Top 6 authentic food you should try in Porto
Real Portuense food isn’t about dining in some fancy restaurant. The best experiences are actually found in cheap looking taverns with loudly speaking locals surrounding you. Prepare to use your hands and have juices dripping all over your chin.
‘Little French girl’, they say… Well, there’s nothing small about a Francesinha! Actually this Portuguese interpretation of a croque-monsieur is more likely to give you somewhat of a heart attack. Story goes a Portuguese emigrant came up with the dish after a few years in France. He designed it for the women to become as ‘hot’ as the French ladies. For a long time, if a woman ordered the sandwich she would get a questionable reputation…
In the freedom-loving seventies a Francesinha became a beloved snack after a long night out. The secret is in it’s in thick red sauce, made with ingredients like tomatos, beer and piri piri herbs. In the spicy Portugese sausages, layered in between two slices of roasted white bread. The softly grilled cheese. The fried egg. The french fries. But mostly, it’s in the combination of it all…
Best enjoyed with a cold Bockbeer or a glass of vinho Verde.
Of course sardines are good for you (think of all the healthy Omega fatty acids). They are also really tasty. But neither of those points are the reason we would like to introduce to you sardinhas assadas.
Now, imagine a place with a view on the water, be it the cold Atlantic or the gold-glimmering Douro. You’re in the shade of an old Plane tree, watching wrinkled fishermen playing cards. Meanwhile your sardinhas assadas are being grilled in front of you. In Porto there is a whole subtle ritual around eating a grilled sardine. It’s called a sardinhada. Seeing your food freshly prepared on a charcoal grill really adds a festive flavour to the event. Realizing that the fish were caught only a few hours before, adds even a little more magic. You’ll have them with boiled garlicky potatoes, grilled bell peppers and corn bread.
For a good sardinhada eat untill you can have no more. Then have some more again. When you’re done, you’ll probably smell like grilled sardines yourself. If this is the case, consider yourself integrated in part of our culture.
Ps. Keep in mind that a grilled sardine consists of three layers. The skin (crispy grilled, salty) and the meat (soft and white) are what you want to eat. The gut and bones are what the cats and seagulls are fighting over on the edge of the square.
Not everyone from abroad dares to try this one. But a real Portuense calls it the ultimate comfort food. It’s even the reason we’re called Tripeiros. It’s Tripas a Moda do Porto.
There are different stories behind the origins of this slow-cooked meal. Some say we came up with it during the civil war between King Miguel and his brother Pedro. Others say the dish was invented when Henry the Navigator sailed away to conquer the world. Nobody knows for sure, but all explanations have one thing in common… A shortage of meat.
So what are tripas, you may ask. Tripas are intestines. Not something most people are used to eat… Normally they have a spongy structure, kind of hard to chew on. But if you prepare them well, it’s a different story. Cause then they’re actually kind of like meat! Or octupus! Chicken maybe? Tripas a Moda do Porto can be considered a symbol for our resilience and our inventive nature.
In a tasteful Tripas a Moda do Porto the intestines are soft and tender, like a delicacy. They’re served in a hearty sauce made with white beans, carrot, bay leaf, garlic, cumin, clove, paprika and union. Nowadays people also serve the dish with chorizo. Sometimes a couple of pigs feet add some more adventure to the whole experience.
If you dare to have a try, you won’t be dissapointed. People say it warms your heart.
Okay, so we talked about Porto being a working mens city and the food being made for the hungry and unpretensious ones. But there is one authentic Portuguese food experience you CAN play a little dress-up for. It will be in the morning or afternoon though. Cause that is when you enjoy a little Pastel de Nata. These small, fluffy custard cakes are sweet with a hint of lemon inside. Very delicate.
If you want to act like the bourgeois ladies used to do, go to one of the historic coffee houses in Porto. Café Majestic is the most famous one. In this art-deco scenery the waiters wear black and white tuxedo’s and they walk around with silver platters. Marveloso. Another great place is C’alma, a coffeehouse in a chique private club.
Eat them warm from the oven, with a little bit of cinnamon on top.
Grilled chicken is the go-to takeaway food in Portugal. And once you‘ve had a taste on a lazy Sunday, you’ll know why. In a good churrascaria (grill restaurant) every piece of meat is grilled and seasoned with so much care you may just call it love.
How to recognize a good churrascaria? The charcoal smell. Another giveaway: a line of people waiting outside. Look for places where the chicken is prepared right in front of you, so you’ll know it’s juicy.
After the grill, the chicken will be brushed in a mix of dried piri-piri spices and olive oil. If you don’t like it spicy, you can also order the chicken with butter or lemon. But please try the spicy ones ;). Most of the time the chicken will be accompanied with rice, fries and a small salad. Eat the chicken with your hands. It’s working mans food at it’s best.
A bifana is a pork meat sandwich. The meat has been marinating in a special sauce made with dry white wine since early morning, so by the afternoon it’s really soft. Some restaurants serve it with francesinha sauce or with melted goat cheese on top. Have a lick of mustard with it.
Another Portuense favourite is the cachorrinho. People call it a hotdog, but if you think about hotdogs you underestimate all the care that goes in to making a cachorrinho. The crispy thin bread is brushed with butter and spicy sauce repeatedly while still in the grill, and the fresh cut open sausages almost melt together with the cheese in the middle.
In Porto some specialized restaurants practiced the art for decades. They all have there own secrets.
Already been to Ribeira? The old wall on the dock, nowadays decorated with the lights of restaurants and bars, was actually built to protect against pirates. Behind this wall lay the storehouses. One of the things the Portuguese ships brought from overseas, was bacalhau.
The history of bacalhau can be traced back to 1497, when the Portuguese explorers first caught codfish around the coast of Newfoundland. (Know where that is? It’s all they in the east of the mainland of America!)
There were a couple of perks to codfish. Probably the most important one, was that codfish could be stored in a ship for years if you dried and salted them right after catching. Now imagine how handy such a supply of food is, if you’re on a mission to
explore the world… Back in the mainland of Portugal everyone started experimenting with bacalhau. Now we have so many dishes, there’s a recipe for each day of the year.
The most famous one from Porto is created by José Luís Gomes de Sa. It goes back to the end of the nineteenth century.
José Luís Gomes de Sá junior was born in 1851, right near the dock where the ships for codfishing (Bacalhoeiros) used to lay. He was the son of a rich 19th century merchant, probably dealing in cod. But when Gomes de Sa junior grew up, the family fortune was shrinking. Codfish was becoming less popular, now the age of exploring was over… So José Luís Gomes de Sá junior had to look for a job. When he worked in a restaurant in downtown Porto, he created his own dish celebrating bacalhau. Part of the original récipe is the advice to boil the codfish in milk for two hours to make it soft again. Afterwards the fish is prepared with olive oil, garlic, black olives, persil and boiled eggs.
It turned out to be such a success that people in the former Portuguese colony of Brazil now think bacalhau is caught in Porto. So much do they associate the fish with our city. The consul of Brazil even asked to celebrate Gomes de Sa with a memorial sign at the house he was born in. It’s right in the heart of Ribeira, on a yellow house now serving as a guesthouse.