‘green’ rose and goes down far too easily, just to warn you. The staff ring a bell to ‘shame’ anyone who orders water at their establishment instead of wine or beer so be prepared to row in or be called out.
Try some port in Porto
We were lucky enough to make it to Touriga for some port tasting before closing time. This little bodega sells port from the smaller wineries and prides itself on offering you an alternative to the bigger port houses across the river in Gaia. Nonetheless delicious, these small-scale producers show that they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to matching the larger vineyards for quality and taste. I did not know port came in tawny, ruby and white and left Touriga with a new found knowledge about and appreciation for ruby port. Davide, the owner, is a fountain of knowledge about the port industry and its history. Did you know a white port and tonic is the new gin? I can highly recommend you try one for yourself.