When travelling to new lands, there is always something enticing about “discovering” a place you think no one else knows about. As if you’re a rugged explorer who has stumbled upon that one diamond, that one unique place that is privy to you alone. That, my friends, is a fantastic feeling, in large part due to your incredibly effective brainwashing techniques; because let’s be honest, that one “hidden” spot in the era of social media, is most likely known to the entire planet. But hey, let’s live the dream, shall we?
We found Taberna do Sao Pedro on a gorgeous afternoon after taking a long, meandering walk through Porto. Our goal was to find the one bus that would take us from the Porto side of the river to the opposing, Vila Nova de Gaia coast; however, our calculations were less than stellar. After hours upon hours of hiking up and down twisting and turning cobbled streets lined with red tiled roofs, we eventually made way to the shore where hopped on a little wood lined ferry and zipped across the river for a mere euro.
Watching seagulls dip and sway above our heads, the ride was gorgeous, despite the choppy waves. Having grown up on Lake Michigan in Chicago, not to mention our previous residence on the Mediterranean in Barcelona, I missed the gulp-fulls of sea air rushing into your lungs. There’s something purifying about the experience, much like pressing a massive “reset” button on your body.
Docking up against the shore, we gingerly stepped off the boat and made way past three stocky older women donning linen skirts, thick well-loved sweaters and the all-to-typical, mid-calf black socks complete with sandals. Now, I’m not entirely clear where this popular fashion statement was born among rugged faced elderly Portuguese women, complete with dirt lined fingernails, but I trust they have some fabulous stories to pair with their equally unique outfits.
The restaurant was located just behind the main thoroughfare along the Gaia coast, where we spotted a large group of people casually staring at billowing smoke streaming out of a building. From afar, the scene was a bit surreal, but upon closer inspection, the crowd wasn’t just filled with passive gawkers, they were salivating as the grillmaster’s expertise as he flipped, shifted and cared for the racks upon racks of fresh fish. The scene was both mesmerizing and absolutely delicious!
On the other side of the rincon (corner) stood a series of tables filled with satiated patrons picking tender meat from thin fish bones. Staring at the crowd, then shifting to the grill master, and back to the tables, we were slightly convinced we were crashing a neighborhood party. The ambiance was festive, light and fun without any pretense or formality.
Having put our name on the “list”, which consisted of the bartender’s ability to miraculously remember your name among the dozen of other guests herding around the doorframe, “Opaz” was eventually called out among the masses, and we squeezed ourselves in a small two person table filled with money, dirty dishes and wadded napkins. Swarms of people moved around us for a good 15 minutes before a pale faced young girl stood above us asking, “So, what did you order?”
“Erm…we didn’t order yet. Where do we order?”
Looking a little annoyed and perplexed, she jutted her head toward the exterior grill. “There.”
“Well, uhh….no we didn’t, but can we now?”
Adjusting her pink skinny pants, she flipped her pencil and waited.
The chalkboard listed a series of dishes that were both seasonal and standbyes. We requested two skewers of grilled shrimp and squid with a side of Robalo (white fish), a green salad and steamed potatoes with a bottle of house white. In good time, the table was eventually cleared, platters of steaming grilled fish were placed before us, and in the course of a few minutes, we fell into the most miraculous food coma. The fish was absolutely tender, juicy and delicious. The potatoes were insanely flavorful despite having only been boiled, and when combined with the complete chaos whirling around us, much like entering someone’s home for a massive family meal, we couldn’t have created a more ideal situation. Informal, loud, familiar, fun and cosy, it threw pretention out the window and provided you with grounded home cooking at an incredibly affordable price. We’re talking 20 euros for 2 people.
With our bellies full, and our bill paid, we spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling along the shore, soaking in the salty sea air and reminding ourselves how lucky we were to live in a city that still held tight to its cultural traditions. A city that appreciated time honored family recipes, while tossing unnecessary formalities to the side.
“There are many of us who cannot but feel dismal about the future of various cultures. Often it is hard not to agree that we are becoming culinary nitwits, dependent upon fast foods and mass kitchens and megavitamins for our basically rotten nourishment.” MLK Fisher
Yes, we’re very pleased we live in Porto, among the food friendly.