Without a doubt, one of the very best things about walking any of the Caminos to Santiago is the chance to enjoy the gastronomy of the regions that we pass through. A pilgrim needs to eat well, and the Portuguese Coastal Way offers us a unique opportunity to enjoy an incredibly rich gastronomic tradition.
The Portuguese Coastal Way begins in the city of Porto, where we find our “starter”. Citizens of Porto are nicknamed Tripeiros, which gives us a clue about the first dish on our list – although it might not be suitable for those with delicate stomachs! Porto-style tripe stew is traditionally made – as the name implies – from pork entrails, although nowadays better cuts of meat such as ham are commonly used. This traditional dish and the associated nickname have an interesting history: in 1415, during the preparations for a military excursion to Ceuta (a city in Northern Africa currently under Spanish rule), the citizens of Porto sent the best cuts of meat away with the soldiers, keeping for themselves only the tripe and offal and thus bringing about the invention of this unique recipe.
The second famous dish from Porto, which every pilgrim walking the Portuguese Coastal Way simply must try, is the Francesinha. This extremely filling sandwich was invented by Daniel David da Silva, taking inspiration from the French croque monsieur, and became popular in the 50s and 60s when thousands of Portuguese citizens emigrated to France and Belgium during the Salazar dictatorship.
The most daring pilgrims can round off their gastronomic adventure with a traditional delicacy from Northern Portugal and Galicia: Lampreia, a kind of eel (although that’s not quite what it is), cooked in wine and its own blood. It’s a truly unique experience, visiting a traditional Porto restaurant like the Escondidinho and trying all of these culinary delicacies, as well as many more that won’t fit in this article!
Of course, the classic bacalao (codfish) is a must. Bacalao is a staple of the Portuguese diet and can be cooked – according to locals – in 365 different ways: one for every day of the year.
In Porto, you can try all these dishes and many more, including leitao (suckling pig), caldo verde (vegetable broth), at the Mercado de Gaia, which is located right beneath Porto’s famous wine bodegas and which has transformed itself into a popular gastromarket on the bank of the River Douro.
As well as this substantial list of things to try, a pilgrim walking the Portuguese Coastal Way will also come across other gastronomic delights which cannot be missed! Chief among them is the famous Portuguese seafood, especially the grilled fish which can be enjoyed in the dozens of beachside restaurants which pilgrims will pass as they walk along the coast.
Pilgrims shouldn’t forget to treat themselves – at a padaria or confeitaria, they can enjoy what the Portuguese call petiscos – a Brazilian-inspired coxinha de frango, a bifana (a quick sandwich), some boulinhos de bacalhau – or desserts such as pasteis de crema or ovos moles.
Pilgrims simply must try all these dishes during their Portuguese Coastal Camino, ideally washed down with a Superbock, Porto’s excellent and internationally-recognized local beer, or with an espresso (Portuguese coffee is the best in the world, tied with Italian), or with a little bagaço: a liquer distilled from grapes, similar to Italian grappa and still produced by hand by local families.
Walking the Camino requires pilgrims to keep their strength up, and in this sense the Portuguese Coastal Camino will feed our souls with its breathtaking coastal landscapes and beautiful monuments, as well as enriching our palates with the superb Portuguese gastronomy: the product of many centuries of history and many different influences from the old Portuguese empire.
And that’s just the beginning… the cuisine of the Portuguese Coast Camino becomes doubly rich when the pilgrim enters Galicia and begins the Spanish part of their walk… but that’s a story for another post.