It is an institution in downtown Portugal, this Mercado do Bolhão. Students plop down on the steps to sketch and watercolor the market, which, on that first glance inside, resembles an athletic stadium being used to house soldiers and the stuff needed to feed them (plus some flowers for that “love thine enemy” approach to war).
It all started in 1914 when the market was one of the first buildings to use a concrete and steel shell. These days the market has been declared a public interest monument in order to keep the wrecking balls away. It gets dribs and drabs of repairs and restoration. There are high hopes that the current mayor will have the political clout to upgrade the market and the contracts with the shopkeepers.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a great deal of life inside, still. The woman in front of the pile of greens notices our interest and fires up the big machine to show us how the black cabbage, like kale, gets cut into fine ribbons to be used in that traditional Caldo Verde, the iconic soup of Portugal.
The best restaurants still come here. Unlike other markets in other lands, there isn’t a competition to make grand displays out of the vegetables. It’s food. Here, take this and eat.
I like that.
My measure of the creamy goodness of a market is to what degree it makes me wish I’d rented an apartment in town for a week or longer. Maybe a month isn’t long enough for Porto.
Why? Well, I could get some of that finely shredded black cabbage, then I’d go to Leandro’s:
Sausage. Yes, all kinds. Gimme a Chorizo for my Caldo Verde. You probably can’t read the prices there on the back wall, but a kilo, 2.2 pounds of traditional chourico hand made by these guys will set you back a mere 5.90 euros. Imagine.
Oh, and ignore the fact that the guy in the picture seems to be giving one of those furtive glances around the joint before stealing a hunk of meat but, trust me, he works there and doesn’t steal meat.
In any case, we need a little garlic. It’s optional in the Caldo Verde, but hey, they have it:
I mean, we pretty much have everything we need. Olive oil, another thing Portugal does as well as Italy, but in a different style, is available at the market, of course.
But all this is making us just a tad hungry, so:
At the Bolhão Wine Bar we can have a few artisanal sardines and some of that famous cornmeal bread and just a bit of wine while we contemplate what we might have forgotten to buy.
We’re talkin’ a fine day here.
So, if you’re like me, I’ll leave you with a link to some Apartments in Porto, just in case you’re having the same feelings about the market as I am.
And the market is very near some very interesting tourist attractions in Porto. Just look at the map:
Walking south toward the river brings you to the fantastically tiled São Bento Railway Station, then you can stay on the same trajectory to get to the fascinating Cathedral of Porto, the Sé do Porto
You can take a tour of foodie Porto, as we did, which includes the market and many nearby restaurants and eateries with Taste Porto Food Tours.