Saturday, September 27, 2014

Portugal - Porto for Port

Before I know where Porto is, I knew and fell in love with Port, and even learned how it was made in one of my old food science class. I had a great chance to visit Porto thanks to the European Master in Food Studies peeps from one edition above me.

I visited Porto in early June and the weather was gorgeous. Blue sky and bright sun, slightly breezy, warm, but not too warm.

To be honest, I didn't really know where I was heading because I was just following my friends who had been living in Porto, or had been touring Porto.

One of the most memorable building we visited was the São Bento railway station in the middle of the city. The interior decoration was breath-taking.

São Bento Railway Station

There are also tuk-tuk in Porto. In Indonesia, we call that bajaj, although these tuk-tuk are obviously fancier than any available bajaj.

We took a touristic train around the town and to visit one of the oldest wine cellar in Porto calle Real Vinicola. It was only 8 Euros. The original price was 10 Euros, but apparently you can bargain with them :)

There are also wines aged in wooden barrels reserved for royal families, as seen by the Royal emblem on the barrel.

The winery tour included Port wine tastings. I tasted white Port for the first time - I always thought that all Port wines are red!

To my surprise, I actually love white Port very much. It is very sweet, but it's really smooth.

Now, let's talk about the exciting part: FOOD!

1. Francesinha 
Lo and behold, this is the famous Porto calorie bomb, Francesinha.

A plate of Francesinha

It's a layer of toast, meat, cheese, bacon, sausages, cheese, toast, more cheese, fried egg with runny yolk, and finally basked in sauce made of tomato and beer.

It's very difficult to finish a plate of this heart attack-inducing food because it is heavy, but it's good. And I just had to try it, since I was in Porto.

2. Bolinhos de Bacalhau

Bolinhos de Bacalhau, served with fries

Bolinhos de Bacalhau is translated as bacalhau balls, and it is basically balls of dried and salted cod. In restaurants, if you want to eat fresh cod (unsalted ones), you will have to look for bacalhau fresco in the menu. Otherwise, assume all bacalhau in Porto dried and salted.

These bacalhau balls are surprisingly not very fishy. It's also one of the things to eat in Porto :)

If you want to buy the 'raw' bacalhau, you can buy them from supermarkets easily.

 3. Pastries

The prices of pastries in Porto, compared to other parts of Europe like the Netherlands and especially Switzerland, is very cheap. There are many bakeries around. These pastries are great to start the day. Don't forget to try the Portuguese egg tart as well.

4. Octopus

Octopus can hardly go wrong in Porto, especially grilled octopus. we tried this grilled octopus basked in olive oil (and maybe some herbs and garlic, too?). It was splendid.

There are a lot of wine cellars along the Douro River that you can go to. But even if you are not a wine enthusiast (or can't drink wine for any reason), it's still a wonderful place for a casual stroll.

I would highly recommend going to Taylor's. Yes, it's English, but they really make good Port wines here. It's also one of the oldest Port winemakers.

If you are going on foot, the trip up to Taylor's can be quite a pain. But that's pretty much expected when you are travelling in Porto. I heard the slopes are not as steep as those in Lisbon, but anyways, it's a good exercise!

The end of the wine tour is always the most exciting: tasting. We tried vintage Ports here (that's what Taylor's is famous for, apparently).

I've never tasted any vintage wines, but holy molly, it was one of the best wines I have ever tasted!! It's a shame that I did not have a check-in baggage, so it would be difficult to bring a bottle back to the Netherlands. But anyways, vintage wines are expensive, and they have to be finished as quick as possible to avoid too much oxidation. I can't even survive drinking a glass of wine. It would go wasted on me.

We also visited Mercado do Bolhão, a semi open-air market. You can get fresh fruits and vegetables, and also flowers.

My friend showed us a cool candy shop with a refreshing concept. Or maybe not, if you have been taking medicines a lot. The shop is called Dream Pills (click here to visit their website).

At Dream Pills, you can mix and match candies and gums (and chocolates too, I think) and put them in a bottle of various sizes.

You can put prescriptions on the bottle, for example "For stress relieve" or "To remember Porto". There are "prescription labels" in English as well, although most are in Portuguese. And then they put the bottle in a paper bag, just like how you would get your medicine from a pharmacy. In the end, they are just candies packaged in an innovative way, but it's the experience that matters. And if you care about packaging (like me), you'd love this place.

I met some stray kittens as well. It's nothing particularly special, but I just love cats and I've never owned a cat haha.

Porto is one of the places I would love to come back one day :)


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