Eating (& drinking) my way around Portugal

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Port wine tasting at Porto Cruz in Gaia (with views of Porto behind me)

I don’t typically like shirts with phrases on them. Is there ever a shirt that really represents who you are regardless of the setting? Perhaps I’m thinking about it too much but I often find the sayings pressed across a shirt to be unnecessary, rude, or dumb. Therefore, what I’m about to share is a departure from my norm.

I recently purchased a t-shirt that reads, “Travel Eat Repeat”, from a website that publishes videos about tasting delicious eats around the world. Considering the fact that eating is one of my main pleasures and purposes for travel, this shirt made sense to me; I purchased it. I mostly wear it to bed but I own it nevertheless. I share this anecdote because it is the topic of conversation for this post – traveling, eating (& drinking) and repeating through Portugal.

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Happiness is finding your favorite dessert (pavlova!) and a glass of Ferreira’s port wine at Miss Pavlova’s. This hidden gem of a cafe is tucked away in a novelty shop in Porto.

I recently returned from a week-long stay in Portugal and spent much of my time savoring the local cuisine and tasting the glorious local wines in the Portuguese cities of Porto and Lisbon. Beyond the custard tarts, seafood and Port wine, I admittedly didn’t know much about Portuguese food prior to this trip. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. I have talked with many people about Portugal and heard nothing but praises for the small, peninsula country. My experience was no different. Portugal is rich with history, kind people, and fantastic local food and wine.

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Our petiscos: a selection of 3 regional cheeses, cherry & mozzarella skewers, vegetables in a puff pastry with cream of spinach, and potato “tortilha”

The first stop was Porto, a coastal city in northwest Portugal. While Port wine is Porto’s biggest claim to fame, the city is full of tender, flavorful seafood and unique culinary dishes as well. After arriving mid-day, food and wine was necessary immediately. I sought out a bar with a view, landing at 17 Degree Bar, a rooftop lounge on the 17th floor of Hotel Dom Henrique offering sweeping views of the city below. A sampling of petiscos, small snacks that are the Portuguese version of tapas, was the perfect accompaniment.

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Wine tour at Sandeman in Gaia

The next day was spent tasting local wines from around the Duoro region in Gaia, the town across the river from Porto. Sandeman and Porto Cruz were our main stops but there are many more to visit. After a long day of wine tasting, a proper dinner was required. We headed back across the Duoro River to Porto to dine at a mozzarella bar called Puro 4050. I failed to snap pictures of this dinner but we have no difficulty remembering what we ordered: grilled black boar and a mushroom risotto. I’d never tried wild boar before – it was both flavorful and a tiny bit chewy. The portion was excessive though! The dish was meant for one person but the “one person” portion seemed like it could easily feed 4! Plus it arrived with a side of potatoes. How any one person could eat all of that, I’m not sure.

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A perfect Portuguese breakfast consisting of freshly squeezed orange juice, bola de belim (filled donut), pasteis de nata (custard tart), and an espresso

When in Portugal, it is imperative that one tries the tasty custard tarts called Pasteis de Nata. Known as the country’s national pastry, these little treats are inexpensive and gone in just a few bites. Typically found in almost every corner restaurant and pastry shop, the pasteis de nata cost less than a euro each and are filled with custard. Freshly out of the oven or perfectly cooled, they’re the perfect, quick treat. They’re small so they can’t be all that bad for you too, right?!

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The infamous Francesinha

Speaking of things that are terrible for you, the Francesinha is at the top of my list. This Portuguese tradition is a heart-attack on a plate. The Francesinha is an iconic sandwich consisting of layers of bread, ham, sausage and steak that’s then covered in melted cheese and topped with a fried egg. As if that weren’t enough, the sandwich comes with a gravy boat of tomato and beer sauce to either pour on or around the sandwich before digging in. It’s heavy, salty, cheesy, and worth a try. You can find these all around town and can expect to pay between 8-12 euro. I’d recommend sharing!

 

For the final dinner in Porto, I chose a newly opened restaurant called Elemento. All of the restaurant’s dishes are cooked over a wood-burning fire and all of what I tried was delicious. We ordered red wine from the Duoro region (of course) along with wild boar loin and smoked pumpkin, chanterelles and onion broth as the starters as well as hake fish and duck breast for the mains. I’d highly recommend this place and I hope they’re successful.

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How fantastic is the design of this restaurant, A Cevicheria?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd now, Lisbon. I was looking forward to my dining experience in Lisbon. Prior to the trip, I spent hours reading about the growing food scene in Lisbon, crafting a list of restaurants far longer than I could ever accomplish in one visit. My first planned stop however was to A Cevicheria. Inspired by the chef’s travels to Peru, this restaurant is full of fresh seafood and local flavor. The space is small but inviting and the menu makes it difficult to narrow down your order; everything sounds great! After much debate, we picked the BBQ octopus and king crab. Both were tender and delicious. Go during the mid-afternoon to avoid the crowds.

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Another spot I was excited to visit was the Time Out Market. I love love love food halls and this one leaves you highly satisfied. The market features stalls from various local restaurants and chefs and, on a Friday night, was packed with young people enjoying drinks and dinner. In addition to the food and drink stalls, the market also includes a full restaurant upstairs, artisan shops, and a cooking kitchen for classes. Upon entering, your presented two options: left for the Time Out Market and right to visit the traditional Mercado da Ribeira market.

 

My typical strategy for food halls is to do a full lap before deciding what to order. I couldn’t choose just one place though – and I don’t think that’s the point of eating at places like these anyway – so we grabbed a few different dishes, an aperol spritz, and stools at the communal tables to enjoy. Here’s what we tried:

  • Port wine from Pap’Açôrda
  • Mushroom and proscuitto pizza from ZeroZero
  • Pork fritters from Cafe de Sao Bento
  • Mussels from Chef Marlene Vieira’s stall
  • Tuna tartar from Tartar-ia
  • Berry pavlova from Nos e mais Bolos

One of my favorite things to do when exploring a new city is to join a free walking tour. Typically lasting about 3 hours, these tours are a pay-what-you-like service with a local guide touring you around their city. I always walk away with local recommendations, historical knowledge, and a general lay of the land. One stop along this walking tour was in the Alfama district where a woman named Candida bottles her own Ginjinha, a Portuguese liquor made from infused sour cherries. We couldn’t resist a taste, sampling and raising up a collective “cheers” to she and the group.

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Based on the recommendation of our guide, lunch on Saturday was at Taverna da rua das Flores. The restaurant was narrow with only about 12 tables and was only serving one dish that day but we were hungry and intrigued so we waited outside for about 20 minutes for our table. The dish for the day was a stew filled with cow meat, pork, chorizo, veggies, and beans served with a bowl of rice. It likely would not have been something I would have ordered on my own but I am so glad I had it. It was hearty, warm, flavorful, and exactly what I needed. I’m not sure how often they serve stews like this one but I can imagine anything this restaurant has to offer is worth the wait.

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A filling lunch should only be followed by more wine so we headed to a stellar wine bar called By the Wine, just a few blocks down from our lunch spot. Uniquely decorated and filled with several local and regional wines from around the country, we spent some time sampling a variety of glasses of reds and a sparkling wine. Late afternoon must be the ideal time to stop in because the servers talked about how busy they were about to be and every table behind us was situated with a “reserved” sign.

 

From there we made our way to a gin bar called Gin Lovers, nestled inside a small artisan shopping mall. I admittedly don’t know much about gin and certainly didn’t realize how many varieties there were. Thankfully the bartenders were friendly and knowledgeable, recommending a floral gin and tonic and another with more of a lemon taste. Both were delicious and we also greatly appreciated the goblet-style gin glasses. These large gin glasses was a trend noticed throughout the trip. I think I’ve been doing gin and tonics all wrong…

Dinner that evening was at a small neighborhood restaurant just a few doors down from the Airbnb. With a very limited knowledge of the Portuguese language and precisely what I was ordering, we ended up with plates of mixed grilled meats, fried fish and fries. I couldn’t have asked for anything better that night.

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Our last day of the trip took us out to the neighborhood of Belem. After visiting a museum, monastery, church, naval tower, and marble monument, we made our way to the LX Factory. A historic industrial complex turned artist warehouse, the LX Factory is filled with shops and restaurants worth exploring. An artisan market is also held on Sundays, giving us the opportunity to browse before dining.

Within the LX Factory, we selected Rio Maravilha as the location of our final dinner in Portugal. It did not disappoint. While waiting for dinner service to begin, we began chatting with American doctors in town for a conference. Enjoying the conversation, we opted to dine together and selected several different dishes for everyone to try. We ate everything from vegetable curry, octopus, bone marrow, steak, and several desserts, all of which were equally amazing. The lack of pictures is, in some ways, proof of how perfect the evening was. I could not have asked for a better culinary ending to the week in Portugal. Tchau!

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