As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
Last January, we declared 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” and what a fruitful year it was. We had our fair share of fresh experiences and were also able to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to again focus on neighborhoods off the main tourist trail in 2019, as well as the people and places that keep them going. Below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
One of Porto’s best-kept secrets is Fontainhas, a residential neighborhood that rarely appears on postcards or guides. When walking across the Luis I Bridge, the iconic metal arch spanning the Duoro River, towards the tourist zone of Ribeira, the eye always turns to the left, where the sun goes down and everything seems to shine more brightly. But just as not everything that glitters is gold, one can find some of Porto’s greatest riches on those less shiny streets to the right.
Even though they’re facing the dual pressures of unabating tourism and real estate development (its prime location on the banks of the Duoro River is both a blessing and a curse), the locals in Fontainhas are not being pushed out without a fight. They resist, even when parts of the escarpment, the precipitous slope separating the river from upper Fontainhas and onto and around which roads, rail tracks and makeshift houses and gardens have been built, collapse, threatening the security of the many structures piled atop it. We recommend getting lost in the steep streets in and around the escarpment (assuming you’re not afraid of heights), where you can experience the truest Porto there is: people who speak very loudly, neighbors who shout from window to window, house doors left wide open, the smell of wood fires and cooking food, fishing rods in action along the river bank, the trains that pop in and out of the tunnels. There are the remnants of old buildings everywhere, but the scenery and the calm – we’re far away from the stress of downtown – make up for everything.
One potential route begins at Jardim de S. Lázaro, the oldest municipal garden in Porto; from here, you can walk down the street to Ponte do Infante – to the left of the bridge is what many call “the balcony over the Douro,” Alameda das Fontainhas. This long, wide avenue used to host the Vandoma Fair (antique fair) and where, every year, the city’s most popular party to celebrate São João, the city’s patron saint, takes place, with sardines being cooked on large grills and wine flowing freely.
The charm of the neighborhood continues below. Just follow the sound of female voices singing and you will find, just under the bridge, the Lavadouro das Fontainhas, a public laundry. A bit further on is Shiko, a Japanese restaurant on Rua do Sol with the welcoming feel of a tasca, and Guindalense Futebol Clube, a perfect spot to watch the sunset with a fino (beer) and peanuts.
But to really eat well in Fontainhas, say hello to a stranger on the street or to ask where they like to eat. Perhaps they will send you to the fancy restaurants near Jardim de S. Lázaro, like Eskalduna or Pátio do Duque. Or suggest that you try the codfish fritters with Portuguese rice and beans while listening to fado at Páteo da Mariquinhas, the spicy snacks at Catitas, or the feijoada at Roma. Wherever you go in Fontainhas, it will feel like home. – Cláudia Brandão
Join our Porto culinary walk for a deeper dive into Fontainhas. And click here to read the full neighborhood guide.