Watch out for the hammers!

What’s the best place for a view in Porto – and the best place to eat rice with chicken blood? We talked via Zoom with Porto native and graphic designer Marta Ribas about why Portuenses like to curse, smack each other with hammers, and make everybody feel perfectly at home.

Open: You’re a Porto native. How would you describe the city to a stranger?
Marta: It’s a really nice city. I really love Porto. It’s home to me, but I think it also feels like home to everybody who visits. It’s really welcoming, with a really nice vibe and lots going on. It’s only half the size of Lisbon, and you can really get to know people here.

When you have friends visit, what’s one place you always take them?
To my house.

Yes, and it really doesn’t matter what kind of friend they are, or if they’re staying for a couple of months or just a couple of hours. I always bring them to my house.

Why’s that?
It’s just a meeting point. I think it’s very typical for people from Porto – we know how to welcome people and make them feel at home. We’re very proud of our culture and always like to bring people home.

What’s your favourite neighbourhood?
Bairro das artes – literally, “the arts neighbourhood”. I might be biased, because it’s where I’ve lived all my life. There’s always a lot of things happening because you have art galleries, design studios, co-working spaces, everything related to art and design. It’s an amazing community and there’s a really good connection between people who have been there forever and people who’ve only just arrived, maybe for work. We all know each other and everybody says hello to each other on the street.

Has the neighbourhood changed much in your lifetime?
20 years ago, there were just a few art galleries opening up, and now the area is full of them. We have monthly exhibitions where the galleries open up, and it gets everyone out of the house to go visit, and it’s drawing more young people, too.

This may be a silly question, but does everybody really drink Port wine there?
Yes, they do! And everybody should – it’s a great drink. It’s the go-to drink after lunch or dinner, when you’ve already had dessert but you’re still hanging out and talking. Generally, though, it’s not the kind of drink I’d order at the bar, but something everybody has at home. And it’s the go-to gift whenever anyone is visiting as well!

It’s only for after the meal?
Not always. Red port is for after. But you can also have it as an aperitif. A port tonic is a cocktail made of port and tonic water. But it’s white port, not the red one.

What else makes people from Porto different?
We love tradition. A lot of people who live in Porto now come from villages outside the city, and they’ve kept deep connections with their roots. We’re also very passionate. We feel everything very deeply and don’t take things lightly. And maybe because of that, we’re also very loud. We’re also super straightforward. Sometimes, it might sound like we’re being rude, but it’s not intentional. We just feel the need to say what’s on our mind in that exact moment, exactly what we’re thinking. It’s like we don’t have filters. Which also means we swear a lot.

When you’re angry?
Not just when we’re angry. Especially when we’re happy!

If you were in a busy place, like at the airport, how would you instantly recognize someone from Porto? Because they’re cursing?
Actually, I was just talking about this with my family the other day. My aunt said you can recognize a Portuguese person at the airport because they always have their whole family with them – but that’s true for all Portuguese people. But specifically someone from Porto? You’d recognize them by their pronúncia do norte – their northern accent. There’s even a song about it!

Earlier, you mentioned traditions – which is most important for you?
In fact, we just had ours. It’s São João – St. John’s Day, on the 24th of June. We have this big night where we all go downtown, and everybody has a little toy hammer that you use to smack people in the head and it makes a little noise.

That sounds like fun – or risky!
It doesn’t hurt. The hammers are made of plastic. We also have fireworks at midnight, we drink and eat a lot of sardines. It’s a big event – the whole city shuts down. In Porto, we just have this special day so we pour everything into it.

What is your favourite dish that you don’t usually find in restaurants?
One of my favourites is arroz de cabidela. It’s a very typical dish. You use the blood of the chicken itself to make the rice, which makes it brown. You can occasionally find it in restaurants, but mostly it’s something you eat at home. My mum cooks it all the time!

Do you kill the chicken yourself to get the blood?

You can! But here in Portugal you can also buy the blood separately at the butcher’s.

If you want a good view of Porto, where do you go?
Porto is built along the river, on really steep hills, so you can find nice views anywhere. There’s also a really nice restaurant called Décimo Sétimo, which means “17th”, because it’s on the seventeenth floor of the building. Or you could go across the Douro river to a town called Vila Nova de Gaia. People from Porto say that the best thing about Gaia is the view of Porto!

What’s the best thing to do on a hot day?
Discover the hidden gardens of Porto. In Porto there are a lot of cafes and restaurants that are in very old buildings, and many of these have very long gardens in the back and people don’t know about them. So you can get a table in front of the café, but then go stick your head in the back and look at the garden – people really don’t mind!

Sounds lovely, Marta! Thank you for giving us an insider’s view of Porto.