It is perhaps a sad truth that the two main reasons why I love Portugal are their excellent fish and their excellent wine. Of course, there is much more to the country than that — distinctive Moor-influenced architecture; rich history; affable locals — but I’m not gonna lie, for me it all comes back to the food and the wine.
It was therefore clear before we even set foot in the country, that these two themes were going to feature prominently in our itinerary. And the reality did not stray very far from our imaginings.
Allow me to introduce you to a Porto delicacy: Francesinha. Also known - by us - as the soggy meat sandwich, it consists of bread; no less than four different types of meat; cheese; and a tomato and beer sauce. No better way to start the day!
At this point we took an unorthodox cultural outing which had absolutely nothing to do with food. This bookstore is famous for having purportedly provided J.K. Rowling the inspiration for Flourish and Blotts in the Harry Potter series, during the time that she lived in the city. The proprietors have since been handsomely profiting by slapping on a 5.50€ entrance fee (deductible from any book purchase).
It was at this point, precisely half-way through the seafood brunch, that my stomach began to protest. It’s diatribe went along the following lines: “Are you fucking serious. Do you even realise how much seafood you have been piling into this comparatively small receptacle. How do you even expect us to digest all of this shit. Razor clams? What the fuck is that even? Salmon burger? For brunch? You know what, that’s it — I quit. You’re on you’re own champ.”
Following an interesting trip to the bathroom at the very same brunch restaurant (where I felt extremely sorry for the Japanese tourist queuing up behind me), it became clear that it was in everyone’s interest for me to catch an Uber back to the AirBnB to ride out the food poisoning wave.
The afternoon had initially promised many delights. We had planned a tour of a Port winery followed by a Fado show (which I guess would have been paired with some nice Portuguese wine and seafood). But alas, I was destined to spend half of the afternoon lying on the bathroom floor thinking I was about the die, and the other half watching a documentary on Emanuel Macron whilst intermittently throwing up in a fruit bowl.
My friends, to their credit, really stepped up to the plate. While I was vomiting in front of a Macron documentary they went and bought me the vase I had fallen in love with the day before, and was planning to purchase before my stomach decided to cease its normal operations.
They also continued to text me to check if I was alive (on one occasion I was very close to asking them to come back to note my final words) and if there was anything they could bring back for me.
Whenever I have food poisoning, there is only one thing I feel like: lemonade.
“Bring me lemonade,” I pleaded in the group chat, probably followed by some green-faced emojis (I was too sick to GIF, which really attests to the severity of the illness).
Some time later my friends returned with about half the contents of the local pharmacy and a bottle of lemonade. I thanked them profusely for all of the medication they had brought me, promptly swiped it off the bed and onto the floor, and pleaded for the bottle of lemonade.
It’s true that the lemonade did look a little strange, and did require a bottle opener in order to access, but I figured this was just some strange Portuguese brand. It even smelled a little funny as I held it up to my lips, but this I put down to the food poisoning. I took a huge, thirsty gulp and realised that my friends had bought their food-poisoned companion a bottle of beer from the pharmacy.
To be fair, it was a Radler (a German drink which is part-beer, part-lemonade), so there was a minimal lemonade content, but essentially they had bought me alcohol to help me recover from an afternoon spent evacuating my stomach. I know my friends are German, but it was a stretch even for them to try to remedy food poisoning with beer. LOL! I think it is a credit to our friendship that we were able to laugh riotously about it afterwards.
Porto: the verdict
Aside from the food-poisoning and the infamous Radler incident, I found Porto to be a thoroughly charming city nevertheless. In comparison to Lisbon (which I also adore and which up until recently was part of my famous Top 5 Cities) I found its northern sister much more authentic and less touristic. I loved walking through the labyrinthine alleyways and admiring the bright and colourful architecture. And the constant presence of water in both the coast and the river port provided a nautical charm which makes everything feel more relaxing.
It must also be noted that my “food poisoning” had little to do with the quality of the food (which was always exceptional) and everything to do with my greediness. Oh the chagrin of being born a gourmand with a sensitive stomach!!