Porto fod tourTouring a new city on foot always brings the place into focus, and a good food tour adds an element I especially enjoy. A couple of years before Tom and I moved from Switzerland to Portugal, we spent several weeks traveling in Portugal, ending with an exploration of northern Portugal’s food scene. On a glorious day in May, we walked the hilly terrain of splendid Porto with André Apollinario of Taste Porto Food Tours. A light breeze tempered the heat of just-arriving summer. It was perfect weather for tramping across broad avenues and plazas, diving into steeply pitched cobblestone streets, and enjoying a culinary walk. 

Porto food tourWhen we met André, Taste Porto had been in operation for just a year. Our host’s love of his city, and of Portugal’s culinary traditions was apparent, and his enthusiasm for welcoming people to Porto, boundless.

We learned that people from Porto call themselves ‘Tripeiros’, or tripe eaters, after a local legend from the 15th century. In this one, the citizens of Porto fed the troops of Henry the Navigator’s fleet in the conquest of Ceuta, in northern Africa, and kept for themselves only the ingredients that became Tripas à Moda do Porto. The stew of tripe, sausages, and beans is a symbol of the citizen’s generosity and appears on many local menus.

We heard about the infamous Francesinha, or ‘Frenchie’. The stomach-busting sandwich of meat, sausages, and cheese is topped with a beer and tomato sauce and a fried egg and served with a side of French fries.

Neither of these dishes featured on our tour but learning about them gave us an insight into the humble foods behind a rich culinary tradition.

Prior to our tour, we had seen Porto’s nickname, ‘Invicta’ or ‘Unvanquished’, all over town–on trash cans, buses, and the banner for FC Porto, the city’s football team.  The moniker comes from historical fact: the city’s withstanding a year-long siege during the 19th-century Portuguese civil war. The traditional culinary scene here has an edge to it still, and this was evident on our half-day walkabout with André. It was a great introduction to the city we would, in the not-too-distant future, call home.

Authentic, intensive

A Taste Porto original

Our Downtown Food Tour was a “city walks intensive”, with plenty of opportunities to work off the calories we packed away. Porto is quite hilly, a fact of geography that put more than 13,000 steps on my Pedometer in the name of Portuguese food and wine. We began our walk at the Bolhão Market and ended with sweets at Praça de Guilherme Gomes Fernandes in Porto’s ancient Vitória neighborhood. Along the way, we stopped for a look over Porto’s rooftops to Vila Nova de Gaia, where we would later head for a port wine tasting.

A walk with André of Taste Porto Food Tours
Travel writers James Martin and Martha Bakerjian joined our Downtown Food Tour.

To begin our walk, we tasted savory Pastel de Chaves and visited Casa Cristina (a café since closed). The café’s coffee grinders were museum pieces, having been used in hard times to blend chicory with coffee beans and stretch scarce resources. We met long-time shopkeepers, and young entrepreneurs bringing authentic regional flavors to Porto from across Portugal, and especially the North. At Porto’s iconic Bolhão Market, we tasted sardines with baguette slices and a glass of Douro moscatel wine.

Bolhão Market was in disrepair on that first visit, its offerings severely reduced, as the city prepared to renovate and modernize the neoclassic premises. Several of the vendors we met that day would retire rather than move to the market’s temporary location in La Vie shopping center. Others made the move to the Mercado Temporário do Bolhão, are now keeping traditions alive there as they—and we—await their return to the refurbished marketplace.

My favorite new flavors from our first time with Porto Food Tours included an aromatic dish of melted Caganita ewe’s cheese on country bread and a pulled-pork sandwich with a glass of bubbly red wine from vineyards near Porto. In a decadent finish, we indulged in chocolate éclairs with extra cream on the side.

Eclairs on a plate at Leitaria da Quinta do Paço
Eclairs at Leitaria da Quinta do Paço

Slow food, Port wine

The Vintage Food Tour gives participants a chance to see, feel, and taste traditional foods that travelers often miss on a whirlwind visit to Porto. Along with stops at family-owned shops, where fruit and cheeses jostle for space with coffee beans and wine, the walk takes participants behind the scenes at revamped restaurants where a new generation of locals is reviving Porto’s gastronomy. These innovators are supporting the city’s emergence as one of Europe’s top culinary destinations, and happy to share the results. Highlights of the Vintage walk for me included sampling hearty breads, such as Folar de Murça, and a variety of meats and cheeses from the Douro and Trans Montana regions, and an introduction to Port wine. This walk was a Slow Food showcase!

Grapes and figs on display
Seasonal fruit on display outside a traditional grocery shop
Cured meats, cheeses, and olives displayed
Cured meats, cheeses, and olives from northern Portugal
Three glasses of port wine
An introduction to Port wine

New explorations

Taste Porto’s most recent addition to its tour roster pairs local snack foods with locally produced craft brews. Participants in the Craft Beer & Food Tour sample and learn from a passionate beer educator and are introduced to the city’s must-visit beer spots. A description of the tour from Hungry Backpack is enough to flame any beer lover’s enthusiasm!

Sardines on platesSince moving to Portugal, we have been delighted to join numerous culinary experiences led by Taste Porto Food Tours.

We’ve participated in collaborations, such as cooking sessions, a food photography walk for the first edition of Porto PhotoFest, even a cool video.

We cheered when André discussed port wine, cheese, and charcuterie with Anthony Bourdain on a Porto episode of the Parts Unknown series.

We have gotten to know several of the food and wine producers we first met on Taste Porto food walks.

And we’ve seen firsthand Taste Porto’s diversification and growth as talented guides have joined the team.

Today, as it has from the beginning, Taste Porto supports good works, donating a percentage ticket sales to AMI, a local organization helping the homeless.

Who knows what the creative team behind Taste Porto will think of next?

* * *

Thank you to APTECE, the Portuguese Culinary Tourism and Economic Association, and Turismo de Portugal, for bringing us to Portugal in the first place, and to everyone at Taste Porto Tours for making us feel so at home in Porto!

To see all our travel stories from Portugal, click here

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful words Anita, and congratulations on your inspiring photography in this delightful article about Taste Porto! I also took a tour with André earlier this year, and can only confirm what you are saying about the magic of food tour explorations, especially when you are visiting a city for the first time. Next time, don’t miss the Francesinhas at a place called “O Golfinho” near Torre Dos Clérigos – you won’t be disappointed! 😉

    Thank you too for all your inspiring articles about Portugal! Taste of Lisboa, and “a food lover’s guide to Alentejo”, are high on my list. 😀 In case you want to hear more about my recent explorations in Portugal, check out my travel blog at http://www.creativelena.com/en/travel-blog/europe/portugal-europe

    Looking forward to staying connected, as like you I am always on the lookout for “cultural traditions & a never-ending quest for art, good food and the people who make it”, especially concerning the concept of “creative travel”. Hopefully, we’ll get to meet in person one day !!!

    All the best for now,

    Elena!

    • Thanks so much, Elena! I’m delighted to discover your blog, and it certainly looks as though we follow the same travel muse. Would love to meet up one day, so please stay in touch!

  2. I am always so thankful that these types of tours have a walking component to work off the calories consumed. So looking forward to exploring Porto someday under the auspices of an expert group of foodies. I don’t know whether I’m captivated more by the flamed sausages or the eclairs. Perhaps both would be a place to start. 🙂

  3. Bubbly red wine. I’d like some now. And the chocolate eclairs! Every time I read a post from you about Portugal I feel like it is calling me to go there! This walking tour looks fabulous and thank goodness it’s hilly (food= calories = walk, walk, walk).

    • Agreed! Some foods of northern Portugal can be heavy, even intimidating, and these are the ones a traveler hears of first. Sampling on a tour like this one makes it possible to try bites of deliciousness not always on our radar.

  4. Hmm. I probably wouldn’t be sorry about missing the trip. 😉 But, everything else looks like it was yummy. I would not have imagined Portuguese cuisine to have been so cheese and sausage intensive. Food tours have been notably lacking in my travel experiences. You have convinced me I need to remedy that. Good one.

    • Suzanne, you definitely need to put a Portuguese food tour on your itinerary one of these days. Great ones are on offer, in both Porto and Lisbon!

  5. We love taking food tours wherever we go and with Porto on our itinerary this year, it is great to know about Taste Porto Food Tours. I’m so looking forward to tasting some of this fabulous food!

  6. What a lovely post! Thanks for this – I am actually going to be spending a significant amount of time in this city to update a guidebook – so this is a really useful post.

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sure to check out this company and tours.

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