From the moment we knocked on the townhouse door, we knew we were in for something special. Welcomed into the reception area-cum-shop, we had a few moments to chat with other arrivals and look around, before being escorted around the corner into a brightly lit kitchen. There, a couple of pots were already steaming, and a large work table was set for some serious chopping and stirring. Loaves of freshly baked bread waited for us on a sideboard. It was a culinary moment waiting to happen.
Tom and I always look to understand a new place and culture through meals with locals–and sometimes, I get to join the kitchen bustle behind the food we eat. We became fans of Taste Porto’s culinary walks on our first visit to Porto, and recently had a chance to join a cooking class, offered by Taste Porto in conjunction with ROSA ET AL Townhouse, a boutique hotel and kitchen in Porto’s Cedofeita neighborhood. Townhouse owners Emanuel and Patrícia de Sousa were our hosts and tutors.
“Sharing food is an intimate experience–our aim is to provide guests with an emotional memory of Portugal.”–André, Taste Porto
Familiar dishes, with a twist
After introductions all around, and after our menu was explained to us, we were assigned to tasks in teams of two. As we worked–quartering oranges, peeling pears and cracking eggs into our bowls–a rhythm was established. In what seemed to be no time at all, dessert was underway and we helped make some lovely Muscat & tonic cocktails, enjoying them with nibbles before tackling the main dish. Another whip round of the minute hand, and we were relaxing and savoring conversation and a tasty meal in the upstairs dining space. My only complaint: it all ended too soon!
At first blush, the menu for the hands-on session looked familiar: chunky gaspacho alentejano to start, oven-baked codfish with roasted potatoes, and pears poached in wine for dessert. But here is where it got interesting. We cooked codfish, yes, but crusted with linseeds, a superfood-enhanced version of the dish that is mildly flavored and not overly oily. I did not master the trick for rolling the fish neatly in egg, then seeds, but at least I know what to practice! The potatoes were enhanced with colorful spices, including a touch of smoky paprika. Our gaspacho was an adaptation for late winter, using strawberries instead of summery watermelon. Pears were poached in port wine, with the added mystery of smoky Lapsang Souchong tea. Plus, we made juicy orange almond cakes to take away and savor later. Along the way, we sampled that wonderful homemade bread, sniffed spices and herbs, and I learned where to source some organic ingredients here in Porto.
Highlights of our cookery session
Our time with Emanuel and Patrícia was filled with small lessons about Portugal, and tips for playing around with the recipes later in our own kitchens. There was plenty of laughter, that universal instructor. Several things made our evening especially enjoyable:
- The personal attention of a small-group session, which made it possible to try new things, hands-on
- An atmospheric setting and professionally equipped kitchen
- Drinks and nibbles as we worked, along with tips for serving and adapting the cocktails
- Mementos to take home, evoking the flavors and camaraderie of our Townhouse evening. The cakes we made travel well, even across oceans, although mine did not test this promise. My Taste Porto apron has already found a home in my kitchen, and I think tasty thoughts every time I put it on.
- Our meal was a yummy study in innovation, providing a unique twist to the familiar. This gave us plenty to talk about in the kitchen, and to taste at the table.
Got two minutes to spare? Re-live the Taste Porto experience with us in this video!
A family story
The Townhouse story is one of siblings who studied and worked abroad, but a handful of years ago brought their entrepreneurial spirit home to Porto. Each has several irons in the fire–Patrícia teaches needle arts and classes in well-being. Architect Emanuel’s refurbishment of the townhouse was selected for the Portuguese Architecture Exhibition for the ‘Year of Portugal in Brazil’, and his dramatic flair has him writing and directing for the Porto theater scene. In an enterprise born of their shared love of receiving people and sharing the food they make, Emanuel and Patrícia are an exciting example of young entrepreneurs showing the best of Portugal.
If you go
ROSA ET AL Townhouse is a member of the Bed and Brunch Collection of boutique hospitality projects devoted to refurbishment of historic properties around the world. When you are ready for your own “cooking Portuguese” experience, consult the ROSA ET AL website for the latest dates and times of sessions on offer.
Taste Porto is continually refreshing its offerings of informative culinary walking tours of the city.