Food in Porto

Posted on Monday, October 12th, 2009 at 5:51 am

Philly’s got cheesesteaks.  Chicago’s got Italian beefs.  Porto’s got francesinhas.

Francesinha Sandwich Francesinha Sandwich

In Porto, every time I would tell someone that I am a culinary student they would ask me if I had eaten a francesinha.  While I had read up on what to eat in Portugal, somehow this sandwich was not on my list.  When I asked where to get a good one, I was directed towards any bar.

The bar I picked was filled with older men, as all bars in Spain and Portugal seem to be after a certain hour.  I ordered the francesinha “especial” which adds a fried egg on top.  I figured that I was probably only going to have this sandwich once; why not make it as especial as possible?

My francesinha came on two slices of Wonderbread-like white bread.  Stacked between the soft slices, I found bologna, salami, pounded thin steak, Jimmy Dean-size links of peppery pork sausage, and bacon.  All of the above was drenched in a spicy gravy, made with beer and brandy, which tasted strongly of the alcohol involved.  I then had it all topped off with that egg.

This pork filled, beer-gravy sodden sandwich is commonly consumed for lunch, but I’m glad I tried it at dinner.  After only eating half of it, I was ready for bed.

Porto, Portugal

My favorite food in Porto was actually another sandwich.  Available in most bakeries and cafes, the lanche is made from two pieces of delicious, soft, golden, eggy bread.  It reminded me of challah, but was sweeter.  The sandwich is usually filled with jamon york (the least fancy ham in Iberia; it’s like any lunchmeat you’d find in the States) and cheese.  Once, there was also a piece of salami.  It’s often served at room temperature, straight from the window tray.  If you’re lucky though, they might smush the lancha on the grill or press it in a panini machine.  Then, the cheese gets oozy and the sweet bread gets more dense.  It is the perfect lunch to eat as you walk towards the next port lodge or run to get your train.

Bacalao Con Natas

Taking a break from port tasting, I had a delicious lunch of bacalao con nata.  Flakes of salt cod are stirred into a creamy béchamel, topped with a bit of grated cheese, and then baked in the oven until the top is toasty.  It’s comforting in the way of tuna noodle casserole, but more sophisticated.

Caldo Verde Couve Greens

I ate three nearly identical bowls of Caldo Verde while I was in rainy Porto.  Each time, it had a water-based broth, thinly thickened with a bit of potato.  The soup’s namesake verde came from a chiffonade of couve.  These greens, similar to kale, are grown in Portugal and Spain.  (I saw market produce stands which sold the greens, pre-cut into fine strips and displayed in generous piles.)  A single piece of meat was also included in each bowl: a round of chorizo, a narrow piece of ham, or a chunk of fatty bacon.  Whichever the chosen pork piece, it flavored the broth and added one luxurious bite to the soup.  At its heart, caldo verde is a recipe of economy.  It takes a bit of potato, some greens, and a little meat and stretches their flavor as far as it will go.

Arroz a Portuguesa Porto, Portugal

Late on my last night, I stopped in a small bar, busy enough, on my way back to the hostel.  It was pouring rain so I just wanted to find a place.  I knew I’d chosen well when I realized that the husband worked the front while the wife handled the kitchen.  I ordered the Arroz a Portuguesa.  Pieces of meat (a little bacon, a couple chunks of stewed pork, a bite of chorizo, an inch of blood sausage), cabbage, carrots, and pinto beans, were ladled on top of white rice, and covered in gravy.  It was a tasty, homey, and filling final meal in town.

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