Culinary Backstreets 'Beyond the Barrel' Food Tour Review
💶 Cost: 125 USD
👪 Max People: 7
🍲 Number of Food Tastings: 9
🍷Number of Drinks: 6
🛒 Market Stop: ❌
⏲ Duration: 5 - 6 hours
🌎 Languages: 🇬🇧🇪🇸
📅 Closed on: Sundays
🥕 Vegetarian/Vegan/GF: ✅ ❌ ✅
🎟️ Link to Book: Click Here 🎟️ Discount Code of 5%: FOX5
I experienced a number of "best evers" on this tour including the best-ever hot dog, eclair, and a Portuguese version of a hot pocket known as a Rissóis. A couple of the tastings were disappointing but what made this tour special were the characters you meet, not just the exceptional dishes.
🍽️ Food Score: 46/50
💵 Cost Score: 15/25
💁 Guide Score: 22/25
Overall Score: 83/100
🥇 Rated 1st in Porto
Culinary Backstreets 'Beyond the Barrel' Review
The average food tour will set you back about 60 Euros. Today, I would be experiencing the most expensive food tour that I have ever been on. At twice the cost of what I would normally pay, would the experience be twice as good? Would there be twice as much food? I was interested and a little nervous to find out.
Despite the chill in the morning air, the sun was shining in Porto. I finished my coffee at the train station, and put my bag into a locker before setting off to find the meeting point for the food tour.
It can often be a little unnerving at the start of a food tour. You might be a little late, you aren't sure if you are in the right location, and the prospect of approaching a random person who may, or may not, be your guide is a little daunting. As I arrived at the designated meeting point, I saw someone waiting a few meters away. They weren't wearing a branded T-shirt or holding a tote bag that often tour guides use to identify themselves, but as I took a wide berth around the nearby fountain I noticed a lanyard around the person's neck. As there was no-one else around, I approached and introduced myself.
As soon as Carine started talking I could feel her positive energy. She told me about her background, how she was born in Paris and moved to Porto at the age of 13. Originally from France and now being a local in Porto, I was optimistic that she would introduce me to some memorable food today.
Portugal was still feeling the effects of COVID and this was only the second tour Carine had guided for the entire month. With no other bookings, it meant that I had the privilege of having a private tour today. Now the $125 price tag, seemed like a bargain!
Carine gave me an introduction to the local area. Pointing to a church that stood opposite, she said. "If you look closely, you can see that there are actually two churches, built side by side."
In Portugal, it is forbidden to have 2 churches built side by side. So how did this happen in Porto? The first church was constructed in the 18th century and not long afterward a hospital was built next door, funded and operated by another church. As is common with most hospitals, many people died, and so the hospital asked their neighbor for permission to build a chapel inside the hospital. Eventually, the hospital closed down but the chapel remained, expanding into the building of the hospital. In order to avoid breaking the rule of having 2 churches next to each other, a hobbit-sized house was built in-between the two churches, which you can see if you look closely.
As we started walking, I saw a line starting to form outside a nearby shop. Livraria Lello is quite possibly the most renowned shop in Portugal, made famous by JK Rowling who used the shop as inspiration to write the Harry Potter books.... or so I thought. Like a child being told Santa Claus doesn't exist, Carine enlightened me that JK Rowling recently denied the claim! Despite this realization, the beauty of the shop is not in question and I suggest visiting if you are ever in Porto.
🍽️ The Food
Food Score: 46/50
1st Stop: Leitaria da Quinta do Paço
Starting as a milk shop in the 1920s, the photos on the wall show a timeline of the history of this innovative business. Using glass bottles, they were the first company in Porto to pasteurize milk. They soon became the Uber Eats of their day, delivering dairy to the people of Porto, with a team that would carry grates of milk bottles over their heads.
Their reputation grew and so did their product line, selling not just milk but also butter and cream in waxed paper bags. The cream was so good that people would eat the cream straight from the bag.
(1) Éclair + (2) Espresso
If you go into any bakery in Portugal, you'll see shelves filled high with pastries, oozing sweet, rich custard. This shop is different. The owner was inspired by a trip to Switzerland where he was surprised to find the pastries filled not custard but with cream. Having a eureka moment, he realized that he could use his cream to introduce the same concept to Portugal. Porto fell in love with this new filling and the eclair became the pastry of Porto.
The thin layer of chocolate was still wet. The French choux pastry made with their own butter as well as water, flour, and eggs, was fresh out of the oven. As I bite into the eclair the sweet and airy cream combined with the chocolate and pastry perfectly. It was without question the best eclair I have ever eaten.
They don't just sell classic eclairs, you can also buy more decadent options including a banoffee and a Ferrero Rocher eclair. I told myself that I would definitely be coming back to see how they compared.
The Espresso which accompanied my pastry was made using the shops own blend of coffee which had a smooth, aromatic and full-bodied flavour.
The Portuguese like to have a sweet breakfast, and our next stop would double down on this:
2nd Stop: Arcádia
Located in the center of the city, Arcádia is an artisanal candy factory.
As I stepped inside, I felt like I was entering a grotto.
I had flashbacks of reading 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' as I watched a worker hand-making edible pieces of art. It was mesmerizing to watch, as she carefully selects only the best pieces, rejecting any that were not up to standard and skilfully painting unique designs on each one.
I asked which of the candies were her favorite to make, she pointed to the little babies, which I imagined customers would buy to give to a new parent.
After inspecting how the candies were made it was time for a tasting:
(2) Chocolate Covered Oranges + Chocolate Cat Tongues
How can anyone not be a fan of fruit covered in chocolate? This tasting didn't disappoint with the zesty orange rinds covered in dark Chocolate. However, I was a little disheartened to learn that the chocolate was from Belgium and I didn't get a clear answer as to whether the oranges were from Portugal. It felt a little commercial, especially after discovering the shop had other locations around Portugal.
Nevertheless, the chocolate-covered oranges were a hit, how could they not be?
As we walked from the narrow road where the cave-like chocolate shop was located, we found ourselves in the main square of Porto.
Here Carine shared some of the history of Porto including a story of a battle between two brothers who both wanted to be the rightful rulers of Portugal.
As we were about to leave, Carine seemed a bit hesitant to show me something....
With slight trepidation, she pointed and said: "on the corner here is the most beautiful McDonalds in the world."
Being the poster child for globalization and the opposite of local, slow food, I'm no fan of McDonald's, however, it was fascinating to step inside and to see the original chandeliers and stain glass windows. I appreciate, that despite her hesitation, Carine took the opportunity to show me this McDonalds, as it helped to highlight how something that is known for being standardized can be unique and special.
As we walked away from the main square, a new layer of Porto started to emerge with its narrow hilly roads, cobbled streets, and a more traditional side with cafes, bars and locals pottering about.
Before we arrived at our next stop, Carine warned me that the owner was very passionate about football. Half joking she said: "It's a good thing that you aren't wearing red, as many Porto football fans will use that as a reason to hate you!" Relieved on my choice of attire, I was intrigued on who we would be meeting...
3rd Stop: Casa Louro
As you enter Casa Louro the first thing that you notice is not the legs of ham and the bushels of bay leaves hanging from the ceiling.....it's the souvenirs and mementoes that adorn the bar, like a shrine, to the owner's pride and joy, Porto Football Club.
Wearing a blue, Porto FC face mask, Carine introduced me, with a fist-bump, to Antotio.
Antonio's father had started working in the bar 50 years ago at the age of 13, and when given the opportunity, he bought the business from the original owner. Over the past half century this father and son team have been serving customers cured pork and other salty snacks, selling on average 10 legs a day.
Antonio pointed to a photo on the wall showing his father in 1967 when he first started working in the bar. I asked about the photo hung above, and Paulo said the man with the big belly standing next to an equally large pig was the original owner. Pointing to the pig and laughing he said: 'This is my uncle'!
Antonio was a true personality, full of life, and the personification of Porto. I imagined him being the perfect bar tender, joking with regulars as they downed beers and scoffed on pork snacks.
I wanted to get to know more about Antonio and his love of football and I asked him what his most memorable moment was as a Porto Fan. Without hesitation he said "The last game of the season in 2013, when Porto played Benfica". It was the 92nd minute with only a few seconds of injury time remaining. The ball is crossed over to Porto's striker and with pinpoint precision and what seemed like an impossible angle he kicks the ball into the Benfica net as the stadium erupts.
In the UK people will often go to the pub to watch their favorite football team, and I ask Antonio if his bar is full of people on match days. Antonio shook his head and said that he prefers to watch games at the stadium or at home because when Porto losses he doesn't like to talk to anyone for 3 or 4 hours.
Carine pointed to a dark patch on the sidewalk outside the bar. "Tell David what caused those black scorch marks" she said. Sheepishly, he took out his phone and played a video of himself joyously setting fire to a Benfica scarf. I now understood why Carine didn't want me to wear red!
I found Antonio's passion contagious and I wondered if he was as passionate about the Portuguese national team when they played. "I don't really follow the national team" he told me, they are like family but more like distant family". Porto is his close family and the only thing he really cares about.
Football is not the only rivalry in Portugal, there is also a fierce competition between the beers (this rivalry stems from football also!). Carine told me that people often mix their beer with lemonade like a shandy or with a gooseberry cordial, something that I had never heard of before and something she promised we could try later as we now had something different to experience:
(4) Salpicão Cured Sauage (5) Rye Bread (6) Cod Pastry (7) Muscatel Wine.
From a butchers hook hanging from the ceiling Antonio took a cured sausage, cutting it into thin slices. Accompanying the meat was a hunk of dark brown, rye bread called Broa de Avintes. On another small side plate was an oval shaped cod and potato pastry known as a Pastel de Bacalhau.
The sausage was made from pork loin, bay leaves and paprika, marinated for 2 days in red wine and garlic to give it a smokey and spicy flavour.
The bread was dense, almost cake-like, and made from a mix of maize, rye, and malt flour. The story goes that the recipe dates back to the 12th century after the King of Portugal made it illegal to make bread from corn in Porto. Because of this royal decree, the creative people of Avintes created Broa de Avintes made without any corn.
With a bittersweet taste, the bread is considered a delicacy and like many delicacies, it has an acquired taste. I personally found it a little too dense and the crust too tough. Placing a few pieces of shimmering pork on the bread, the taste combination worked well together however I found it easier and more satisfying to eat the sausage without the bread.
To accompany this rugged, working man's snack was a fortified wine made from muscat grapes from the Favaios region of Portugal.
With notes of almonds and an intense body, I thought it would work well as an aperitif before a meal.
The final addition to this bar picnic was a codfish pastry, made from mashed potatoes and combined with pieces of salted cod. Fresh or at least heated is always preferable but unfortunately, this one was neither and despite it being fine it wasn't as memorable as others that I have had in Lisbon. What really made this bar special wasn't the food however, it was the characters and the stories.
Carine and I continued on our culinary journey to a bakery:
4th Stop: Padeirinha Doce
As we entered the small bakery, the smell of freshly baked dough and sugar was alluring. Carine ordered 'sweet chestnuts', named for their shape not because they contained any chestnuts. Placing the curious balls into her bag, she promised that we would try them later.
(8) Sweet Chestnuts
5th Stop: Gazela
We arrived at our next food stop before they officially opened. "It's a good idea to arrive early if you want to get a seat" Carine told me. She greeted the employees by name, who were sitting outside, resting before the start of the busy day before them.
10 minutes before the official opening time, the employees stood up, the front door was unlocked and we were given the honor of being the first customers of the day.
As you enter Gazela, the first thing you notice is its size. Both the kitchen and eating area is not much bigger than an unfolded napkin. Bar stools are wrapped around the kitchen, allowing you to observe your food being prepared. The walls are covered in newspaper and magazine clippings, each one highlighting the glowing coverage Gazela has received over the years. One, featuring Anthony Bourdain stood out and Carine mentioned that since he visited, demand surged and Gazela opened a second location across the street.
As we sat at the bar we watched Nunu and his team prepare for the hungry customers that would soon be arriving. Using a bottle filled with pork fat, Nunu greased the grill like he was Jackson Pollock and the grill was his canvas, while another employee prepared bread, brushing each roll with oil and a red, fiery looking sauce.
Customers had started to stream in, taking their seats, like a congregation at a church. I wondered if these customers were regulars, knowing to come early before the lunch hour rush.
Carine pointed to a black tile on the wall. "These plaques are given to traditional businesses in Porto. Whenever you see one you know that the restaurant has been around for a long time". With so many new restaurants opening, it is a good filter to find a traditional place in the city to eat a meal.
I still wasn't sure what we were about to eat but I was getting excited and Carine finally told me...
(9) Hot Dog + (10) Beer + (11) Gooseberry Shandy
Despite the contention as to whether a hotdog is a sandwich, there is no disagreement that Porto is famous for its sandwiches.
Cachorrinho is translated as 'puppy' in English, but there was nothing small about the hot dogs that were being prepared in front of us.
Made with 2 different sausages; a soft one that is spread like butter on the toasted bun, and a second that is placed on top. This double whammy of pork is topped with cheese then slathered with a secret sauce and grilled again to give it an extra satisfying crunch.
Each grill held 7 hot dogs and with 2 grills operating, 14 hotdogs were coming off the production line every few minutes. I asked Nunu what his record was for the most hot dogs made in a day. Proudly he told me, 777!
The first hotdog of the day was finally ready, it was cut into bite-sized pieces and presented on a plate.
Carine told me that beer was the best drink to have with a hotdog but if I wanted I could have the beer with gooseberry cordial that she told me about at Antonio's bar. I now faced a dilemma but luckily not for long. Being perceptive, Carine could see that I wanted to try both, and without asking she ordered one of each. I very much appreciated this gesture as often food tours are keen to reduce their costs whenever possible but it was obvious that Carine wanted me to experience everything.
As I took my first bite, a bungee cord of melted cheese extended from the plate to my mouth. I broke the string of melted cheese and popping it into my mouth.
The texture of the crusty, twice grilled bread, and the smokey and creamy sausage combined and complimented each other magnificently. The spicy, Piri-piri sauce, together with the melted cheese added a unique and interesting twist to a dish that is so familiar. I can honestly say that I have never had a better hot dog and I was amazed at how it was unlike anything that I have ever tried before.
Like strawberries and cream, some foods work better together and in my opinion there is no finer drink to have with a hot dog than an ice cold beer. Poured from the tap, I was served Porto's favorite beer: Super Bock. The Gooseberry shandy that Carina had kindly also bought for me was fruity and it reminded me of my university days where we would order 'Snakebite', cider and beer mixed with blackcurrant cordial.
As I was enjoying the amazing taste of each bite of my hotdog, Nunu placed a saucer of lupini beans in front of me. Lupini beans are a classic bar snack in Portugal, similar to how you'd have peanuts in the US. With an outer shell, they require some work but that is part of the fun.
Maybe the Portuguese are born with the ability to deshell a lupini bean or maybe it is something they have learned from years of practicing, but Carine wanted to try and teach me. She showed me how to use my teeth to make a hole in the skin and to then use my tongue to extract the bean from the shell. Soaked in a salty brine, the beans are an acquired taste but something of a true Portuguese experience.
Maybe he was impressed with my deshelling skills or maybe he was just super friendly but Nunu asked if I wanted to have a photo with the team. He beckoned me under the bar and into the Kitchen. Despite being busy the whole team stopped to join me in the photo. Not only did they have the best hot dogs but the team at Gazela are the friendliest of any restaurant I've been to in Portugal.
Carine wanted to show me a different layer of the city and after saying our goodbyes to the team at Gazela we walked from the bustling city center towards the river.
The past decade has seen many changes in Porto, some good and some bad. The city has had a facelift, but many properties had been converted to AirBnB's pushing locals out. As we continued to walk, I began to see a more authentic side of the city, however.
Stopping at a lookout, we had a stunning view of the iconic Dom Luis bridge. Scenic and peaceful, it was quite the contrast to where we had been less than an hour ago. As I admired the view, Carine said "It's not always like this". In June during the festivities for the celebration of St. John, the local people set up their grills and the sweet smell of sardines wafts through the air as this is the prime location to watch the fireworks and enjoy the fun".
We walked along the river bank and up a hill. Carine wanted to take me deeper into the culture of Porto, to show me a perspective that is not often seen on other tours. We stopped at a metal, nondescript door that looked like the door to a storage room. Opening it was like entering a secret world not too dissimilar to 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe'. A long stone corridor extended out with miniature doors on either side and at the end was an amazing view over the river.
Porto has hidden, residential areas called "Islands". Traditionally factory owners would buy these islands as a cheap place to house workers coming from the country. Nowadays the islands are home to locals who can't afford the higher rents in the city center. Proud and loyal, the residents keep the communal passages decorated with flowers, plants and ornaments. With their sense of community, many of the older residents would rather stay here than go into a care home.
Two cats guided us down the corridor. A broom hung from the wall and I noticed how spotlessly clean everything was. Each house had its own unique style. Many of the doors and windows were open, and you could feel the sense of community and camaraderie. Each island has a name and this one was "Black Rooster".... because years ago one resident owned a black rooster and the name stuck!
With rents as low as 50 Euros a month the residents of the islands are in jeopardy. It was sad to learn about this struggle, but I was grateful that I had been given this new perspective and not only shown the sexy side of Porto.
After all this walking I was starting to get hungry but I needn't have worried as we were about to try a traditional Portuguese snack back in the city center.
6th Stop: Oficina dos Rissóis
Oficina dos Rissóis is famous for its precision and care in making Rissóis, a traditionally Portuguese snack similar to a hot pocket.
The owners are originally from France. They fell in love with Portugal, its people, and the food and decided to start a bar selling Rissóis with a modern, French twist. Using organic flour and salt to make the dough, the pockets are filled and baked.
(12) Shrimp (Rissóis) Pasties
Most shrimp Rissóis are made using shrimp paste but at Oficina dos Rissóis they take their mission seriously, using only whole Mozambique prawns.
As I bit into my Rissóis, I could taste the freshness. As this Portuguese pocket of goodness broke open, creamy sauce oozed out and a huge shrimp revealed itself, ready to be eaten.
Rissóis can often be oily, stale, and a little too fishy. It's a little bit like Russian Roulette when buying one from a place you've never been to before. This Rissóis was certainly the best one that I had ever tasted and I was beginning to notice a theme during this food tour: The eclair, the hotdog and now this Rissóis were the best I had ever experienced anywhere in the world!
We didn't have far to walk for our next tasting...
Just a few feet away is the home to the most famous pork sandwich in Porto
7th Stop: Casa Guedes
Baked in the oven for what might seem an excessive 12 hours, Casa Guedes's pork knuckle sandwich has become a place of worship for pork lovers.
Normally there is a long line outside Casa Gudes but because of COVID there were fewer tourists than normal but never-the-less there was still a buzz of ham hungry locals eagerly awaiting their lunch.
(13) Pork Knuckle Sandwich with Mountain Cheese + (14) Caldo Verde Soup (15) Sparking, Rose-Green Wine
Cut in half, allowing its cross-sectional beauty to be appreciated, Carine presented my Pork Knuckle Sandwich. The bread is slightly toasted and the pork is thickly layered, tender, and juicy. The Mountain cheese is like lava. As I picked up the sandwich and took my first magnificent bite, the gooey cheese oozed out.
Students made Casa Guedes famous, with the pork knuckle sandwich being a popular choice after a heavy night of drinking. According to the owner, the best drink to have with the sandwich is a sparkling rose-green wine, made exclusively for Casa Guedes with an Espadal grape. I wondered if Porto's students drank sparkling wine with their pork knuckle sandwiches, toasting the end to a great night out. Cutting through the fatty cheese the wine comes highly recommended
As all my attention was on this heavenly sandwich, I almost forget about the soup that was waiting patiently on the table. This soup is not just any Portuguese Soup, it is the King of Soups.
You may have heard of 'The 7 Wonders of the World' but did you know that Portugal has its own version called 'The 7 wonders of Portuguese Cuisine'? Caldo Verde soup was voted by the people of Portugal to be included as one of the seven dishes. A traditional recipe originating from the Minho region of Portugal, the poorer people from Minho learned to make food that tasted great with the cheapest of ingredients. With meat being an expensive luxury, one slice of chorizo was traditionally added to the soup.
Maybe I was comparing the soup with the amazing sandwich but I wasn't terribly impressed. The kale was clumpy and the soup wasn't warm. After a few spoonfuls, I decided to save my appetite for the sandwich and the remaining food on the tour.
Carine asked me which of the foods was my favorite so far. It was a difficult question, as both the hotdog and this pork knuckle sandwich stood out as the best of the best. If I was forced to make a choice, it would be the hotdog as I appreciated the unique twist that shifted my perspective on how a dog hot could be. I asked Carine how other people on the tour respond to that question and she said "Most people also say this pork knuckle sandwich."
After a little more walking we had almost made a full circle to our starting point, but before the tour ended we needed to taste something that both Portugal and Porto is famous for.
8th Stop: Casa Arcozelo
Tucked away on a cobbled side street next to Soa Bento station, with legs of pork hanging from the ceiling and a full display case of Portuguese cheeses, you'll find the home of a traditional fromagerie. As you step inside you'll be greeted by the most adorable couple, Señora Miguel and his wife. Originally from the mountains of Serra da Estrella, they moved to bring the people of Porto a cheese so famous that it is also one of Portugal's 7 wonders.
(16) Rabaçal Cheese + (17) White Port + (18) Tawny Port
Like a Portuguese version of David Attenborough, Señora Miguel is a true gentleman. He seemed to sense my interest in his cheeses and being the kind, welcoming, and proud Portuguese ambassador that he is, he unveiled his best cheeses for me to try.
Lovingly made by hand and with a mixture of sheep and goat milk, the first cheese that Señora Miguel cut was cured and semi-hard. The cheese was not like anything I've tasted before. It had a distinctive flavor, deriving from a thyme-like plant called “Santa Maria” that the sheep and goats feed on.
Señora Miguel called over to his wife who nodded in reply as if giving acknowledgment for the best cheese in the house to be unlocked. After a short suspenseful wait, she ceremonially presented a half-moon of a cheese that people make special trips across Portugal for.
Despite the cheese being so ripe that it couldn't be cut, Señora Miguel took a serrated knife and used the blade to spoon an oozing dollop of the cheese on to my finger. Like a child liking a bowl, I popped my finger in my mouth. The cheese was creamy, buttery and had distinct in taste. It was heavenly and I could see why it is the most revered cheese in Portugal.
'Beyond the Barrel' maybe the name of the Food Tour, but I couldn't come to Porto without having some port. Carine presented two bottles. From her bag, she also took the 'sweet chestnut' pastry and the piece of chocolate known as a 'cat tongue' that she had bought earlier from the candy shop.
The first port was a Ferreira white, with its straw yellow color and a floral and fruity nose, it went beautifully with the almonds from the 'sweet chestnut' pastry. It was rich but soft and it balanced nicely with the sweet and nutty dessert.
The second tasting was a Taylor's Select Reserve 10 year Tawny. The ruby red color contrasted to the first port and having been matured in oak vats, its fruity and rich flavors were evident. The dark chocolate went stunningly well with this port and I could see myself opening a bottle with my favorite dessert, a chocolate lava cake.
It was fascinating listening to the life stories of Señora Miguel. We had been eating, drinking, and enjoying the conversation for so long that I didn't realize how the time had flown. It was already 30 minutes past the official (6 hours!) duration of the tour and I, unfortunately, needed to catch my train to Lisbon.
As I said goodbye, Señora Miguel's wife picked a 4 leaf clover from a pot and gave it to me, wishing me luck on my journey home. This final act of warmth and kindness melted my heart.
After almost 7 hours, many stories, and much food Carine felt like a new friend. As memorable as the food was during the tour, I realized the real meaning we derive from food comes not just from the food but the traditions, stories, and the people who serve it. Most food tours are all about the food, this one goes deeper.
💵 Score: 15/25
The cost of this food tour is 125 USD (but using this Culinary Backstreet Discount Code you can get 5% off: 'FOX5'.
Compared to other tours in Porto the price was by far the highest. Other tour companies may try and seduce you with low prices. Before you make a decision, think about:
1. The Number of Stops