TASCA – eat the local way

There are plenty of nice, touristy restaurants in Porto, especially on the river side, but this is not where the locals go when they want to eat a lot, for a little. Let me introduce you to „tasca”, a real institution in Porto and all over Portugal. Why do tourists miss those places? Because they will never have a waiter on the doorstep inviting them in, neither are they big, bright and spacious. Very often the tables don’t even have many chairs and the chairs aren’t even similar, each and every one of them with a different colour, height and a life story. As one of my guests recently recounted: „You go in, and you’re the only foreigner, the place is small and often it doesn’t look too clean”. So why would I tell you to go here, you ask? Let Alona continue: „… But it is so inexpensive and the food is amazing!”

Normally a tasca will be a family-owned spot, often the husband serving the food and the wife taking care of the kitchen, but that is not a must – in one of my personal favourites it is Dona Teresa, over seventy years old, who takes care of everything. You can start your meal with a plate of different cheeses and meats, which will often be displayed in a glass presentation counter, but warm, freshly made soups and other dishes are a must. At some spots, like at Casa Leandro, a different dish is made every day of the week, so the regulars know that „Monday is the day of…”, at others, like at Casa Guedes, there is a famous specialty that attracts the local crowd every day. Don’t miss one tasca if you’re a vegetarian – you can always have a plate of cheese and olives, the soup of the day or the caldo verde soup without the slice of sausage. But the truth is, most of the Portuguese classical petiscos contain fish or meat, and if those tidbits are unknown to you, here is your tasca dictionary:

If you feel like eating fish, try:

  • bolinho de bacalhau – fried cake made with codfish, mashed potatoes and parsley
  • patanisca/isca de bacalhau – battered and deep fried cod pieces or entire cod filets
  • rissol de marisco – seafood rissole

If you feel like eating meat, select:

  • moelas – chicken gizzards, often prepared in a tomatoe sauce
  • bifana – pork fillet sandwich
  • prego no prato – steak with a fried egg
  • rissol de carne – meat rissole

Ready to start your tasca adventure? Choose your level in the game:

If you’re a beginner tasca lover: Casa Guedes

If you are about to begin your adventure with tascas, Casa Guedes is an easy way to start, as it is has gotten quite famous and even my friends have been alarmed, as „Casa Guedes has translated their menus into English!” Even if they want to protect their hidden treasure, the news has been out for quite a while: this place has one of the best meat sandwiches in town. The cool part is that the brothers César and Manuel, as well as their wives, Augusta and Albertina, are still working at the tasca that they founded in 1987, having hired just one more person to help. They are the ones who created the famous sandes de pernil, which is a sandwich with a big slice of pork that is cooked for 6 hours following a Brazilian recipe and queijo da serra, traditional cheese from the Portuguese mountains. Although some people believe that its strong taste overpowers the delicious meat, I wouldn’t give up on ordering the cheese, and I would just consume it separately if you happen not to like the combination, as it is a treat that melts in your mouth and its quality is internationally recognized.

If you’re still hungry, you can try the famous caldo verde soup or the selection of Portuguese cheeses and smoked meat and, of course, some wines: I normally go with vinho verde, (the „green wine”) which is wine made with specific types of grapes that are picked early and fermented in stainless steel, in a way that makes it slightly spritzy. There are three types of Vinho Verde: verde branco, (more popular and white), and verde tinto, (less common and red) and rosé. All three are classics from the north of Portugal which will complement your food in celebrating your first tasca experience.

A traditional Portuguese dessert would be Romeo and Julieta, a slice of cheese with marmalade, but you also have some sweeter classics: I’m a big fan of leite-creme, which is a kind of Portuguese crème brûlée, but they also make chocolate mousse with port wine for Port lovers. Overall, Casa Guedes is a tasca that went viral and, since the owners are not planning on expanding nor hiring any more staff at the moment, the service, (especially Friday & Saturday nights) can be a bit slow. But with its old-fashioned decoration and simplicity, it still deserves a visit, and might be a good first step into experimenting the tasca way of eating.

Note: Casa Guedes is close to the Arts Faculty, a zone that has recently been getting more and more lively lately, so this area is perfect not only for a dinner, but for a drink. I’ve recently discovered Madame Gertrude (Passeio de Sao Lazaro 44, opening hours: 18.15 pm – 2 am), which is a minute away; a nice bar and a vintage store rolled into one with a great garden behind. However, there are tons of other cool places around which have modern wine, on the contrary of the tascas. You can also connect the visit to Casa Guedes with a walk in Bairro Herculano.

Address: Praça dos Poveiros 130
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 09:00 to 21:00

If you’re an intermediate tasca lover: Casa Leandro

The first time I entered Casa Leandro I turned to my friend and asked if we really were going to eat there – not because of me, but we had the company of a foreign guest, and – of course – we wanted to show Porto from the best side. And we did – once the soup landed on our table, one of the three tables in this tasca, we were in peace with our choice, as it was one of the best soups I have ever tasted in my life. Bolinhos de bacalhau, „one of the best ones in Porto” as the owner proudly announced, were freshly fried for us and absolutely delicious, and so were the pataniscas and the cheese. We washed everything down with the house wine and returned many times since then – now that is a happily ever after story! The simple decoration of this place makes the experience even more genuine: the shelves full of wine bottles and the portrait of the man with a moustache – the founder of the tasca – will keep you company, and the figures of the popular saints placed above the entrance will surely bless your tasca meal.

Address: Rua de Trás 12
Opening hours: Every day, 10:00 to 24:00

If you’re an advanced tasca lover: Adega São Martinho

Now this is what I call a real tasca, but if you’re not used to simple dining you might consider it a hardcore experience: even I, Dorota, the Queen of Tascas was a bit hesitant at first. Dona Teresa, the grandmother you will see behind the counter, is the heart of this place, and she has been brave enough to keep it running after the passing of her husband. Her kitchen is right behind her, and her little house right above it, (if you look carefully you will spot a tiny staircase) as she has decided that it would be easier to take care of the tasca without the necessity to commute. This place has a set of locals that cherish her and protect her: we could feel it when we visited it for the first time at dinnertime and we were observed closely by two of the clients.

Later on, after we had gained her confidence, Dona Teresa confessed that she had asked those two regulars to stay for a bit longer, as „we came late and after 8 pm the streets are full of crazy people”. So there you go: if you want to befriend this cheerful grandma, go early, show that you have good intentions and sit on one of the mismatched chairs at one of the two tables this tiny tasca has. Order some wine – served until the top of the rim, so you have to take a sip before you take it to the table – and expect some home-cooked, comforting food. Everything is made fresh daily, and since the menu is not posted on Facebook – sorry, I had to joke with this – you’re always up for a surprise. I’ve had bolinhos de bacalhau, pataniscas and the octopus salad, but I know D. Teresa can do so much more. After you’re done eating your bill will be figured with the pencil on the counter, and don’t be surprised when you see big numbers: the owner still counts in escudos, the old Portuguese currency, so she will divide it and announce you the final price – believe me, very little money – in euros.

Why, if the food is so good and D. Teresa is cheerful, was I hesitant at first? This tiny tasca hasn’t been remodeled for a very long time, which gives it a quite run-down anachronistic look. Curiously enough, nowadays this is something I appreciate more and more with every visit: her tiny house above the kitchen, the picture of her husband, the pots with flowers, the numbered slits where the locals place there change and which are opened only twice a year – who needs a bank account if you have D. Teresa? And the canary, Francisco, singing in the corner all makes this an ultimate tasca experience! Bring a smile and your tasca dictionary with you, as this is definitely way off the beaten path, so no English will be spoken, and experience this one of a kind place before it disappears.

Address: Rua D.João IV 795
Opening hours: Every day, 09:00 to 20:00

Have you completed all three levels of the Tasca challenge? Congratulations, the Queen of Tascas is very proud of you and so glad you could have a genuine local experience in Porto.