I recently spent a long weekend in Porto, the second city of Portugal. This was genuinely meant to be a holiday and I went to deliberately enjoy myself, so didn’t make copious notes about where to dine or take copious photos of food. To that end, I am somewhat limited in what I can review, however, I thought I would make some general observations about the city in case anyone was interested.
Where to eat in Porto
Generally speaking, the same rule that I regularly mention about London (out of the way places, not near major tourist spots) applies universally and Porto is no exception. Porto is also no exception in that it breaks this rule quite spectacularly too. The main “tourist” area for eateries is the north bank of the Douro to the east of the famous Luiz I Bridge; however, this stretch is also home to what I considered to be one of the best – Casinha São João – and I would commend it to anyone. I would also commend Francesinha to anyone. The Portuguese (and this is a dish unique to the Porto area) wanted to have something that emulated the French Croque Monsieur. Instead of emulating it, they surpassed it by a country mile; it’s a meat filled grilled cheese affair, swimming in a beer based sauce (which is a secret of every establishment) and a side of french fries.
Porto, being a coastal town, is also rich with seafood. You will get fed up of bacalhau (Portuguese word for cod, but often in context means salt cod) croquettes served as an amuse bouche at every meal….. but you can never get fed up of gambas (prawns) cooked simply with chilli and garlic in butter/olive oil and in Porto you can eat your body weight of these several times over cheaply.
Where to drink in Porto
This is where the tourist trap warning needs to be ignored; there’s nothing better than having a drink outside by the river in Porto and I would suggest significant time is devoted to this. The wines from further upriver are all perfectly drinkable and extremely affordable, especially compared to any imports. However, Porto is the home of Port Wine. Its creation is a wonderful story; the British were fed up with the French (notably taxes on wine exports through Bordeaux) so they started to trade in wine with the Portuguese out of Porto; however, it would spoil quicker than the Old World French affairs, so they would add grape spirit to it to preserve it; i.e. fortifying the wine.
Virtually all the Port Wine houses do tours and they are a few euros a head and inevitably end in a tasting. I would recommend a visit to the oldest and probably best by the awards accumulated over the years, which is Taylors. At the end, you can “bolt on” extra tastings, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy a generous glass of a 50 year old when present for just £15.
Where to head out of Porto
I did one excursion in my time there, to a friend’s hometown – Guimaraes. It’s an easy train journey (and cheap too) and has a few cultural attractions of note. However, my regret, and one to address on a future visit, is not going much further up the Douro and visiting the vineyards; if I return, this is certainly on the agenda.