Traditional Portuguese Christmas Shopping

Dec 20, 2019Portuguese culture and lifestyle

Christmas is usually a time of joy for family and friends. Traditions are essential, and Christmas shopping is also part of the ritual. In Porto, there are a couple of places that are mandatory on your Christmas shopping route.

‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ When visiting Porto, shop where the locals do! Join us on our Traditional Portuguese Christmas Shopping. Discover the flavors and colors that have been part of our childhood memories!

Tradition and family roots

First things first: tradition is very important for the Portuguese. We have deep and strong roots, and we value them for life. Family rituals and recipes are kept as treasures and are passed from generation to generation.

I remember going shopping with my grandmother. Christmas dinner preparation started a couple of weeks earlier. The codfish preparation has to start about a week before. Codfish is the star ingredient, so you have to make sure you get ‘the good stuff’!

Traditional trade is the best option when you’re looking for such delicate goods. Along with the quality of the products you can find, you’ll find real people. In most cases, these shops are family-owned so the faces will be familiar.

But, let’s focus on the shopping list. These are some of the mandatory ingredients for a Traditional Portuguese Christmas

  • Salted codfish
  • Wine
  • Mountain cheese
  • Candied and dried fruits
  • Bolo-rei
  • Olive oil

Now that you have the shopping list, let’s get our coats on and get ready to walk around the city to get all the items. Don’t worry, there will be time for a warm comforting drink. And a visit to one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world!

Christmas salty star

Feira do Bacalhau was established in 1925 and is family-owned ever since. This is the place to get your salted codfish. After all, they’re experts in what comes to cod! It’s very easy to find Feira do Bacalhau. Blue doors, white walls, and a couple of codfish hanging at the door. There are also codfish on the window and inside the shop. Yes, the smell is intense, but that is also part of the experience!

Take the time to learn about the different varieties of salted codfish. There are different types of maturation, so the flavor and its intensity will differ, as will the final taste of the cod. It sounds more complicated than it actually is. But there’s a lot more to eating salted codfish than what people think!

Delicious presents

The next stop will be Pretinho do Japão, established in 1947. Almost next door, you’ll be delighted with this traditional fine grocery store. After a period of renovations, they reopened their doors and now specialize in wines and preserves. They also have the famous and delicious Paupério cookies. An excellent option for your Christmas afternoon tea with family and friends! It will also be an excellent choice for a present.

Complex choices made easy

Further down the street, Casa Januário is one of the most famous stores in town. Their Christmas windows are always fascinating, and inside, you can find a wide variety of Portuguese products. Open since 1926, they focus on quality products and personalized service.

Olive oil is essential at the Christmas table. The combination of good olive oil and quality codfish is the secret for a great Christmas dinner. At Casa Januário you’ll find a selection of Portuguese olive oil, and you can rely on their knowledge to help you choose the one that best suits your taste! Yes, olive oil can be as complex as wine in what comes to flavor and acidity, so it’s always good to have someone to guide us!

We are halfway down our shopping list. It’s time for a warm drink!

As this is a day to appreciate the festive spirit, take the time to walk around the city’s heart and breath in the buzz. One of the best places for a hot chocolate or a cup of tea is Café Guarany – one of the oldest in town, at Aliados.

Colorful smells and Childhood memories

Ready for round two? We’re not in a hurry so, take your time. Our first stop will be Casa Natal. For color, intense smells, and fine products lovers this is like Christmas wonderland all year round.  As you walk in, you’ll be taken back in time. The wooden shelves, filled with bottles and cookies and preserves. The candied fruits on the window, the intensity of colors and smells. The usual ‘suspects.

It is one of the places that is part of my childhood memories. I remember entering, holding hands with my grandmother, and be amazed by all the things at the store. I would look around and feel like I was at the most incredible place inf the world — the smell. I remember the mix of intense aromas. Chocolaty, fruity, ocher…

Candied fruit. Let’s focus on candied fruit! It is the place to buy quality candied and dried fruits.

Cherries, plums, pineapple, peach. Candied and dried. Nuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, dried figs, raisins. This is just part of the selection Casa Natal sells since 1900.

From the Mountains, with artisanal love.

The next item on our list is the mountain cheese. Queijaria Amaral is located up the hill, close to the Coliseu. Let’s enjoy walking down Santa Catarina and appreciate the Christmas bustle. The city is vivacious during the holidays. Go up to Poveiros. Queijaria Amaral is a small store. The odor is…cheesy! Open since 1927, and this is the best place in time for cheese lovers. Do you think you can handle more than 50 types of cheese?

Although there is a wide variety of cheese at this cheese store, the traditional Christmassy option is mountain cheese: Queijo da Serra. What’s so special about it? Well, it’s made from a specific sheep’s milk, and it comes from a particular region: Serra da Estrela. Its production is most intense between November and March. As this is a DOP product, its production follows a rigorous process. This cheese needs a maturation period of a minimum of 30 days.

Cynara is used to coagulate the sheep’s milk. The paste’s texture can vary, depending on its age. It can be very soft and semi-liquid (young) or softer and sliceable (older). This cured cheese is produced artisanally, and that’s why it’s shaped in an irregular wheel.

We are almost ready! Before completing the list, let’s walk down to Aliados and appreciate the Christmas decorations and lighting. The city looks incredible on these winter days. There’s a special aura to it. And the Holiday Season makes it even more beautiful!

One mandatory place to visit in the city is Lello Bookshop. This time of the year is perfect for that visit. There are no lines. You can get in quickly and appreciate the bookshop in its majestic beauty! People forget this is a book shop. One of the most amazing experiences is to take the time to go through the shop’s shelves and choose a book as a Christmas gift.

Three wise men on a cake

The next to places we are taking you to is a bit off the city center. Nova Real is a confectionary shop. One of the best in the city. Their ‘bolo-rei’ is delicious — another example of a successful family-owned business, built on hard work and quality of service and products.

Legend has it that it is called ‘King cake’ as it represents the three wise men and the presents they took to Jesus. Its made from a soft white dough mixed with raisins, candied fruits, and a mix of nuts.

Wine, the nectar of Gods

And now, for the wine! There’s this ‘little’ wine shop, called Flor de São Tomé. Created in 1946, this is the place where you can find rare wines, dated and vintage wines, and a wide range of award-winning wines from all the Portuguese regions. Mister José Sá e Silva and his family deal directly with the producers and importers, and they have thousands of wine bottles in stock, some of them, rare!

Walking in the shop you’ll think you’re in the wrong place. But you are not. This unpretentious ‘little’ shop hides a well-kept secret. Share your taste and preference with the owners. You’ll be amazed by the amount of wine they have, and they’ll give you some well-founded suggestions.

Christmas is, indeed, about family and friends. It’s about the festive spirit. Sharing traditions and creating bonds. Shopping at local stores, getting to know the family-owned businesses, and supporting their work is part of the ritual.

There’s nothing like the homely feeling when you walk in a store, and they know you, what you want and what you like. After the mandatory ‘how are you and how’s the family doing’ come the new suggestions and the all-time favorites!

Experience this unique small-town feeling in Porto. The expression ‘there’s no place like home’ might take a new meaning if you visit the right places, with the right people! We can make it happen!

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