Produce in Porto Like A Local

Just after I relocated to Porto back in April of 2019, I was walking around my new neighborhood in exploration mode looking for something to eat. The Marques neighborhood is a beautiful area anchored by the large densely wooded square which includes its center piece fountain, a band stand, an open-air cafe and a D line metro station. The square, or Praca, is typically filled with locals, a handful of tourists and clusters of retired men playing sueca (a Swedish card game) under the trees at the south end.

Fountain in Marques square

In the mid to late 19th century, Praca do Marques was home to a brandy market and a bullring. It also formed a barrier at what was then the northern edge of Porto where taxes were levied on goods coming into the city. In the 1930s, construction began on the French designed Church of Senhora da Conceicao on the west side of the square. Today the Praca is surrounded by the church, a mix of apartments, B&Bs, markets, bakeries, cafes, Portuguese and ethnic restaurants, miscellaneous shops and various other services including recent additions such as a cheese and wine shop, a vegan restaurant/market and a couple of small art galleries.

At the time I didn’t really know if I wanted to cook or eat out, but I quickly changed my mind! Just across the Praca from my apartment, where the northern most end of Rua de Santa Catarina (# 1585) dead ends into Praca do Marques on the corner, there is a perfect little find. Auto Mercado do Marques! It is primarily a fruit and vegetable market that is freshly stocked each Monday afternoon and where almost everything that comes from the ground is sourced from within Portugal. A handful of items come from outside the country when not in season or when not available locally such as grapes in January or mangos, papayas and cashews from Brazil.

In addition to the crisp fruits and fresh vegetables on display and poking out onto the sidewalk there are also cheeses, breads, farm fresh egg from Portugal and dried bacalhau (cod fish) from Iceland which is salted locally for 8 weeks hanging on hooks in the window. Dried bacalhau, is typically used in chowder, curry or for filling empanadas. In the back, the shelves are stocked with local wine and port, a large variety of sundries including beans, pasta, various grains, flour, canned tuna and sardines, small bags of almonds, walnuts and dried fruits from Portugal and Brazil along with spices and tea.

For the past seven years Berta has been managing the clients while her sister and the market’s owner, Antonia, can be seen stocking, tending shelves and tidying most days. Antonia has a thirty-year business relationship with the local farm in the Porto district that delivers fresh each week. Most produce is organic at a fraction of the price you’d pay in any of the other larger farmers markets scattered around the city of Porto. Everything smells and tastes like heaven in its natural state with dirt still clinging!

Beyond the food, perhaps the most enjoyable part of my now frequent visits are the cooking related health tips and advice from Berta! I’ve come to know Berta and Antonia well, and Berta is not shy about sharing her experience mixed with colorful conversation. Strawberries are good for anemia. Using the leaves from broccoli in soups and risotto can aid in weight loss…in addition to enhancing the taste. Cutting off the end off of a cucumber and repeatedly “twisting” that piece around the end of the just cut longer piece produces a pulp which aids in digestion of the cucumber in salads and can reduce inflammation. With each visit I have a new anecdote or antidote!

I was accustomed to buying fruit and vegetables from the trendy North American and European “organic” grocery chains and farmers markets. So, this first encounter, from the location and food to the knowledge sharing and banter, was a welcome change and addition to my life in Porto. On that day in April I picked up two grocery size bags packed with fruit, vegetables, nuts, cheese, bread and a couple bottles of wine for about €20 including the wine. A week’s worth of food for me…not including the wine of course! Back across the Praca, I was now home enjoying the pleasures of cooking a giant pot of soup with a glass of wine, some bread and cheese. Any thought of a restaurant at that point was just a distant memory. 

When in Porto, take the D line metro two stops north of Trindade station to Marques or just walk the 15 minutes uphill from the city center and go visit Berta and Antonia at Auto Mercado do Marques! You will have a thoroughly enjoyable experience not found in any on-line travel magazine or referred by a hotel concierge. 

Praia da Luz, Avenida do Brasil, Porto

Davis finds a restaurant with a killer view and even better food at Praia da Luz…

Laid back vibe and people enjoy the view

The sun was shining, and it was 22 degrees. The perfect spring day! With an appetite, I took the #203 bus from Praca do Marques about 20 minutes to the Mercado da Foz bus stop and walked down Rua Diu 5 minutes until I hit the ocean. The views are spectacular cutting through this little section of Porto with the trees just starting to bloom and the street stacked with 19th century townhomes and shops. No two facades are alike. When you dead end into the beach, you’re immediately introduced to the “boardwalk” or Passadiço with hikers, runners and bicycles in abundance enjoying the boulder lined sand, the pier and lighthouse which leads you back to the Douro river and downtown. I learned later that this is actually part of the Porto leg of the Caminho de Santiago trek as it passes along this section of Portugal.

Following the boardwalk down toward the sea about 50 meters north of Rua Diu, I randomly came upon Praia da Luz restaurant and beach bar. It’s not visible from above, but just below street level the world changes. The vibe reminded me of St. Tropez for just a minute, but it’s more welcoming, down to earth, real and relaxed. At this point I was starving and walked inside the long narrow restaurant to white linen table clothes and the mirrored rear wall that brings the ocean inside…all directly on the beach. Fresh baked breads, homemade butter, tuna spread, tomato dip and Portuguese olives were accompanied by an amuse bouche. I didn’t ask, but it was fabulous and something from the sea. The menu is diverse though leans toward fish, so I ordered the seabass baked in sea salt and rosemary along with the fresh spinach and boiled potatoes…everything swimming in garlic and butter. Half a bottle of Portuguese Douro Valley white wine later and my planets were aligned. The service was flawless and the total bill, on the pricey side for Porto, including wine was about €25.

From inside the main restaurant with its wall of windows I could see the outdoor, more casual bar/restaurant which is part of the Praia da Luz facility and private beach. The main building also has a roof top section and outdoor bar to take in the spectacular ocean view. Outside, there are tables and white umbrellas as far as the eye can see along a large terraced wood deck with chaise lounge chairs beyond spilling into the sand. The outdoor menu is less expensive and more expansive with Portuguese tapas, ceviche, carpaccio, burgers, salads, pastas, various other local dishes, desserts and the like. 


I followed the live music outside, ordered my first Porto Tonico and settled into a sofa under the gigantic “sail” that shades the rear section of the outdoor bar. For context, the Portuguese Porto Tonico is white port wine, tonic water, a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint. One glass alone is not possible. The man on a guitar was local and the music was chill. As the afternoon wore on and the drinks kicked in a “DJ” appeared. A barefoot, 60 something gentleman in white tee shirt and faded jeans looking like he literally lived on the beach with his dark tan and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The music changed to something more from the Hotel Costes in Paris suitable for dancing and the eclectic people watching.

Under normal circumstances I’d be embarrassed to say that I was now in my sixth hour at Praia da Luz. Did I nap at some point? I do recall multiple conversations throughout the day. The sun was lowering, the crowd now growing with an ever-changing mix of locals, tourists and those just passing through on the Camino. A dessert was in order. I asked for something that wasn’t heavy and fit with the beach. They brought their “cream of the universe”: lime mousse, lemon curd and merengue…you do the math! For some unexplained yet completely obvious reason they also brought me a shot of “cachaça” which is a Brazilian liqueur made from fermented sugarcane juice. Good, yet evil. To me it sort of tastes like a cross between Turkish raki and maybe tequila…it’s aggressive on the way down!

I grabbed an Uber and headed back downtown for home. The bus, the Metro or even walking were all completely inappropriate at this point. Praia da Luz is yet another example of what Porto has to offer with a unique setting on the beach, excellent food and service. Highly recommended. 

Baby Carrier vs Stroller, How to Get It Right for Your Best Vacation

Olivia in the Osprey Poco Plus

“Does this smell?” I asked Jo about our Osprey carrier. From the other side of the room she responded “Yes.” Earlier in our trip we had walked for twelve days from Porto, Portugal to Compostela de Santiago, Spain, averaging 13 miles / 21k a day.  After a comfortable train ride back to Porto, we had to confront some hard truths.  The Osprey was in desperate need of a washing. Feeling inspired, I took the carrier into the shower, soaped it up, and rinsed.  I then carried the still dripping frame pack through the hotel room as my cleaning trophy.  I was proud of what I had done, both me and the carrier were fresh again.  But I was met with dismay.  Upon seeing me, Jo quickly asked,“what are we going to carry Olivia around in all day?” I had not thought that far ahead. And at my urging, we had left the stroller at home. But this moment was travel-gold disguised as wet, and admittedly, still musty nylon.  My impulsive shower wash forced us to find a new way to carry our daughter.  It also made us reflect again on one of the first family-travel questions I was ever asked. 

“It looks like you don’t take a stroller with you when you travel, would you recommend leaving it at home?” When I first heard that question, I was extremely biased, and responded with a resounding “yes!” Then, I had traveled exclusively with carriers, and I had always opted for the hands-free terrain-versatility that they offered.  But, I was speaking from my limited knowledge base; I had never experienced the back-saving advantages of a stroller. With the framed carrier sodden we came up with two solutions. The first one was to use the soft carrier with Olivia on our back.  That was merely a variation on the theme I knew well.  The second solution, however, was the game-changer.  I also went down to ask the hotel if they had a stroller that they lent out to guests, and as it turns out, they did. We now had a genuinely new option to try out in Porto. 

My first stop with the bright red umbrella stroller was the gym. Why? Because that’s  where the sterilization wipes, sprays, and unlimited amount of paper towels can be found. I sprayed and wiped the entire stroller down to a standard that even Jo was proud of. While I clumsily pushed the stroller through the hotel door Olivia took a look and exclaimed “oh, nice!” and started to climb in. Porto, Portugal and its steep cobbled sidewalks and streets combined with its availability of all types of public transport made it a perfect place for testing child transport superiority. With an unencumbered back, we rolled our daughter into a day of sightseeing. 

The stroller performed much better than expected over uneven cobble stone side walks. Olivia did not seem to mind the bumpy ride and it even helped put her to sleep at times. Taking the bus to the seaside with the stroller was not as easy as it would have been with one of the other hands-free baby haulers, but it did allow me to sit down on a bus for the first time in a while. The other huge advantage is how easily we could transfer responsibility of carting Olivia around. The responsibility of carrying Olivia in the outsized Osprey frame pack is exclusively mine. The soft carrier usually gets strapped to whatever parent Olivia choses as her mule at that moment, but then stays there. The stroller could easily be toggled from one parent to the other. 

There were some drawbacks to a stroller, especially in the storied cities, towns, and villages of the “Old World.” In Porto, many sidewalks taper to 2 feet across.  At times they completely disappear, and we tried our best to walk in single file, one shoulder to the wall.    Keeping the stroller out of traffic while avoiding oncoming pedestrians was a full time job. In crowds the stroller was also at a disadvantage.  Many Portuguese did not see our stroller, or pretended they didn’t.  As we jostled our way through the thick of humanity, we wondered if we were the only ones concerned for our little stroller.  We had by then affectionally dubbed it “Little Red,” and knew, objectively at least, it was easily visible. 

not sure if this was a sidewalk but we had to walk in the street

Portugal has recently been awarded the United Nations’ first award for being an Accessible Tourist Destination. What it took to get that appellation, however, was not clear to me.  Looking for ramps and elevators became a constant occupation. Overall, Little Red was a welcomed relief from the long days of carrying Olivia, and if nothing else, it forced us to look around more, and find a path we may not otherwise have taken. If we had to carry it between hotels or through airports, however, even my tepid support might be tamped down. Calling or emailing your hotel or vacation stay and finding out if they can provide one is the way to go. 

The next day, with the Osprey frame pack still not completely dried, we used our Lilly Complete. Generally, we only put Olivia in this carrier to get through busy areas such as airports, train stations.  We’ve also adapted it to be our on-the-go sleeper. We have traveled so much that it is now her preferred place to sleep. As an all day carrier, however, we were uncertain.  We were trying a new back position which would bring her flush against my back, and we would attempt to keep Olivia in it all day. The biggest concern was overheating, for all parties involved.  The close-to-the-body position turned out to be optimal for shopping in the small shops around Porto. With the large frame pack, I am always afraid that I will turn and knock something over.  And despite its moniker, “Little Red” always felt in the way. Jo also felt much more comfortable carrying Olivia in the Lilly Complete over the Osprey. Jo feels unbalanced while using the Osprey, which makes sense.  It is optimized for me, 100 lbs bigger, and a full foot taller. The Lilly Complete also kept our hands free as the Osprey would, but with a soft exterior, allowed easy storage when Olivia wanted to walk around. The biggest draw back was encountered at snack time.  Because Olivia is flush to our body there wasn’t a lot of room for her to eat or drink while we were carrying her. 

everyone seemed to enjoy this option

Osprey Poco Plus has been our go to child transport system since Olivia has had the neck strength to hold her head up. It allows us to go on hikes and walk all day with her.   It also has some great built in storage that frees up the hands of both parents. The optional rain cover has never failed to keep Olivia dry allowing us a full day of exploring no matter what the forecast is. On almost all of our vacations we go on some type of hike and this is the only system we could travel with that would lend itself to a day in the woods as well as an amble around town. This is also the carrier that Olivia will remain seated the longest without asking to walk herself. In Porto, we did find some draw backs. The radius needed to turn is rather large, so in stores and on public transport people and or things often get hit. While it does fold into itself when the child is not in the seat, if you have items stored in the pack it will not completely collapse. While it did not get the best overall marks on our test, it is our only option if we plan to do any hiking on the trip.

Overall the best advice would be to take the soft carrier, unless you are planing a hike, and contact hotels before booking to find one that has a stroller. 


Osprey Poco PlusLilly Complete Hotel Stroller “Little Red”
Crowded areas 452
Public transportation  453
Shopping353
Perceived comfort of Olivia 544
Vicente’s enjoyment of use443
Jo’s enjoyment of use145
Olivia snack and drink time425
Ease of nap time553
Ease of cleaning while traveling 353
Ease of transporting from country to country 453
Ease for parent  while Olivia is walking  354
Energy conservation for parent using435
Total 445243

Tortas de Polvo e Companhia

Tortas de Polvo e Companhia, go now before the world finds out and you won’t get a seat. Read Davis McKinney’s full review….

My Girlfriend and I were early for a brunch with friends and killing time one Saturday when we stumbled upon a tiny place with an octopus on the sign outside. We thought we would stop in for a quick snack and glass of wine before the brunch…we were starving. Who knew? Tortas de polvo & Companhia is at the top of the last little side street (Rua Conde São Salvador 52) near the port in Matosinhos. Parallel to the Rio Leca and generally between Brito Capelo and Mercado Metro stations it is easy access via Metro from downtown Porto.

Inside, the small bar and kitchen dominate the space with only 3 tables and a small counter along the side wall next to the kitchen. It’s adorable! The woman managing the customers while taking orders and “translating” for the kitchen spoke some hybrid of French, Portuguese and English. She was as charming as she was attentive to everyone’s needs. 

We started with a glass of perfectly dry Portuguese house white wine from the Douro valley while checking out the menu. The miniature blackboard in the window had a torta de polvo (octopus pie or tart) for €3.50. This is what originally pulled us in and was to be our snack! We miscommunicated the order somewhere between the Portuguese and the French exchange and ended up with two Tortas. What could go wrong? Wrapped in the crust was what appeared to be ground octopus with tomato and mushrooms. The dough was light, warm and both sweet and spicy at the same time. It was a sort of brick red in color. Alongside the torta was a fresh mixed salad of greens, onions and carrots. It was a meal vs. a snack, but we slammed them both down knowing at this point our pending brunch with friends would be reduced to liquids and conversation. With our second glass of wine we also successfully split the “tres polvos” plate which was, as you may have guessed, three different tapas size octopus tastings. One was similar to a ratatouille, another grilled and the third mixed with potatoes and onion and served cold in a perfect cylinder shape. All excellent. Since we were this far in…we went for the dessert. A coffee tasting crème drizzled over the top of thinly sliced white cake of unknown ingredients. We didn’t ask, but it was warm and fresh and similarly sensational. The total bill was just shy of €20 for both of us. 

As we were getting close to the meeting time for brunch we walked around the corner to meet our friends and had another glass of wine while explaining why we were not going to eat! Tortas de polvo & Companhia…it is not to be missed! 

Taberna Dom Castro

Taberna Dom Castro Porto’s answer to the secret restaurant…

If you see this sign you are have found Portuguese culinary nirvana

I was walking down the north end of Rua do Bonjardim near Praca do Marques in Porto one afternoon and noticed a man on a step ladder. I now know him to be Pedro. He looked like he was cleaning the windows of a 19th century townhome. I walked up and asked if he spoke English in my broken Portuguese. He chuckled responding in perfect English and explained that this was actually his restaurant and that he would be open again for dinner at 2000hrs that evening.

Taberna Dom Castro at Rua do Bonjardim 1078 is now a permanent fixture in our lives. Pedro serves delightful local Portuguese meals for lunch or dinner at very reasonable prices. At €14 per person all-inclusive for lunch or dinner, you should always make a reservation! Upon arrival, you ring the doorbell for access because Pedro and his small staff are busy cooking and serving the mix of business people, locals, and tourist clientele.

After calling for reservations, even last min, ring the bell for entry

 

Small and cozy with green checkered table clothes on “picnic” style wood tables and an open kitchen in the back, you will feel at home immediately! Maybe 10 tables in the place. There is no menu of course as all the food is based upon what is fresh for today. Pedro asks if you would like meat or fish and proceeds to describe all the course options which can be tailored to your specific desires. 

On our most recent visit we shared a large platter of freshly grilled piping hot sardines. These are to be eaten whole, head and all, popped into your mouth like candy with a squirt of fresh lemon across the plate. My friend’s two year old daughter was gobbling these down like she was in heaven. Along with the sardines was another platter of breaded pescada branca, a light and mild white fish…warm and a perfect complement to the sardines. On the side was a large steaming bowl of rice with grelo which was more like a soup in consistency. Grelo, a local Portuguese green, is something like a cross between spinach and kale. Tasty with the rice and the broth. The bread basket was filled with various warm Portuguese breads including white, wheat and dark. 

Loving Davis’s recommendations off the common tourist trail of Porto

We ordered a carafe of house white and one of house red and both were perfect with the meal, light and dry. Café (espresso) and bottled water trailed behind. Just when we thought the experience could not be any better….Pedro came by and described the dessert options! Everything is made in the back and we ordered one leite crème, otherwise known as the Portuguese version of crème brulee and a chocolate mousse. Both of these are difficult to describe to the level of the actual experience. The leite crème looks like a creme brulee, but is softer in consistency and a bit more sweet with less vanilla taste. Perfectly torched before it was brought to the table. The cornerstone of the meal for me was the chocolate mousse. It was creamy in texture vs. sponge like and made of dark chocolate with a surprise nibble of random chocolate chunks inside. 

Being raised in a place where most food is manufactured and full of chemicals, it’s still amazing to me to actually taste the ingredients in the food you are eating. Pedro’s, Taberna Dom Castro is a perfect example of classic traditional local Portuguese food at its best. 

Davis McKinney Recommends,

Welcome Davis McKinney! Davis will be our expert on all things Porto. Living in Porto he will give you an inside look at restaurants and other activities.

Davis recently completed a career in international business in the information technology sector based in the United States. He has traveled extensively and lived abroad throughout much of his adult life including a number of expatriate assignments in London, Riyadh, Paris and Dublin.

Now retired and living in Porto, Portugal, Davis continues his travels, enjoys sharing these experiences through food and travel writing and is also doing some business consulting in the Portuguese interior design furnishings area supporting his girlfriend’s business.

Davis McKinney doing what he loves, exploring the streets of Porto.