Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Porto: Stories From Portugal's Historic The Bolhão Market--A Fascinating New Book

"Porto's food culture is profoundly rooted in these regional grandmother recipes. And no other place embodies this spirit more organically than the city's oldest open-air market, Mercado do Bolhão." (p.4) 

I've long had a special place in my heart for the wines of Portugal, constantly recommending them to family, friends and my readers. And of course I've also enjoyed the cuisine of Portugal, from the hearty Francesinha sandwich to Lapas Grelhada, grilled limpets. However, I've not yet traveled to Portugal, though hopefully that will change in the near future. So, for the time, I must live vicariously through others who have traveled to or live in Portugal, to teach me more about this fascinating country.

Recently, I've thoroughly enjoyed a forthcoming, new book about the culinary world of Northern Portugal: Porto: Stories From Portugal's Historic Bolhão Market by Gabriella Opaz Sonia Andersson Nolasco, with photography by Ryan Opaz. This is a hardcover book of 230 pages ($29.95 hardcover or $28.45 e-book) by Agate Surrey. The hardcover has been released and the e-book will be available on September 4. (Pursuant to full disclosure, I received a media copy of this book, and Gabriella & Ryan Opaz are friends. I have endeavored not to allow that friendship to affect my review.)

"This reminds us that the human heritage of Bolhão should be as valued as the architectural heritage of the market's beautiful structure, currently protected as a public interest monument." (p.92)

Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, who live in Porto, are the founders of Catavino, which began as a wine blog dedicated to Spanish wine and has since evolved into a boutique travel agency, focusing on the food and wine of Portugal and Spain. Gabriella is also a speaker, writer and consultant while Ryan is also a photographer and writer. Sonia Andersson Nolasco, who works for Catavino, is a journalist, editor, and publicist, primarily working with food, wine, travel and art in the promotion of Portugal.

"Bolhão is more than a market; it's an identity. It's a cultural reference and a strong brand that connects the city to the near and faraway places that supply it." (p.9)

Porto: Stories From Portugal's Historic Bolhão Market is a culinary journey through Northern Portugal, with a concentration on the historic Bolhão Market. The market was designed in 1914 although the area had previously been an open air courtyard where diverse goods were sold.  goods. The term "Bolhão" means "big bubble," a reference to a spring that allegedly runs under the market. The market once had over 400 vendors but that decreased to less than 100, partially due to the deterioration of the buildings over time. The market is currently closed, undergoing an extensive renovation which is supposed to be completed around July 2020. The vendors have been temporarily relocated during the renovations, though some have chosen to either move on or retire.

"More than an open-air market, it's a historical monument and a place to source old stories. Bolhão is a philosophy that stands for an impassioned lifestyle and a sense of sustainability that extends far beyond its four walls." (p.10)

Because of these renovations and relocations, it is especially timely for the release of this book. The authors have been able share the stories of numerous long-term vendors, preserving their compelling stories. These are tales and histories that might have otherwise been lost, and that truly would have been a great loss to the culinary landscape of northern Portugal. In some respects, this book is a culinary time capsule, preserving fascinating stories for future generations. Hopefully too, it will act as inspiration for other food markets, including the renovated Bolhão once it reopens.

"Portugal's endless repertoire of pork recipes is so incredibly diverse that you would rightfully assume that mastering pork has been the country's ultimate culinary mission." (p.173)

The book is broken down into seven Chapters, each dedicated to a food group, including Bread; Fruits & Vegetables; Fish & Seafood; Poultry; Meat; Cured Meat; and Pastries & Coffee. Each chapter describes various Portuguese foods, dishes and ingredients, including some of their intriguing history. In addition, there are descriptions and stories of the various cooks and vendors from the Bolhão Market that specialize in these items. Spread throughout the various chapters, you'll also find recommendations for restaurants and food shops in northern Portugal. There are also 11 different recipes, from Arroz De Pato A Antiga (Old-Fashioned Duck Rice) to Sapateira Recheada (stuffed stone crab). Each chapter is loaded with interesting and valuable information.

"Selling at the market gives them a chance to do what Portuguese women do best--care for others." (p.30)

Throughout the book, there is a strong emphasis on the women of Bolhão, though men feature prominently in the Meat chapter, and this is partially due to the fact that approximately 75%, if not more, of the vendors are women. And their stories are fascinating, especially those who have worked at the market for many years. They are culinary experts in their chosen field, dispensing their experience and knowledge to their many customers. You can be confident in their products, feeling their passion. These are human stories, worthy of your attention, and which will touch your heart and soul.

"Admittedly, the Portuguese are bread worshippers, passionate experts in all things glutinous and doughy." (p. 18)

Each chapter will stimulate your appetite as you read the delectable descriptions of Portuguese foods, from Açorda à Alentejana (a bread-based stew) to the famed Pastel de Nata (egg custard tarts). The diversity of Portuguese cuisine is made clear, and you'll find plenty of interest. This is a compelling guide to the culinary treats of northern Portugal and may lure you to visit the country. The various recommendations, for restaurants and food shops, within the book would also help your travel plans. As a history lover, I was also entranced by the historical information found within each chapter, such as the origins of certain foods. You'll learn plenty within those pages.

"The Portuguese are distinctly aware of the dangers at sea, a key reason why they prize their seafood so highly." (p.82)

The book is an easy and compelling read, well written with a certain poetry to the language, indicative of the passion of the authors. This is not some dry travelogue but rather a seductive lure intended to convert you into a culinary lover of northern Portugal. It will work well as a reference guide as well, something to turn to from time to time to better understand Portuguese food. And the compelling stories of Bolhão Market are inspirational. Ryan's photography well complements the writing, with numerous, alluring photos of various foods and great portraits of numerous vendors. There is a sense of joy in the various vendors which Ryan has well captured.

"...Portugal has just as much to offer meat-adoring foodies as it does seafood lovers." (p.162)

Overall, I highly recommend this love letter to the cuisine of northern Portugal, as exemplified through the Bolhão Market. Informative and fun, tantalizing and seductive, inspirational and touching, Porto: Stories From Portugal's Historic Bolhão Market belongs on the book shelf of any food lover. Gabriella, Sonia, and Ryan have put together a fascinating book well worthy of your attention. I am now even more interested in traveling to Portugal, to experience all that country has to offer. I want to eat and drink my way through northern Portugal, and with this book, I have a blueprint of Portugal's culinary treasures.

"We see Bolhão as a path to getting our souls and hearts closer to what we've been straying from all of these years. In the end, our wish is that this book will do its small part in reviving respect for markets like our Bolhão." (p.212)

1 comment:

Isobe Ltin said...

You can be confident in their products, feeling their passion.
meet and greet at Luton