You might have visited Porto in Portugal before but it’s worth another look, and perhaps with food and drink in mind this time. There has been more investment lately in this vibrant town, which exudes character and charm.
During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal was a leading European power, ranking with England, France and its neighbour Spain. The architecture here in Porto still reflects the grandeur and opulence of those days.
But let us consider Portuguese food. There are many sweets and cakes in Portugal but there is probably only one of which every tourist will have heard. It’s ubiquitous across the country: it’s the Portuguese Custard Tart or, to give its local name, pastéis de nata. It is believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago by monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. They are rather rustic-looking with a slightly burnt top, but they are addictive.
There are some other outstanding desserts, too, such as Portuguese rice pudding. This is made with a short-grain rice such as arborio. It’s slowly cooked and is creamy with egg yolks, and flavoured with lemon peel.
Another favourite is a custard dessert called Leite Crème. It’s made on the stove top rather than being baked and it’s finished with a caramel crust made with a sprinkle of sugar and heat from a grill or a traditional metal plate. It can be found in shops, but it’s mostly made at home.
For the Carnivore
But what of restaurants in Porto? If one is looking for a meat fest and the best location then go to RIB – Beef & Wine. It is exactly what one would expect – a restaurant with both inside and outside seating, and offering a variety of steaks and side dishes, and right by the River Douro. Rib Eye is rich, marbled, juicy and with a good depth of flavour.
RIB Beef & Wine
Praça da Ribeira 1
Phone: +351 22 340 2300
Monday – Thursday: 12:30pm-3pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm
Friday – Saturday 12:30pm-3pm, 7pm-11pm
Sunday 12:30pm-3pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm
Taste of the Sea
Fish is big in Portugal and the country is full of speciality seafood restaurants, many with extravagant counters of shrimp, oysters, and crabs, along with white fish such as hake and the ugly barnacles called percebes.
An outstanding fish restaurant is Os Lusíadas. It has, along with the seafood counter, a lobster tank from which one can choose one’s own dinner, or perhaps take one home for a pet. This bright and airy restaurant is popular with locals; this is real Porto and therefore it provides traditional good-quality food rather than tourist fare. If you want a burger then keep walking. Order a seafood platter with all those fresh goods from the counter, and then perhaps move onto the salt-crusted seabass. The restaurant is located in Matosinhos, next to one of the major national fishing ports, so you know the ingredients for your sumptuous meal will be the freshest.
Noon to 15h30 for lunch
19h00 to midnight for dinner
Rua Tomás Ribeiro,
257 4450-297 Matosinhos
Phone: +351 229 378 242
Fax: +351 229 375 641
But wait! There is something else apart from seafood for which Porto is famous – and that’s the eponymous Port!
Portugal’s wine industry has a close relationship with the British, dating back, in the case of Taylor’s Port, to the 1600s. Wines were first shipped to England as far back as the 12th century and in 1386 the Portuguese and the English signed the Treaty of Windsor which promoted close diplomatic ties between the two countries and opened the door for further trade.
There are many theories regarding the origin of Port – one of the most popular is the story of a visit in 1678 of English wine merchants to a monastery on the banks of the Douro River. They were looking for wines to ship back to England and they happened upon an abbot in Lamego who was producing a wine that was totally new to the merchants. The Abbot of Lamego was fortifying his wine during fermentation instead of after, which was the practice for other wines. The abbot’s method killed off the active yeast, leaving the wine with high levels of residual sugar. This produced a potent wine with sweetness that was bound to be to the 17th century English taste.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in that specific Douro region. These days there are robots that are used by some growers to tread the grapes, but many producers prefer the traditional method of treading the grapes by foot in a tank called lagares. The juice starts its fermentation, and the wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a grape brandy (although this is not your regular brandy but a spirit distilled especially for the wine industry). It is added in order to stop the fermentation, to allow sugar to remain in the wine, and to increase the alcohol content.
Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding Port houses and perhaps the best known. No visit to Portugal would be complete without a trip to the Taylor’s Visitors’ Centre. It offers self-guided tours of the cellars as well as a museum and tasting opportunities.
Rua do Choupelo nº 250
4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia
Tel. +351 223 742 800
Fax. +351 223 742 899
Porto is accessible for tourists who want to walk. The streets are lined with traditional cafés, bars, restaurants as well as bread and pastry shops. Every neighbourhood seems to offer gastronomic opportunities.
From 25 March 2018 -TAP Air Portugal has 20 weekly departures from London City and London Gatwick to Porto. Prices start at £41 one way including all taxes and surcharges.
For further information visit flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018