20 October 2011

Afurada - The Place To Go For Portuguese Barbeque

Good luck and patience are two of a traveler’s best allies. On a day we planned to spend retracing old steps and wandering well traveled lanes, a fresh opportunity unexpectedly leapt into view.
Just across and west of Porto, on the south side of the Douro, Afurada occupies an oblique corner where the river and the Atlantic meet. We stumbled upon it by chance, following the scent of charcoal and grilling fish.
Porto is a beautiful, wonderful city. We’d been four years before, though, and wanted to explore a little further than the wine houses and tourist cruises. The Douro valley was clogged with haze and fog as we drifted away from the center. Mist obscured the sea beyond a few hundred feet of chop. Smoke from autumn fires – trash, clipped vines, harvested fields – scented the air and stung our eyes. The landscape seemed particularly watery and washed-out, with colorless edges and indistinct shapes in the distance. Walking along the riverside, passing abandoned houses and silent fishermen with lines in the river, we felt that solid ground was somehow retreating behind us.
Afurada was a surprise, emerging in a compact cluster of colorful tiles and lunchtime energy. A fishing village, it was thick with gulls and galoshes, women carrying buckets, men yelling to one another. The scent of the sea was suddenly stronger, and the roar of offboard motors replaced the buzz of mopeds. Also in the air, a different smoke, much more appealing.
It’s common, in this part of Portugal, for restaurants to have grills out on the sidewalk. It’s a great advertising ploy, really, because who can resist the sight and smell of barbequing food? There is no better place (that we’ve found) to experience this Portuguese churrasco than in Afurada, where the seafood travels less than a hundred yards from boat to coals, and the crowds are always boisterous and local.
At Taberna S. Pedro, the atmosphere is blue-collar and the menu is especially fish-heavy. On Mondays, those in the know travel out to Afurada for fresh fish, which is hard to come by in other towns where the fishmarkets are closed.
The Portuguese "cozinha grelha" ("grill cuisine") is based around two small fish - sardines and dorade. There are lots of other fish around the periphery and a considerable amount chicken and pork-belly, but the headliners are generally "sardinhas" or "dorada." Almost always, the dishes are served with a salad beforehand and potatoes - either boiled or "smashed," which means baked and then semi-flattened with a fist - on the side. White or red wine is fine, thick cuts of bread are nice, olive oil coats everything.In Afadura, established restaurants aren't the sole domain of street grilled food. This woman was cooking for a few men who were sitting at makeshift tables down the alleyway to the left.
A tiny, wooden ferry services the mouth of the river, bringing hungry travelers across from the Porto side or (heavier in the water) back from lunch. The cost is one euro per voyager, the ride is slightly less than five minutes. There are no scheduled crossings - just walk down to the pier on the Afurada side, or to the busy little quay just west of the large bridge on the northern shore, and wait for the boat.
After our lunch, we sat on the deck while we waited to depart. Two older men futzed about with screwdrivers, fado music warbled up from the cabin, local youths smoked cigarettes and looked out towards the sea. It was a perfect thing to stumble upon, this little fishing village in the mist - we were sad to leave, but that boat was the perfect way to say goodbye.

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