Expat Magazine

Casa Oriental, Porto

By Gail Aguiar @ImageLegacy

Casa Oriental, Porto

Casa Oriental is one of Porto’s most famous grocery stories, with its high visibility near Clérigos Tower and its old-school frontage. I remember walking in for the first time on my inaugural trip to Porto, trying to buy some items for a potluck dinner at Paulo’s place (does that ever sound odd to say, now that I live here). I was surrounded by the distinct smell of dried codfish and utterly bewildered by the products. It appeared to me that only locals shopped here because everyone seemed to know exactly what they were buying. Indeed, that may have been the case that day since Casa Oriental has been around for more than a hundred years.

http://www.casaoriental.pt/

Founded in 1910, Casa Oriental started off carrying products from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa and the East (hence the name). The store kept the original sign that says “tea, coffee, and chocolate” even though the selection expanded to Portuguese regional products after the Second World War. The current store owner, José Maria Gama, took over after The Revolution and decide to make bacalhau its specialty.

It is bacalhau season right now, in case it’s not obvious by these pictures. All those things hanging from the door frame are dried, salted codfish of varying prices, from €9.99/kg to a whopping €24.95/kg. All the ones you see here are from Norway and Iceland. Once in a while I’ll see some Canadian codfish in the supermarket, but it’s a tiny minority1Bacalhau is a popular fish year-round in Portugal for cultural reasons, but traditionally it is the main food event on Christmas Eve. This seasonal demand drives up the prices, like turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas in the U.S. and Canada.

Portugal has large supermarket chains like Jumbo, Continente, Lidl, Pingo Doce, Intermarché et al, but I appreciate very much that these small grocers manage to stay in business despite the Goliath competition. As long as the Portuguese keep eating bacalhau, iconic shops like Casa Oriental can continue to serve their clientele.

Casa Oriental, Porto

December 5, 2015
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2015]

  1.  Due to overfishing in the ’80s, the Canadian government imposed a ban on fishing Northern cod in 1992.

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