Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Portugal: Europe’s Most Compelling New Food Destination

Not too long ago, all the chatter about the Douro Valley, the flourishing wine region in northeastern Portugal, revolved around its velvety reds and austere beauty. The conversation is slowly changing, however, now that word is getting out about the unexpected excellence of the region’s cooking, which is humble, hearty and newly creative. ​

As I first discovered many years ago during a weekend of wedding banquets I attended, there’s always been some superb food to be had in the Douro River Valley. Back then, just about the only way to taste it was to be invited home for a meal by a local. To be sure, Porto, the seaside city at the mouth of the 557-mile-long Douro (most of which crosses Spain, and the historic center of the region’s Port trade, has long had a few good restaurants. But in the wine towns upriver, the genteel old Port-producing families mostly entertained among themselves, and gastronomic extravagance for their vineyard workers was pretty much limited to communion, marriage and harvest-day feasts.

During the last decade, however, the Douro has emerged as one of the most compelling new food destinations in Europe, with a growing roster of standout restaurants. These range from cutting-edge tables to cozy country taverns. Some of the credit for the growing interest in Portuguese cooking goes to a few high-profile chefs outside the country, including Nuno Mendes in London (Taberna do Mercado, Chiltern Firehouse) and George Mendes—no relation to Nuno—in New York City (Aldea, Lupulo). But most of the ardent new proponents of Portugal’s palate still live there. Take Porto native chef Rui Paula, 49, the granddaddy of the Douro’s restaurant revolution. He learned to cook from his grandmother in the Douro Valley town of Alijó, where his family is from. Mr. Paula now owns three well-regarded restaurants in the region, including Restaurante DOC on the riverbank in the village of Folgosa, and his newest, the Casa de Chá da Boa Nova in a seaside suburb of Porto.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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