Just after I relocated to Porto back in April of 2019, I was walking around my new neighborhood in exploration mode looking for something to eat. The Marques neighborhood is a beautiful area anchored by the large densely wooded square which includes its center piece fountain, a band stand, an open-air cafe and a D line metro station. The square, or Praca, is typically filled with locals, a handful of tourists and clusters of retired men playing sueca (a Swedish card game) under the trees at the south end.
In the mid to late 19th century, Praca do Marques was home to a brandy market and a bullring. It also formed a barrier at what was then the northern edge of Porto where taxes were levied on goods coming into the city. In the 1930s, construction began on the French designed Church of Senhora da Conceicao on the west side of the square. Today the Praca is surrounded by the church, a mix of apartments, B&Bs, markets, bakeries, cafes, Portuguese and ethnic restaurants, miscellaneous shops and various other services including recent additions such as a cheese and wine shop, a vegan restaurant/market and a couple of small art galleries.
At the time I didn’t really know if I wanted to cook or eat out, but I quickly changed my mind! Just across the Praca from my apartment, where the northern most end of Rua de Santa Catarina (# 1585) dead ends into Praca do Marques on the corner, there is a perfect little find. Auto Mercado do Marques! It is primarily a fruit and vegetable market that is freshly stocked each Monday afternoon and where almost everything that comes from the ground is sourced from within Portugal. A handful of items come from outside the country when not in season or when not available locally such as grapes in January or mangos, papayas and cashews from Brazil.
In addition to the crisp fruits and fresh vegetables on display and poking out onto the sidewalk there are also cheeses, breads, farm fresh egg from Portugal and dried bacalhau (cod fish) from Iceland which is salted locally for 8 weeks hanging on hooks in the window. Dried bacalhau, is typically used in chowder, curry or for filling empanadas. In the back, the shelves are stocked with local wine and port, a large variety of sundries including beans, pasta, various grains, flour, canned tuna and sardines, small bags of almonds, walnuts and dried fruits from Portugal and Brazil along with spices and tea.
For the past seven years Berta has been managing the clients while her sister and the market’s owner, Antonia, can be seen stocking, tending shelves and tidying most days. Antonia has a thirty-year business relationship with the local farm in the Porto district that delivers fresh each week. Most produce is organic at a fraction of the price you’d pay in any of the other larger farmers markets scattered around the city of Porto. Everything smells and tastes like heaven in its natural state with dirt still clinging!
Beyond the food, perhaps the most enjoyable part of my now frequent visits are the cooking related health tips and advice from Berta! I’ve come to know Berta and Antonia well, and Berta is not shy about sharing her experience mixed with colorful conversation. Strawberries are good for anemia. Using the leaves from broccoli in soups and risotto can aid in weight loss…in addition to enhancing the taste. Cutting off the end off of a cucumber and repeatedly “twisting” that piece around the end of the just cut longer piece produces a pulp which aids in digestion of the cucumber in salads and can reduce inflammation. With each visit I have a new anecdote or antidote!
I was accustomed to buying fruit and vegetables from the trendy North American and European “organic” grocery chains and farmers markets. So, this first encounter, from the location and food to the knowledge sharing and banter, was a welcome change and addition to my life in Porto. On that day in April I picked up two grocery size bags packed with fruit, vegetables, nuts, cheese, bread and a couple bottles of wine for about €20 including the wine. A week’s worth of food for me…not including the wine of course! Back across the Praca, I was now home enjoying the pleasures of cooking a giant pot of soup with a glass of wine, some bread and cheese. Any thought of a restaurant at that point was just a distant memory.
When in Porto, take the D line metro two stops north of Trindade station to Marques or just walk the 15 minutes uphill from the city center and go visit Berta and Antonia at Auto Mercado do Marques! You will have a thoroughly enjoyable experience not found in any on-line travel magazine or referred by a hotel concierge.