We have been travelling in Portugal this last week and started off in Porto, somewhere new to us. Porto is in the north of the country on the Douro river and the home of Port.
One might wonder, how come that nearly all of the brands of Ports have British names? Well, back then the Brits were every where, but were in the early 1700’s at war again with France, which meant that society could not get their supply of French wine, which led them to discover that this really rather nice drink called Port was equally acceptable. The British were always more friendly with the Portuguese than with the French ( both disliked the French, which could be the reason). Consequently, most of the best known brands of Ports are British, such as, Broadbent, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre being amongst the best known. Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO )guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as Port ( french appellation contrôlée for Champagne etc). The Portuguese wine region is the third oldest in the world, behind Chianti and Tokaj ( Hungary).
During the 1700’s as port became increasingly popular in England, the landed gentry would retire after dinner, to drink their Port, whilst the ladies did ( what I don’t know, gossiped or titivated themselves), William Pitt the younger apparently started drinking a bottle of port a day to combat his gout ( port actually exacerbates it)!
Porto is a very old city, much of which is in a state of disrepair.This could be because, the city ( and country) was until about 18 years ago, in the grip of a drug problem. It was a huge problem and HIV was the highest in the EU. The government took the radical step and decriminalised drug taking and that was a start towards recovery, for the nation. And so it was in Porto, people had moved out of the city and left it to the drug dealers, hence buildings were neglected. However, today, Rua das Flores in the centre of Porto has undergone renovation ( still ongoing) and is a bustling historic street.
We did another Food tour of the city which I booked through a web site called ” Get Your Guide” which seems to work in many major cities World Wide. I booked online and was told where to meet our guide, who would be wearing Orange. Perfect, we met Thiago (James), outside a small cafe in Rua das Flores which was our first port of call. Here we had our first taste of green wine Vinho Verde, but green here equals young wine and not green in colour. With our glass of wine we ate Alheira sausages. These can be made with pork, chicken, veal, duck, quail or rabbit. Probably of Jewish origin and served as a bit of a mush of sausage and bread. But very tasty. Moving on down the street, we stopped at another small cafe to try flamed Chorizo and a glass of Rosé Vinho Verde. Most of us would have had at sometime or another Mateus Rosé, and Rosé Vinho Verde is NOT Mateus Rosé. We then moved on to a larger restaurant which was very busy, ( we had reservations, thank you Thiago) and here we drank beer and ate Bifanas, which is another typical Portuguese dish which consists of Pulled pork in a bread roll with either the cooking juices poured on, or some home made Piri-Piri sauce.
Our last stop was in a real restaurant where we ate cream of pea soup, Chilli Cod followed by Chocolate mousse and a glass of Port. An interesting fact is that during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar , 1932-1974, if anyone was a fisherman and fished for Cod, then they were exempt form Military service !
And of course we ate the famous Pastel de Nata!
One dish which we did not try in Porto was Francesinha. Basically a Portuguese version of Croque Madame. It is made with two slices of Bread, two types of sausage, maybe some steak or roast pork, some slices of ham, a fried egg, cheese sauce and a tomato and beer sauce to top it and the whole lot is served with French Fries! A heart Attack waiting to happen ! Apparently the real secret is in the tomato beer sauce, the recipe not to be divulged. Each little cafe has its own special ingredient and some will even sell the sauce to take away. I have tried recreating it at home, and of course it it is not difficult, but maybe someone from Porto, would not find it authentic enough!
On my obligatory visit to the market, we bought some salt cod, ( vacuum packed to bring home). Bacalhau is Portuguese for Cod, and is nearly always salted. We also ate a lot of Octopus whilst in Porto as well as when we decamped to the Lisbon area. The Portuguese grow a lot of rice and this is apparent when dining as many dishes on a menu are with oven baked rice. Our favourite Octopus dish was one we had in a beach side restaurant in Caiscais. Here himself ordered grilled Octopus and when it came, talk about Food Envy!! I had the grilled squid which was delicious but the Octopus Well !!!
Nest time, Ovos Moles de Aveiro and Bacalhau croquettes and fritters !
P.S Vinho Verde and Portuguese red wine can be bought at Majestic wines, but also from portugalvineyards.com, significantly cheaper, even with delivery. We are awaiting our first order !