Oporto, Portugal: A City Tasting Tour
Porto, or Oporto to English-speakers, is a compact city in northern Portugal with a long and rich history. In the Middle Ages Portugal, as we know it, grew outwards from this region, and the city has been trading in port wine with the British since the 17th Century. Today, Oporto still holds onto its medieval charm, evident in its looming walls and large cathedrals.
Former civil engineer, and co-founder of Taste Porto, André Apolinário says: “We may be an international city but we are focused on tradition here. Everyone has a grandma that has a secret recipe for bacalhau. Everyone here has a relative who lives in the countryside or lives by the ocean. When you have access to the ingredients, the fish, something that comes from the ocean or the soil, it grounds you to this place.”
While Oporto has played second fiddle to the nation’s capital city, Lisbon, for the longest time, new direct flights and cruise ship routes to the northern Portuguese city have helped to build its popularity with visitors. Today, travelers use the city as a base to explore the nearby Douro wine region which, since 2013, has received a boost to tourism infrastructure. The port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river in town, have also amped their tourism offerings with guided tours and tastings.
So, where to eat in Oporto? With a selection of typical dishes and restaurants, here are our tips for discovering the Portuguese city gastronomic scene.
Cooler, and somewhat overcast compared to Lisbon, Porto is the city to indulge in comfort food. The impressive Francesinha sandwich ticks all the boxes in this category. People aren’t sure if its roots lie in the 19th Century or the 1950s when it’s said that Daniel David Silva, an employee of Restaurante A Regaleira created this hefty sandwich, based on the French croque monsieur. Either way, this “little Frenchie” is stacked with ham, garlicky fresh sausage, steak or roasted pork and covered with melted cheese. A hot tomato and beer sauce is poured over and it’s served with a cold beer.
Royal Cocktail bar
Perhaps the best time to enjoy a Francesinha is the day after a long night out at Rua das Galerias de Paris, the city’s throbbing nightlife artery, with a row of bars that has patrons filling up the entire road over weekends. Slip into The Royal Cocktail bar for a port tonic or a range of gins.
Visitors shouldn’t leave without sampling cozido à portuguesa (a rich slow-cooked stew of offal like pork ear and feet, smoked sausage and turnips, beans and carrots or a variety of vegetables) and tripas (a dish of tripe, white beans and sausages) at Abadia. Try the chanfana – goat stew, pernil (tender roast pork leg or shoulder) or the prego sandwich at Lariera. To join the locals for a no-fuss bifana - simmered pork sandwich - and a glass of wine, go to Taxca.
Mercado do Bolhão
For tangy cheeses, smoked sausages and cured meats from the region, you have plenty of options in Oporto. A Friday or Saturday morning is well-spent shopping and people-watching within the 19th Century wrought iron-covered Mercado do Bolhão, where vendors sell fresh produce, meat, seafood and smoked meats and cheeses. Taberna Do Largo is a small, passionately-run restaurant that spills onto the busy square, this is the place for petiscos (small plates) of local produce – try the regional cheeses, sausages, chouriço assado, sardines and wines here. For cheeses and smoked meats from the region to take back with you, go to century-old Comer e Chorar por Mais.
Taberna Do Largo
Comer e Chorar por Mais
After you’ve sampled Ports and wines in Vila Nova de Gaia, visit Touriga, an independent wine shop for a tutored tasting and the chance to pick up a rare gem. Free tastings on Fridays at Garage Wines, a modern, well-stocked store in Matosinhos.
For classic seafood try family- run O Gaveto for the filled crab, large shrimp, briny goose barnacles and arroz de marisco (seafood rice).
On Rua Heróis de França, or “fish-street”, you’ll find a row of restaurants each with a grill outdoors and a long line of people waiting to get in. When in-season, the tender sardines are a must and sharing a whole fish, which is delicately filleted at the table and served with potatoes and salad, is a fine choice.
Oporto’s fine dining scene is flourishing. Here’s a range of Michelin-stared sure-fire bets.
The Yeatman has an unbeatable panoramic views of the Douro River and the region at this 2-star Michelin restaurant. Facing the Douro River, the Antiqvvm Restaurant is located in the old Solar do Vinho do Porto. Casa de Chá da Boa Nova is located near the lighthouse, in an architectural masterpiece Leça da Palmeira, by DOC/DOP-famed chef Rui Paula.