Bolhao market and Portuguese food

Fruits at the Bolhao market in Porto

In late spring markets in Portugal were already full of summer fruit; we’d found very sweet cherries and peaches already. At the same time, good strawberries were still available. Since we had an apartment in Porto, we decided to go to the city’s famous Bolhao market to see what we could find.

Inside the Bolhao market in PortoAs we entered the front gate of the market the aisles were lined with booths which seemed a little touristy, and were surrounded by tourists. A few steps further in, the tourists were thinner on the ground, and we could spend some time looking at what was on sale. The front was full of cloth which had something to do with food, embroidered table coverings, for example. The Family stopped here to buy a few things. I looked at a stall across the aisle from this which had a variety of wine. I hadn’t yet found my feet with Portuguese wine, so I looked carefully at what was on sale. The front half of the market, until the central fountain (photo here) seems to sell mainly finished products.

Cheeses in Bolhao market made from cows' milk Cheeses in Bolhao market made from sheep milk

Stall on the left aisle had cheese. I’d quickly looked at a couple of blogs on Portuguese cheese before leaving, and had been tasting them every day since, so I’d begun to know my way around them. Mentally I’d started dividing them in the most obvious ways: were they made of cow (vaca), sheep (ovelha) or goat (cabra) milk, and was the milk cured (curado) or raw (cru). I hadn’t begun to look at the DOP label, which marks out a protected designation of origin, ie, geography. What I’d met till then were the semi-soft and hard cheeses. I’d liked several, but was looking to try the really soft variety. Unfortunately, it seemed that you could only buy the full rounds of these. Since The Family does not eat cheese, this would have been too much cheese for our stay in Porto. I hope there will be opportunity to extend my familiarity with Portuguese cheeses in future.

Bread in the Bolhao market in Porto

I couldn’t miss the bread stalls nearby. I could tell that they open early, because the shop keepers had begun on an early lunch. Portuguese bread comes in a large variety. We’d become fond of the soft crusty rolls which we would eat for breakfast and dinner. Here we tasted some of the larger breads, especially the darker varieties, and liked them. Again, we did not buy the loaves because we were not going to be able to finish them during our short stay. The Family and I don’t like to discard uneaten but edible food, and this limits what we can taste while travelling. For now we discovered that the art of bread making is well-developed in Portugal, and we would have a good time discovering more about it in future.

Sardines in the Bolhao market in Porto

No description of Portuguese food is complete without talking of fish. Preserved cod, called bacalhau, is everywhere. The Family loved this, and would eat it with steamed potatoes every few meals. I loved the sardinha (sardines, see the photo above), which were mostly served grilled. The corner of the market where you could find fish was fascinating. We saw a large variety, including some which we didn’t have the faintest idea of how to cook. We sighed over a large swordfish, and moved on.

The upper level of the market was a splash of colour (see the featured image). It was where you could buy crisp and fresh vegetables and fruits. We lingered over the fresh produce, and bought a large quantity of fruits. We were walking a lot each day, and one can eat quite a bit of fruit while walking. The avocados, tomatoes, garlic, pumpkins and chilis were eye catching. We looked at the vegetables and sighed. We had a kitchen, but no spices. Our time in Porto was too short to set up a kitchen which was stocked well enough to cook with all the fresh vegetables on display.

We loved what we ate in Portugal, and the market showed us what ingredients go into the Portuguese kitchen. We saw nothing which was completely new to us, but everything looked fresh. That is possibly the real secret of this style of cooking.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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