The food is one of the things I was really looking forward to – drooling over, almost – ahead of my holiday in Portugal last month.
This is normal for me, but the feeling was enhanced by distant memories of visits to the country in 1994 and 2003. Added to that was too much of my own cooking over the last 18 months, especially when we were under restrictions and not even able to go out to a restaurant.
I was not disappointed.
One particular highlight was a food tour I took in Porto. We visited the market (Mercado Temporário do Bolhão) and after touring the various sections we sat down to eat petiscos and drink vinho verde. I think we learned a lot from guide Alex from Porto Walkers and one of the stall holders who explained the local love of tinned fish like sardines, cod and mackerel.
Then we hit nearby Confeitaria do Bolhão to have green soup and rissoles, and learn about how a place like that works in terms of offering a good, cheap and quick lunch. More vinho verde was consumed. Alex explained it would be rude not to. I was satisfied with his explanation.
Our next stop was Taxca in Rua da Picaria, a bit to the west on the other side of Avenida dos Aliados. On offer was papas de sarrabulho (“blood soup”), chicken gizzards and bifana. We drank espadal*. We were told Taxca is a modern version of the traditional Porto “taberna” which are now rare.
From there we staggered downhill a bit to Manteigaria to sample their pastéis de nata straight off the production line.
Our last call was Pao Quente Muralhas Do Olival Porto for coffee and (another) dessert. Needless to say the coffee had a shot of ginjinha in it.
A tour programmed for 3 hours somehow slipped over the 5 hour mark… Fun, educational and delicious.
The same could apply to the port tour/tasting I took with the same company – and also with Alex guiding as it turned out. We visited 3 houses and sampled 7 ports over 4 hours – Calém, Piano and Porto Cruz.
The food tour set me back €47.70 (£41.73) and the port one was €37.10. Both were great value for money.
In Porto I stuck to local restaurants close to my studio rather than head closer to the city centre. One was literally next door, and another just 50m away. I loved the food at all the three which I tried out – Glutenfreak, Real Hamburgueria Portuguesa and Zé De Braga. Each very different to the others, but great in their own ways.
When I was in Coimbra the stand out restaurant I tried was Giro. It is just a little local place with the menu in Portuguese only, and entirely populated by locals eating during their lunch break. I had a marvellous fish soup followed by stuffed roast veal.
*A sparkling rose wine from the Minho region, just north of Porto. Taxca sells it on draught.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2021