Time to digest. The week’s exchanges flow back into mind as the table is cleared and laid afresh. Porto is a city in search of new narratives. As we cracked open its character we found a handful of ingredients: Alter-egos, shadows, granite, peaches, tripe combined to make who knows what?
Tastes are slow to change, but our chef-accomplices are inventive enough to shift them. “Portuguese food is characterised by inertia”, says Bruno, “but we’re trying to lighten it and present it in a new way.” They’re masters of reinvention: a law student (Bruno), an urban planner (Pedro Limão) and a sculptor (Ana) who all turned to cooking as a creative exploit. Together they explore projects that break our traditional conceptions of food, and embrace that once famed Portuguese talent for exploration.
I sit down with Ana. Cigarette on lips, with striking cheekbones and quick-witted almond eyes, she looks like a strong female Corto Maltese: “I’ve worked in restaurants for a very long time. Good ones. And I’ve become tired of the dynamic. Ok you create a menu, that’s interesting, but after that it becomes very routine. I want to create something that changes that. To cook for people in a different context, a site-specific work that shows them where food is from. Its the best way to understand a culture.”
If Portuguese identity is back on the drawing board, food could be part of that blueprint. But it’s not an easy time to be in Portugal, and it takes a certain attitude to conquer the ever-present air of adversity. Over a bittersweet coffee, Bruno reflects: “It’s not confidence, it’s something that catches you before you hit rock-bottom.” He talks of how this city leaves a taste of past greatness that fills you as you walk its streets, and I leave hopeful, that even in its decline, our appetite is whet for a new greatness yet to come.