February was a good month for Porto. While still in celebration of the third win of European Best Destination, our city was also graced by the visit of Anthony Bourdain whilst shooting for the famed food and travel show ‘Parts Unknown’ which will debut on CNN the 25th of June. Even if you think you’re miles away from this hubbub, it’s quite impossible to not feel a brief sense of patriotic pride when these prizes com around. Although it wasn’t Bourdain’s first visit to the Invicta, we question ourselves on whether if he had his best and most authentic Porto this time around.
When Anthony Bourdain’s presence in Porto was made public, a frenzy was installed in most mediums. All of his visit was entwined in great secrecy and every evasive selfie was enough to write newspaper articles and air tv segments. It has been said that he wasn’t shy with his choices while he was here. Bourdain tried tripas à moda do Porto (A Cozinha do Martinho), seafood (Marisqueira ‘A Antiga’) and lamprey (at a fisherman’s home), went for a walk through Bolhão, and even had time to stop by for some cachorrinhos (hotdogs at Cervejaria Gazela). Those who know Porto are familiar with that the fact that no menu is complete without a francesinha (O Afonso), and Bourdain knows it too.
Returned to our Northern shores, Bourdain couldn’t help himself and revisited the tripes, that potion concocted from white beans and varied meats, united by smooth veal stomachs for a most singular degustation. Fifteen years ago, he sat in initial apprehension. But now he’s back, matured and roughened as a well-travelled sailor. The recipe is the same, but the Man has changed and… Oh! He was awestruck at that creamy, rich sauce of white beans swiveling amongst peculiarly textured meat, a subtle idiosyncrasy. Legend has it that from that moment onwards Bourdain wanted that dish to be served at his breakfast for many, many years. If you think about it, it’s not that far from an English breakfast. Amidst the commotion, he also wanted to move to Porto, own a house here, marry one of the ladies of Bolhão and make his own tripas à moda do Porto.
The lamprey’s tale mustn’t have been much different. For a man that loves food + blood, it was more than natural. Just imagine his complexion when he learned that we (the collective) catch a slippery cyclostome, sacrifice it and gut it in our back yards and pursue to braising it in its own blood plus wine, with or without rice. All of this with some beautiful views over the Foz do Douro. He lived the dream.
After this, what is eating cachorrinhos, francesinhas and seafood? All those dishes are just too easy, albeit delicious.
Surely the show can’t be all about the dazzling views over the Douro, hearty tasca meals and Port wine chalices. Not all is about sleeping in the luxurious Yeatman Hotel and enjoying its Michelin star restaurant. Hence, and very naturally so, things became of somewhat more graphic nature in the whereabouts of Porto, more specifically in Celorico de Bastos, where Bourdain went to observe the traditional slaughter of the pig. Because that’s what people do, right? Anyhow, it wasn’t the first time, and the American chef must have been more settled in and relaxed (watch it here), besides, he’d already watched the lamprey’s last moments.
So we may only imagine him almost lost, roaming the ever narrow streets of Porto, with a voice over narrative about the people of Porto: why we’re known as tripeiros and how we valiantly resisted the French invasions, and in the many other ways in which we became the undefeated (Invicta) city. He also alluded to the progressive gentrification, and how the pressure of tourism is snatching the city center from the portuenses.
In no may do we imply that show will be predictable, but those who know the city and the series may be left to wonder. But this is the real face of Porto, and we wouldn’t have done it any other way. And for someone who was only here for a few days, it’s quite a feat.
Now let’s take a deep look into this visit and imagine how many people specifically come to Porto to eat the strongest and boldest features of its gastronomy; things as simple or complex as delicately braised veal stomachs and white beans or lamprey cooked in its own blood.
We know that Anthony Bourdain’s shows are just like that. But are those who thrive while watching such boldness and privilege willing to discover and live this Porto? Because I’ll tell you one thing, Porto as a city of tripes on the lunch menu, of the merry turmoils of Bolhão, and of the fisherman that takes you to his home and cooks you some lamprey is changing very fast.
Credit: Feature image of Anthony Bourdain by Vogue.