Good morning, and welcome to our second day in Porto, Portugal. I bet you thought that we’d done everything there was to do in Portugal’s second city yesterday, right? Boy were you wrong, Internet Stranger! Today we’re going to dine in a library, drink some terrifying alcohol named after a clown, climb the highest building in Porto (not saying much), and eat the world’s best sponge cake. How was the voting for the world’s best sponge cake carried out, you ask? Come with me and all will be revealed.
Morning: Experience Porto’s Sights and Bites Tour
As I have said before and will say again repeatedly, no matter how many times the authorities try to silence me, my three favorite things to do when traveling are: take food tours, visit museums, and wander around and randomly explore weirdness. Museums and weirdness are omnipresent in any city, but not every place is lucky enough to have a food tour.
Lucky for us, Urban Adventures has a “sights and bites” tour in Porto, and as soon as I saw the word “bites” I was on board. The only way a tour with the word “bites” in the title wouldn’t be a food tour is if it takes place in Transylvania.
Some of you may be wondering at this point, “Why do you like Urban Adventures tours so much, Travelerette? Do they pay you?” They definitely don’t pay me, Internet Stranger! In fact they won’t even return my phone calls after that one night in Berlin. But I still like their tours anyway.
The tour met right outside this lovely blue and white Capela das Armas. Our lovely tour guide Sara was ready to lead us on an excursion of Porto’s most popular eats and treats. I was accompanied on this tour by a friendly retired couple from South Bend, Indiana, and by the end our brains were full of knowledge and our bellies were full of food. Get ready to have your minds blown with:
the approximately top five best snacks to try in porto
1) The absolute first dish almost anyone talks about when discussing Portuguese food is the notorious egg tart, pastel de nata. This is a warm egg custard tart topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. 4 out of 5 Portuguese doctors say that you should eat two every morning for breakfast.
We enjoyed our pastel de nata with a side of espresso at a shop called Casa de Nata. The pastry was flaky and the custard oozed out of the tart with every bite. Sara said that the richness of the custard was due to the fact that it is made only using egg yolks. So if I eat an egg-white omelet for breakfast, that should balance out eating a pastel de nata afterwards, fat-wise, right? That’s just science.
2) Another food you simply must try in Portugal is the ubiquitous meat and cheese platter. Hmm. Now that I look at the photo above, it doesn’t seem quite right. Let me fix something.
There! I added some port wine. That looks better! Our group knocked ourselves out on this food platter, courtesy of a gourmet food shop called Comer e Chorar Por Mais, which is Portuguese for “Eat and Cry For More”. I’d say that’s exactly what we did! I had no idea that Portugal was famous for its cheese before visiting here. My favorite was the Serpa cheese, which adds paprika to the rind to give it a little kick.
3) Never think of leaving Portugal without eating a bifana, which is a marinated pork sandwich topped with onions and served on a roll. We got ours at a casual spot called Conga with a side of light Portuguese beer called Super Bock. This sandwich is quite spicy because of the peri-peri sauce used to flavor the pork. You can get extra peri-peri if you like things super spicy and also like having to chug Portuguese beer really quickly afterwards because your eyes are watering. Not that I know this from experience or anything, ahem!
I love the combination of rich spicy pork and the light and fluffy Portuguese rolls with the crunchy exteriors. This is definitely a real man’s sandwich.
4) Now it’s time for us to head to the Codfish Ball! But not this kind of Codfish ball…
This kind of codfish ball! If there’s one thing the Portuguese love, it’s salted codfish. I speak French fluently and Portuguese not really at all, but I still know the word for cod in Portuguese better than I know it in French. (It’s bacalhau in Portuguese and la morue in French, for the curious.) They’re best served like Portuguese rolls: warm, soft on the inside, and super crispy on the outside.
These codfish balls were especially interesting because they were served with clown juice, aka Eduardino. This is an anise-flavored liquor named after a clown who performed in Lisbon and loved his booze. So every time you drink an Eduardino, just remember that you’re drinking the tears of a clown.
5) The Portuguese are truly unparalled wizards when it comes to cooking with cured fish. They are the Dumbledores of salted seafood. I learned this by stopping at a store that specializes in curing our scaly friends of the deep and sampling some of their fish pairings. First we had sardines and honey. I liked this because the sweetness of the honey helps to cut the aggressive flavor of the sardines.
Next was cod with raspberry jelly. This was very tasty, but the raspberry jelly has a strong taste that sometimes overpowered the cod.
The last was smoked trout with cream cheese and pesto. This was my favorite because it tasted just like a perfect little appetizer to serve at a cocktail party. But it did lack the sweetness of the other two fish pairings.
6) Of course, if you’re drinking in Porto, the first think you’re going to think of is not clown juice but Port wine, the fortified nectar of the gods. We stopped in for a wine tasting and got to sample the three kinds of port: white, red, and tawny.
The white was medium dry, but since this is Port we’re talking about, it was still a bit sweet. The red had a kind of peppery taste, and we were told that it was aged in steel. I always want to know how a drink aged in steel doesn’t end up tasting like metal. The tawny was sweet and aged in wood for 10 years. This was my favorite because it tasted the most like a beverage I could imagine a fat 19th century Englishman drinking with his buddies right before Sherlock Holmes proved him guilty of murdering his groomsman.
7) After some fancy Port wine, it is time to stop by a family-run restaurant for some warm and homey potato croquetas. These delicious fried potato balls have a surprise inside. Can you guess what it is? If you guessed “codfish”, you are 100 percent correct. When in Portugal, 93 percent of the time the answer to a trivia question is going to be codfish.
We washed down the croquetas with some mildly spicy Portuguese chicken gizzard stew and black eyed pea salad. I’m just glad for Fergie’s sake that they weren’t Black Eyed Pea gizzards. If you’re feeling squicked about eating gizzards, don’t be! Don’t you care about using every part of the animal? Don’t you want to take care of the environment? Have a heart, Internet Stranger! Also, eat a heart if necessary.
Afternoon: Clerigos Tower
Address: Rua de São Filipe de Nery
Price: 3 Euros
The Clerigos Tower is one of the most memorable landmarks in Portugal. It is the bell tower attached to the Clerigos Church, so if you visit the tower, you get to visit the church also. It’s two landmarks in one! Actually, there is a museum about the Clerigos Tower inside the Clerigos Tower, so it’s really three landmarks in one. The tower is also the best place to go for amazing views of Porto’s famous red roofs. But if you want a little knowledge along with your scenery…
three fun facts about the clerigos tower
1) The architect of this Portuguese landmark was actually an Italian, Nicolau Nasoni, who constructed the church in the first half of the 18th century. Perhaps it is because the architect was Italian that the campanile (bell tower) has a rather Tuscan flavor to it. Nasoni ended up living most of his life in Porto, and he even joined the Brotherhood of the Clerigos, for whom this church is named, before his death.
2) The Torre dos Clerigos stands about 76 meters high, which is tall for Porto, but not terribly tall for the rest of the world. That is why, when you climb to the top of the tower, you will see signs like the one above showing how teeny the Torre dos Clerigos is in comparison with the Eiffel Tower and various skyscrapers in NYC. Way to be self-deprecating, Portuguese Bell Tower!
3) It takes 240 steps to climb the six floors to the top of the tower, where you will be presented with sweeping views of the city. You worked hard to get up here, so take as many photos as you want, and don’t let any mean tourists push you off!
Late Afternoon: Explore
Now that we’ve gotten the main attractions out of the way, it’s time to take a walk on the wild side! And in Porto, the wild side usually involves gold leaf and tiles. As usual, I encourage you to take the late afternoon and see the city on your own. But to help you get started…
the approximately top five best things to see in porto
1) Stop in the Clerigos Church! You can enter the Baroque and golden church right from the exit of the Clerigos Tower without exiting the building or paying any extra money. There is a museum inside the church dedicated to religious art and you will be able to explore many of the rooms and treasures of the Brotherhood of the Clerigos who inhabit this church.
Travelerette Tip: Be sure to climb to the second floor of the church in order to find all of its secrets. I personally enjoyed pretending that I was hiding inside the altar or behind the church organ. It made me feel like an adorable little church mouse.
2) Get an eclair at the Leiteira da Quinto do Paco on Praça Guilherme Gomes Fernandes 47. You may be thinking that the massive food tour ended just a short time ago and how can I still be hungry? But I say that food tour was two and a half whole hours ago, and I need dessert! The LDQDP is one of the most famous pastry shops in Porto. They specialize in eclairs, from double chocolate to wild tropical fruit flavors.
I just got a regular eclair with chocolate frosting to see if the basic quality was good. It was super sweet and rich, so one eclair was enough to satisfy me, which is pretty impressive as normally I can eat as many eclairs as Eclair Monster.
3) Feeling a little churched out? Too bad! Churches are where it’s at in Porto. Our next stop is to see the blue and white tiles and gold-covered wooden statues in the Igreja dos Carmelitas and the neighboring Igreja do Carmo on R. do Carmo 1.
If you are curious where all the gold in the Portuguese churches comes from, it comes from Brazil and other Portuguese colonies. Remember, there was a time when the Portuguese empire was so powerful that Portugal and Spain decided to split the entire world between the two empires. Then England and France came along and that plan didn’t work so well.
But the gold in the Portuguese churches is part of what Portugal decided to do with all that colony money. There are definitely worse things they could have done with the money. After all, if the gold is in a church, anyone can come look at it, whereas if it is all hidden away in a nobleman’s house, no one can see it but the nobleman’s friends and relations.
Travelerette Treasure: Sometimes the gold in a Baroque church can be a little blinding. That’s why I grew fond of these slightly less gilded wooden statues with peaceful star-decorated backgrounds. They remind me of the heavens without blinding my eyes with shiny metal.
4) Find some street art! Porto isn’t a city that is necessarily famous for its street art, but I promise you it’s there. Feel free to wander about and find your favorite ephemeral cartoon cats, painted phone booths, and other unsolicited public art.
My favorite piece was this guy because it looks like a cross between a comic book and the ubiquitous Portuguese blue and white tiles. Way to use local inspiration to fuel your work, unnamed street artist!
5) It is so important to find a relaxing place to sit and read for an hour before dinner. That’s why I like the Praca do General Humberto Delgado. Humbert Humbert, as no one calls him, was a Portuguese general and politican who was definitely murdered and…liked Hitler? That is what Wikipedia tells me, but that shouldn’t be right. Don’t go named squares after people who liked Hitler is Square Naming Rule 101 in my book.
Anyway, even if the square was named after a Fascist sympathizer, it’s still a nice place to read on a warm evening. Sometimes they even have a sound and light show.
I was not expecting this and for a brief moment thought a Hellmouth had opened. But no, it’s just public entertainment.
Evening: Restaurante Book
Address: R. de Avis 10
I promised you dinner in a library, didn’t I? And a Travelerette always delivers on her promises. At Restaurante Book, everything is book themed. The menu comes with a book.
If you need a coaster, the coaster will be a book. If you order a cocktail, it’s going to be a delicious Mojito named after Hemingway.
Even the bathroom signs are books! The ladies’s bathroom has all book covers with pictures of women on them, and the men’s bathroom has manly book covers. I’ve always wanted to see a Jacqueline Susann novel in Portuguese, so this was really living the dream for me.
I started with that Hemingway mojito and a refreshing Book salad, which is made with tomato jam and caramelized goat cheese rounds. I recommend making sure your bites have the jam, cheese, and greens in each one to get that perfect mix of sweet, bitter, and savory.
My main course was an acorda, which is a Portuguese bread soup. It was made with eggs which made the bread soup very thick and creamy. I was surprised at how spicy the bread soup was because I had been worried it would taste bland, but those fears were entirely unfounded. Those juicy prawns were my favorite part of the dish. We don’t get giant prawn heads like that back home. Any time you have a chance to eat seafood in Portugal, please do!
And now we come to what the restaurant called “the best sponge cake in the world”. I don’t know who died and made this sponge cake king, but it was pretty damn delicious. The sponge cake was light and covered in a sweet and unidentifiable powder. But the specialness was in the rich egg custard and berries that came oozing out of the sponge cake when you cut into it. After eating Portuguese food all day, I have to say that it is all delicious, but it is truly the egg custard that is Portugal’s gift to the culinary world.
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Porto
What would you do with one day in Porto? Would you rather eat in a bookstore or with a drunk clown? And are you with me on not naming squares after fans of Hitler? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.