We had an excellent trip around parts of northern Portugal, visiting the coastal town Viana do Castelo before moving up the Douro River to Pinhao, and then down to Porto. The entire time we were never disappointed with the seafood or the wine. The food wasn’t all five star, mind you, but it was all tasty and doubtless very fresh.
Adventures in food and wine
The thing a traveler has to keep in mind while wandering through Portugal is to have a sense of adventure. Don’t be surprised if your server brings you a plate of fish and it’s still looking up at you, while bathed in butter, blanketed in onions and potatoes, and resting mostly intact. Sardines (sardinhas) are sometimes whole, as in guts and everything but the scales. That was a fun surprise for Lynne as she went after a piece with her fork and realized she would have to pick from around the guts. She’s used to all the hair-like bones, but she wasn’t prepared for offal from the sea. Other fish, including Portugal's signature fish, cod (bacalhau), is often served with the head and tail, left eyeballing you while you pluck its delicious meat from the bones.
Unless you speak Portuguese or are intimately familiar with a wide variety of DOCs and cooperatives in Portugal, deciphering the wine menu is a little tricky. Most menus are split between Vinho Verde and Vinho Maduro. It’s up to the diner to know the branco from the tinto, but a lot of the wines listed on the menu have both.
Pinhao is by no means off the beaten track, though staying several nights in the village lends the feeling of wandering down a less often travelled path. Boats bustling with tourists are an almost daily sight. Tourists travel either up the river by boat and return on a train, or vice versa. But once everyone has cleared out, the town is virtually empty. We saw a German couple a few times, and an English couple stayed at our Quinta.
Here we stayed at Quinta de la Rosa. We got a quick tour and a sampling of their wines and port soon after we checked in. The colheita was excellent (no surprise there). The quinta puts on a three course dinner which with they serve three of their different port wines: white port, ruby, and a tawny. I wouldn't necessarily expect ruby port to be paired with fish, but it was cod baked in this rich cheesy sauce that was, well what can I say but, absolutely yummy!
Where do I start? The port wine or the enormous, loopy celebration in honor of Sao Joao, the patron saint of Porto? The port was excellent, needless to say. We toured Graham's (our favorite), Ferreira, and Ca'lem. The first two were great, mainly, I think, because we were part of a group of four. Ca'lem is locate very close to where walkers get off the bridge, so it gets larger crowds. You have to walk to the far end of the main street to get to Ferreira, and then head up the windy hill from there to get to Graham's. If you're not into walking in the summer sun, I assure you Ferreira and Graham's are worth the trek. I'll write more on the port lodges later. And "What about thatenormous, loopy celebration?" you ask. I'd describe it, but telling you about thousands of not-all-that-drunk Portuguese eating sardinhas and bopping people on the head with a plastic, squeaking hammers just doesn't do it justice. I'll post some video once I figure how. You gotta see it to appreciate it and laugh.
Until next time.