There has always been a bit of a rivalry between the two main cities of Portugal, Lisbon and Porto, which is well illustrated by an old running joke among some tripeiros (the name given to the people of Porto): whenever someone asks what is the best thing about Lisbon they will reply, “The highway sign that says ‘Porto.’”
But it’s a healthy rivalry for the most part – football aside. Lisboetas, Lisbon locals, in general even tend to recognize that the food might actually be better in Porto and its surroundings, especially traditional dishes. While Porto does not benefit from the same multicultural influences that helped shape Lisbon’s restaurant scene, it is home to some very talented cooks with a knack for doing so much with so little.
So when in Porto, you should take advantage of all the things that can only be eaten there, not in Lisbon, not anywhere else. There are actually quite a few, and a wide range of choices, too. Here is a list of five items we think are worth trying.
It’s possible to find francesinhas anywhere in Portugal. But it’s mission impossible trying to find francesinhas as genuine and savory as the ones served in its hometown. Making one of these calorie bombs – a croque monsieur on steroids – demands dedication and, above all, good ingredients. Those serious about it prefer to use to fresh sausages and linguiças, a type of smoked sausage, from Salsicharia Leandro, a popular shop in the famous Bolhão market. The sauce is as important as the sandwich itself: it should be hot, spicy and meaty. It takes time to prepare, as well as quite a bit of love.
Where to try? Café Santiago or Francesinha Café
Papas de Sarrabulho
The recipe for this dish actually originates in Minho, the Portuguese region right above Porto, but it’s quite common to find it in some tascas around town, especially during winter. The description might scare many away because it is, literally, a bloody porridge: a mix of shredded pork offal with a blood-thickened gravy enriched with lots of cumin. But it is definitely worth trying, whether on its own or as a side dish with rojões (seasoned fried pork), another typical northern recipe.
Where to try? Taxca or O Buraquinho
Croissants are perhaps the most universal pastry – they can be found virtually anywhere in the world. But croissants in Porto are in a league of their own. Very different from Parisian croissants made with flaky puff pastry, croissants in Porto are typically sturdier and sweeter, made with soft brioche dough that’s slightly undercooked on the inside. They might be sweet but they’re not a dessert: it is not unusual to find people eating them stuffed with cheese and ham, after being pressed in the sandwich toaster – just enough to melt the cheese.
Where to try? Mixpão or Padaria Ribeiro
Tripas à moda do Porto
Porto inhabitants are called tripeiros. The nickname comes from a 600-year-old episode: during Portugal’s Age of Discoveries, which began in the 15th century, the people of Porto offered all their meat to the explorers that went to Ceuta and kept only the offal. Tripe included. The Porto-style tripe quickly became a local dish, loved by many despite its anatomical origin (we’re talking about the stomach of the animal). A genuine version of it must include lots of different meats: pig’s ears, cow’s trotters, chicken and different sausages. It is basically a stew, so it should be hot and spicy, served with beans and white rice.
Where to try? Lider or Rei dos Galos de Amarante
The best sandwiches in the whole country might very well be served in Porto. For starters, the pork knuckle sandwich – with or without Serra cheese – at Casa Guedes is amazing and absolutely must be paired with the local sparkling wine. Then there’s the cachorrinhos, or baby hot dogs, at Cervejaria Gazela. This is a very special breed of hot dog: crispy bread, two kinds of sausages, melted cheese and a sauce that is just spicy enough to order another beer. At A Badalhoca, you’ll find the PO (presunto e ovo, ham and egg) sandwich, the perfect marriage of lightly cured ham from Castelo Branco and a fried egg, blessed by a soft, always fresh, loaf of bread. Finally, bifanas (pork steak sandwiches) are also special in Porto: the strip steaks are cut way thinner than in Lisbon and cooked in a spicy sauce that you won’t find anywhere in the capital. Try them at Icaraí or Conga.