Porto – Pastries, Pork and Port

Join me as I remember fondly the great food and drink of Porto, Portugal.

We loved the pastries in Paris – but it’s just possible that the pastries in Portugal are even better…..

It seems that the majority of Portugal pastries are filled with egg cream custard. We wondered why and found out this interesting history. The sweet treat has religious roots. Catholic nuns and monks used egg whites to starch their clothes, as well as using them for making paste. This resulted in a lot of egg yolks to spare, which to avoid waste were used to make desserts. We wondered what they now do with the extra eggs whites that must be left from all the egg custards, as we assume they are no longer starching clothes and making paste with them. We didn’t get an answer to this, although we did see some very large meringues in a few bakeries!

Pastéis de Nata are the original and most popular egg cream pastry. These originated in Belém, Lisbon but are prolific in all of Portugal. We tried many in Porto and give the award to the Manteigaria – Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata. Located in the Delta Coffee House, it was fun to watch the tart production as well as to enjoy their great coffee and of course the tarts!

We also indulged in a number of other great pastries, a few of which are pictured below.

Almond Tarts from Padaria Ribeiro
Mango cream filled pastry from Peninsular Cafe in Boavista
Pastry with custard filling and peanut topping from Confeitaria LUA De MEL, Vila Nova de Gaia

The Portuguese generally eat dinner after 8 pm and the restaurants in our area didn’t open until 7:30 pm at the earliest. This is quite a bit too late for our North American habits! Our guesthouse host suggested that we visit the Mercado Bom Sucesso . What a great find this was! This upscale market is a cultural experience where you explore the best flavors of Portuguese cuisine as well as international cuisines at the various shops scattered throughout the space.

We ended up eating dinner at the market most every day after returning to our guesthouse for a late afternoon rest. We found that all of the vendors provided top notch food and we thoroughly enjoyed the great variety!

The Portuguese love pork. They even have a Museum of Pork (which we didn’t visit). Many of the common dishes are prepared from Leitão no forno or suckling pig. Before cooking, the meat is seasoned with garlic, pork fat, salt and pepper, and then put into the grill or oven for about two hours, first at high heat, then at a more gentle temperature. The pigs are usually cooked in wood-fired ovens with aromatic herbs.

The juicy, moist meat served with the popular crispy chips
The bifana is pork cut in very thin slices, eaten on a small wheat loaf called molete. The sauce is delicious – said to be seasoned with beer, whiskey, white wine, garlic, red paprika, Port wine, pepper, bay leaf, and olive oil.

Cod is also extremely popular. It is said the Portuguese have 365 ways to cook Bacalhau (dried cod!)!

Some of the other dishes we enjoyed at the Mercado.

Here a few of the delicious dishes we tried at restaurants in the city.

The Francesinha is found most everywhere in Portugal. It consists of meat (in our case, a pork cutlet), ham, sausage and cheese layered between thick slices of bread. The sandwich is then topped with more cheese, warmed in the oven to melt and and lastly, topped with a fried egg and a slightly spicy beer sauce.

We had to try one – to clarify, Harv & I split one. It was surprisingly delicious and as is traditional, was served with fries.

And finally, the drinks of Porto! Of course, Port reigns. Port is a fortified sweet wine. The grapes are grown and the wine produced in the Douro Valley outside of Porto. The port is then transported to the wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia across the River Douro from the old city center of Porto to age and be bottled.

A number of the lodges/houses offer tours and tastings and you could spend a lot of time visiting them. We chose to visit Taylor Fladgate, one of the oldest of the founding port houses. Taylor’s offer a self-guided tour with an excellent audio guide. The tour takes well over an hour and provides detailed information about all aspects of port history and production.

At the end of the tour, you are invited to taste two of Taylor’s popular ports – a late bottled vintage and the Chip Dry white port. We chose some snacks to go with these drinks and it was lovely.

We would highly recommend the Taylor Fladgate tour – a great introduction for newcomers to port as well as lots of information for those more into the world of port!

Another great twist to port – a port tonic! This refreshing cocktail is crafted with two parts of tonic to one part of white port. It generally comes with an orange wedge and a sprig of mint. This version that we enjoyed on a sunny afternoon along the waterfront seemed to have some additional orange flavouring added – perhaps Cointreau or Aperol. It was great!

Had to have some sangria while in Portugal. This one was at the Peninsular Cafe, a fun place near our guesthouse with an old time counter as well as table service. This sangria accompanied our Francesinha.

Lots of great coffee on the trip. On this occasion I forgot to ask for them long so we had fun little espressos with a dab of milk.

I hope you enjoyed this look at Porto’s food and drink! Next, on to the great city of Coimbra!


Bev& Harvey

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