Monday, September 20, 2010

Gastronomic Overload in Porto

I am fully embracing my job as Weekend Event Planner!  This past Saturday, I had mapped out a full itinerary of port wine tasting and Duoro River cruising in Porto, and off we went.

When we first arrived, we hopped off the train and headed for the beautifully ornate Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace).  We had toured the building on a previous visit, but this time we were interested in a stop at the Vini Portugal wine center inside.  The Portuguese government sponsors the center which features an ever-changing selection of wines from 3 different regions of the country at a time.  It's a great place to learn about the different styles, grapes and regions while sipping generous samples of wine in a stunning location.

As we approached the Palace, it was hard to miss the huge banners promoting Essencia do Gourmet strewn across the facade.  We weren't sure what the heck was going on, but after a brief explanation from a friendly Portuguese woman, we ditched our previous plans and went for a full-on Portuguese Food and Wine experience.   We didn't hesitate to strap on our hands-free wine glass holsters and plunge in

The second story of the palace was ringed by representatives offering samples of wine, liqueur, cheese, meat, chocolate, jam and olive oil from around the country.  Everyone, except the lone beer rep., spoke excellent English and didn't laugh at our newbie questions.

Also upstairs, a number of swanky Porto restaurants offered small plates of food.  It was fun to see the chefs in action and try some amazing dishes including roast suckling pig  (the crunchy, salty skin almost brought me to tears), braised short ribs atop a mound of silky potatoes, and juicy chicken breast with wild mushrooms and white truffle foam.

Below us, on the first level, a number of chefs were offering cooking demonstrations, some of which required audience participation - we were ready - we had our free aprons in hand.  After a few minutes of watching the action, we figured out the procedure.  You wander and peruse your options for various dishes being prepared at various times, got your name on a list, then were allowed into a session when the action started.  If you're not speedy and slightly assertive, you may miss your chance to see a new interpretation of duck rice or salt cod sushi being prepared.

Our first session featured a new twist on a classic Portuguese preparation of pumpkin soup topped with the ubiquitous bacalhau (dried salt cod).   The steamy, creamy soup was gorgeous and delicious!  The second session we signed up for looked exciting - polvo (octopus) with sweet potatoes and a red pepper mousse.

The chef made it seem absolutely simple to whip up this fantastic dish.  I'm not quite ready yet, but there may be some octopus preparation in my future.
After a few more samples of wine, cheese and other delights, we headed for some fresh air, 6 hours after arriving at the expo.

The finished product tasted as good as it looked!
The fresh air and walk along the river were exactly what we needed at that moment.  Porto is a fantastically crusty, busy, energy-filled town. Wandering aimlessly seemed like the perfect thing to do.

Our evening ended with a fab dinner at Dom Tonho's and a great view of the Duoro River from our table.  Eric enjoyed a mountain of duck rice (duck meat, sausages, other mystery ingredients, mixed with rice and topped with melted cheese) and I had a gigantic portion of pork and clams (pork cubes, fried potatoes and clams in a wine broth topped with pickled veggies).  The combination of rich meat and seafood and the acidity of the pickled vegetables was a taste sensation.  We were a bit full, but did opt for dessert when we spotted something called Miminhos de Cafe which was translated as "Tenderness of Coffee."  Who could pass up something called Tenderness of Coffee??   Not us!!  The creamy, lightly coffee flavored custard was melty and heavenly.  It was the perfect conclusion to a wonderful day.  ~Peggy


  1. Dear Peggy and Eric,
    HOW AMAZING!!! I feel as if Steve and I have our exact selves up in Braga. AND..Steve is a visiting professor...AND you obviously have a love of good food and wine AND you are adventurous. If you were here, I would have a new best friend! I love your blog and will continue to read it. Steve will be a guest speaker in Porto in December and perhaps if you are not too far away, we can meet up. Thanks for signing on to my blog!

  2. Ellyn~
    It has been great to follow your adventures in Lisbon via your blog.
    As far as I know we are wide open for a visit to Porto in December!