PORTUGAL

 

-the land of Francesinha and Pastel de Nata


Lisbon’s Santa Apolonia Train Station is the city’s oldest station. Located in the historic district of Alfama, this simple and stately façade stands close to the bank of the beautiful and serene river Tejo. The station is conveniently connected by public transport from Marques de Pombal, at the heart of Lisbon. From here the high-speed deluxe trains, adorned with bright colored curtains and carpets inside, take two and a half hours to Porto. Porto’s Campanha station. Porto alias Oporto. Sweet sounding names for a sweet city. Famous for sweet wine exclusively from the grapes of Duoro Valley. Grapes nurtured from the time of Jesus.


Like Lisbon, Porto also seems to have been crafted out from the hilly terrains all around. Most of the old parts of both the Portuguese cities have a maze of steep and narrow cobbled streets, narrow roads, and connecting walkways of extremely steep gradients. Like in Lisbon, which is also known as the city of the seven hills, the public transport system woven into it since the nineteenth century comprises mainly trams, funiculars, and lifts. Lisbon’s main square is however on the plains. Known as Rossio Square, it is there since the Middle Ages. French fountains, a statue of Praca Dom Pedro IV, some gorgeous flowering trees, some spectacular buildings like the National Theater grace the square. The square itself has so much to offer. A delectable bite on Pastel de Nata from the historic confectioner Fabrica da Nata, buying Cherry Liqueur made from fresh, sweet, summer cherries and a few tins of sardines in different flavors from century-old Sardinia. Then hop back in the bus to take spectacular rides through the narrow streets of Alfama, getting down at the churchyard of the cathedral from where the view of river Tejo and the red rooftops below is indeed stunning. The single coach yellow-colored historic tram no. 28 packed with tourists and locals halt at the stop there. What a charming sight!


My wife while on a Google search for a popular restaurant close to our hotel Villa Nova Guest House hit the jackpot by finding a famous Nepalese restaurant ‘Ola Nepal’. They specialize in Indian cuisines. Every night we would walk down for our dinner there. It is located at the bottommost tier, i.e. if you compare with a tall building it is on the ‘lower basement of a building’. Both food and services are excellent over there.


For us, from India, Lisbon means the city of the famous Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama. Lisbon has a museum dedicated to him. Museu de Marinha or Navy Museum is located in the tourist district of Belem. He was the first man to open the maritime route from Lisbon to India. He sailed from Lisbon in 1497 and after some halts at African ports, he finally discovered India. He and his crew anchored at the South Indian city of Calicut in May 1498. He was vilified for his ruthless actions against the Arab traders and their merchandise. So much so that Portuguese sailors were looked upon as terrorists and pirates. But he opened the gateway to India for the Europeans. On his second visit at the beginning of the sixteenth century, he explored Goa, the place in which the Portuguese subsequently colonized and settled. Vasco da Gama is a pretty little town in Goa named after him. Vasco da Gama made his last trip to India in 1524. He died in Cochin the same year. Goa was in Portuguese hands for over five centuries before being liberated only in 1961. The essence of Portugal, their happy-go-lucky lifestyle, the Portuguese flavor are very much in vogue in Goa today.


Porto, with tiered roads and steep gradients, seem to compete with big brother Lisbon. For tourists like us, the only choice for enjoying places of interest in Porto was ‘hop-on, hop-off’ buses. At some points, these double-decked hop on hop off had to take an almost 360-degree turn on narrow steeply terraced hillsides. Kudos to the superb driving sense of the drivers. 


A dizzying sight from the upper deck. Palacio da Bolsa ( a former stock market), Don Pedro Square (statue of Pedro IV at the center) on way to the breezy Atlantic ocean beaches, Porto Cathedral( the oldest surviving structure), Sao Bento Train station, picturesque Douro river which is spanned by several bridges, the medieval Ribeira district (on the valley side of the river), the UNESCO World Heritage historic center are some of the major sites the bus covers. Sao Bento Train station, the English translation of which is St. Benedict is one of the stunningly beautiful stations I have come across. Built-in early 1900 by architect Jose Marques da Silva, the walls of the station are adorned with blue and white tin-glazed ceramic tiles placed by artist Jorge Colaco. The tiles tell the story of Portugal’s past – its royalty, its wars, and its transportation history.


After a delicious fish lunch with cherry liqueur at one of the numerous lined up tempting eateries on the bank of River Douro at the picturesque Rivera side, we sauntered down to Burmester Caves located next to the historic Luis Bridge. There we were greeted by an elegant young lady who narrated the history of Burmester, one of the oldest cellars of Porto. Port wine is made exclusively from grapes grown through many centuries on narrow ancient terraces in Douro Valley. The sweet red wine became extremely popular when English merchants blended the wine with spirit to preserve it. Burmester cellars present ideal conditions with darkened wooden beam ceiling and granite walls. The cellars are there since 1750, which is evident from the greenish color of the granite walls. Huge casks made of French oak and chestnut oak presented awesome sights. These oaks are used because they have high oxygenation capacity. There are many varieties in Port wine, like Ruby Port for their distinct ruby color, Tawny Port which is on the slightly sweeter side of the spectrum and displays a rich amber color, White Port made out of white grape and semi-sweet in flavor. We tasted Tawny wine aged for over three years. It tasted so nice that we bought a bottle of Tawny and a bottle of Portuguese Olive oil from their museum sale counter.


From Porto Sao Bento to Liberdade square (the historic center of Porto) and then to the iconic two-storied Bolhao market (farmer’s market) and Trinidade metro station are all walkable as they are all on flat terrain. A populous city, with pavements wet after some drizzles and vehicles moving at crawling speed in the evening rush hour, reminded me of my hometown Calcutta. The farmer’s market is a huge market where varieties of fish, sausages, hams, bacon – name any type of fish and meat items, vegetables, fruits, Portuguese delicacies, fast food, ice creams are available all under one roof. 


The day we left Porto my wife triggered the foodie in me by reminding me of a special Portuguese dish which has its root in Porto. Francesinha meaning ‘Little French Woman’ or only ‘Frenchie’ in Portuguese was invented in 1960 by an immigrant from France Daniel da Silva. When he moved to Porto, he made it a very popular dish that went well with a glass of beer. In Porto, people pronounce it as ‘Franceazinha’. The main problem is it cannot be bought and consumed outside the restaurant or confectioner like sandwiches, croquettes, rolls, patties or tarts. It has to be enjoyed inside a restaurant for which a certain amount of time needs to be dedicated. I am a connoisseur of food – at least I claim to be one. The priority was to catch the metro from Trinidade station to Porto International Airport. For a moment I felt highly disheartened for having missed the bus, i.e. coming to Porto and not having Francesinha. But I recovered to my normal self after arriving at one of the cutest international airports. And my excitements soar after coming out of the security. .On my left, I discovered a restaurant by the name FRANCESINHA. What a wonderful coincidence for a foodie like me- a restaurant bearing the name of the food I was longing for. Without wasting time I immediately barged in and ordered a plate of Francesinha and a glass of Portuguese Beer. I was flabbergasted when the order was served. Still, around forty minutes to the final boarding call, I started wondering whether I would be able to do justice to the ordered item. 



Served in a huge bowl, the massive food appeared to be loaded with calories, with loads of meat comprising a generous combination of steak, sausage and ham, cheese, and sauce combined plus an adornment of French fries on its side. The sauce is a hot thick tomato and beer sauce that fills up the bowl to its brim. Although quite heavy to the stomach it is surprisingly delightful. Never had such a dense sandwich. It’s gloppy, meaty, and cheesy at the same time. Moreover, the physical appearance of the dish does not match with its literal meaning ‘little French girl’. The main secret is the sauce which as claimed in Porto is different and unique to a restaurant that prepares it. I tried to gather a recipe, which seems closest to the taste of the sauce served at Porto Airport restaurant.


Photo Credit: Arundhati Sengupta

historic tram in lisbon
A Classical Journey -Tram 28  is an iconic tram of Lisbon. It is a vintage single coach tram and passes through the tourist districts of Lisbon

hotel in lisbon
Villa Nova Guest House, our hotel located at Marques da Pombal 
 
lisbon hotel
The hotel balcony faces the busy Pombal square in Lisbon.


lisbon
Lisbon

LISBON
Lisbon


LISBON
River Tejo and red rooftops from the cathedral


LISBON
Cathedral Area Lisbon

LISBON




LISBON
A typical road in Lisbon


LISBON




LISBON
This road is so narrow that it accommodates only one tram track
LISBON
Fabrica Nata is one of the oldest cafes where the famous Portuguese Pastel da Nata is available


LISBON
Inside Fabrica Nata Cafe




LISBON
Rossio Square Lisbon

LISBON
The street below as seen from an upper-tier

LISBON
Sardinha. This famous shop deals in varieties of sardine preparation. Sardine is Portugal's national fish


LISBON


LISBON



LISBON
Lisbon 




LISBON
Ola Nepal, popular for Indian cuisine.


LISBON
Santa Apolonia train station in Lisbon

LISBON
Military Museum Lisbon





PORTO
Campanha Station Porto

PORTO
River Douro Porto


PORTO
The Historic Luis Bridge at Porto



PORTO
Luis Bridge Porto



PORTO
A busy Porto street

PORTO
Porto

PORTO
Porto


PORTO
Porto

PORTO
Porto

PORTO
Historic Square Porto





PORTO
Burmester Wine Museum


PORTO
A historic cask in Burmester cellar

73
PORTO
History of the Cask


PORTO
Porto

PORTO
Burmester Port Wine Cellar



PORTO ICONIC STN
Porto's iconic Sao Bento station

PORTO STN
Tiled walls at Sao Bento station Porto

PORTO
Porto

PORTO METRO
Trinidade Metro Station Porto

PORTO
International Airport Porto


RECIPE for Francesinha

Ingredients for Sauce:

Beer ----- 330 ml can (2 nos. for serving 4 to 5)

Chicken stock cube -----1 cup

Butter ------- 2 tablespoon

Tomato paste or puree ---- Quarter tablespoon

Port Wine – ¼ cup. (If port wine is not available, brandy can be used in its place)

Milk --- Quarter Cup

Cornstarch ---- 1 tablespoon

Bay leaf ---- 1

Chili flakes and salt, to taste

Method for preparation of sauce:

First, the Cornstarch is dissolved in the milk. All sauce ingredients are then added and blended in a mixer. The mixture is to be poured in a pan and kept over low heat. Add the bay leaf and stir till it starts boiling. Remove the bay leaf and set aside the sauce. After assembling the sandwich, put it in a shallow bowl and add two slices of cheese from outside. Then pour the hot mixture over it so that the cheese melts with it.

Ingredients for one Francesinha sandwich:

2 slices of white bread

1 linguica or Paprika sausage

1 fresh sausage

1 small mutton steak

2 slices of ham

7 to 8 thin slices of cheese and 1 egg

Method for preparation - assembly of sandwich

Place a slice of cheese and one slice of bread on top of it on an oven-safe dish. Lay another slice of cheese on the bread and then layer a slice of ham, four pieces of linguiça ( smoke-cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), mutton, or lamb steak, the last four pieces of linguiça. Top it with the other slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Lay another slice of bread on top and top with cheese. Secure the sandwich with toothpicks if you like.

After assembling the sandwich put it in a shallow bowl.   Add two slices of cheese from outside. 

Pour the sauce on top of the sandwich and place the bowl into the preheated oven and allow the cheese to melt (5/10minutes). Remove the Francesinha from the oven and remove the toothpicks before serving.

AIRPORT RESTAURANT PORTO
Restaurant located at Porto International Airport



PORTO


PORTO
Francesinha and Portuguese Beer


Lisbon by Tram No. 28

Tourists are recommended to board the tram at its starting point, Martim Moniz. This historic yellow tram not only caters to tourists but also accepts local passengers. In other words, it is a part of Lisbon's public transport system. This is in view of narrow roads, steep gradients, and numerous tight turns in most of Lisbon's historic districts where the modern transport system can not operate. The popular tourist districts covered are Graca, Alfama, Baixa, and Estrela on its way to Campo Ourique. Recommended riding time to avoid the local rush is early morning or late in the day. 24 hours tickets for the rides are available at all metro stations.

Booking.com





Comments

Lopamudra Sen said…
Beautifully written fantastic details and well-penned down tourist guide.Lovely pictures.
Tom Riach said…
Glad you enjoyed your visit to my home country Biswajit. It's the most wonderful country in the world!

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