All we can say is Spain had better be good, because eating in Portugal is a delight. And further, we can say we sure are glad we are walkers…a lot of calories to use up!
Our three and a half days in Porto were spent about 80% walking and 20% eating. The many, many restaurants are almost entirely Portuguese food, though we saw perhaps 2 Japanese and a few French.
The food prices are so low that it was a bit confusing. For example, at Pedro Dos Frangos the menu had two prices for everything, one in a column marked “1” and the other marked “1/2”. Our waiter almost frantically dissuaded us from ordering the serving for 1. He was entirely correct. David struggled, sure that a 1/2 serving of sardines was insufficient, but his order had four eight inch grilled sardines, plus vegetables. This followed a 5€ appetizer, a large dish of octopus salad (so tender!). My so-called half order of grilled chicken was a mountain of fries and I left a large piece of chicken unfinished. Similarly, I struggled with how much wine to order–again at the urging of the waiter I settled on the small pitcher (less than 2€) which was three full glasses and very good.
Walking home from our first dinner we saw a captivating window–a man scooping meat from a large kettle of thin, reddish sauce, stuffing it into a small roll, giving it a quick half dip in the sauce, and tossing it on a small plate. The restaurant, Conga, was our destination the next evening and again for our last day’s lunch. The sauce was very slightly spicy, the meat tender, the entire sandwich addictive. The bacalau fritters were a nice fried addition…ensuring the meal wasn’t unacceptably healthy.
Our first day’s lunch and last evening’s dinner were at Tripeira, just a block or so from our apartment and found on Yelp. I was eager to try the tripas Porto style, which is meltingly tender tripe with white beans and chorizo, garnished with shredded cold chicken breast. I know. Strange combo and delicious. Speaking of strange combos, David had to try the francesinha, a Porto specialty available in many restaurants including one or two that serve nothing else. A “sandwich” in that there are two slices of bread, but this is knife and fork food and almost evil in its components and great, if intense and a bit salty, taste. In between the bread is ham, pork, cheese, covered with a fried egg and a red sauce. I am anxious to ID the sauce ingredients, as it had a hint of the dried red chilies in enchilada sauce but that would be a surprising addition. The whole thing is hot, so the cheese is a melted stringy mess. We shared one the last day as no doubt this is available nowhere else in the world. Yum.
We decided to splurge a bit our final evening, returning to Tripeira. It is such a lovely restaurant and the service is attentive, friendly and welcoming. We had walked quite a bit that last day and were famished when we arrived so decided to get a bottle of vinho verde and an appetizer plate to share.
It was generous–and we ate everything. A platter of thin, fatty, intense sausage slices with Azores cheese, a dish of what the menu called stewed peas with chorizo and was the tenderest fava beans I have ever had, and octopus salad. Again, the octopus was beyond tender in a vinagrette with diced celery and sweet diced onion. Thank goodness we had bread to soak up the fava bean liquid and the vinagrette. As a main course David had the tuna, in smallish pieces and cooked rare, perhaps the best I have tasted (we traded bites), and I had the sea bass, which was two thin filets, potatoes, and a bed of roasted vegetables. A fantastic final meal in beautiful Porto.
The variety and quantities are astounding. We ate our fill of pastels de nata, napoleons, croissants (which in Portugal are more like a sweet egg bread than a French style laminated pastry). Even with all our walking we could only fit in so much!
Portugal, like Spain, treasures its canned fish products and the variety of types and brands is overwhelming. We walked by a few “petiscos” places, tiny snack restaurants, which had a menu of conservas offerings but we didn’t try any, wanting to save our appetites for meals. There are tourist-aimed specialty conservas stores, and delis with wine, port, cheese, and preserved meat as well as, typically, a wall of tins with the many brands and types of conservas.
We had stopped into one in our neighborhood the first day to ask a question…the man behind the counter spoke English and answered our question so cheerfully that our last day we returned to buy our souvenir conservas from him. He was so kind to pull down a variety for us, telling us what he especially liked, and we purchased 10 or so. Prices ranges from 2-5€. Now we are condemned to carry our little shopping bag of canned fish all over Spain, but I was fairly certain “latas” in Spain will be no higher quality and more pricey. We shall see…as I write this we are on the plane to Barcelona.