Arts & Culture

Portu-Galo captures taste of Portugal

Providence food truck scene enriched by flavorful Portuguese sandwiches, ‘small bites’

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2016

Portu-Galo offers three takes on the Portuguese sandwich, the Bifana.

Offering up rich cultural ties and delicious “small bites,” sandwiches and street food, the food truck Portu-Galo succeeds in “bringing Portuguese flavor to the people” of Providence, as the company claims on its website.

The vibrant black and neon-accented truck that frequents Waterman Street was first conceived in 2013 when owner Levi Medina graduated from Johnson and Wales University.

“I always loved food and wanted to do something in the food industry. My hobby was cooking, and it’s always been my passion,” Medina said.

While working for his family’s construction business, Medina noticed that 2013 had seen a surge in culinary innovation. “The food truck craze was getting big — not just in Providence but all over the country,” Medina said. “But there was no Portuguese food truck despite the huge Portuguese community here. I thought, ‘Let me give it a shot.’”

With a cheaper startup cost than a brick-and-mortar business, Medina purchased and stocked a FedEx delivery truck, which serves as the “entirely mobile” business’ home base. Red hearts with blue and white dotted accents that speckle the truck refer to the legend of the “Rooster of Barcelos,” a popular Portuguese tale in which a man wrongfully convicted of stealing is freed after he correctly predicts that a dead rooster will crow.

“The Galo de Barcelos is a really popular Portuguese symbol. It’s a rooster tail, and we played off of that for the name of the truck and the decorations,” Medina said.

Influenced by memories of the many childhood summers he spent visiting and eating with his family in Portugal, Medina began to craft the menu using authentic flavors and his own twists while maintaining the simplicity of food-truck cuisine. Medina chose to showcase the Bifana sandwich, a Portuguese staple. “Bifana for Portugal is like the hamburger for the United States. You can find it anywhere.”

Medina offers three takes on the pork loin Bifana sandwiches, all served atop a papo seco: the Portu-Galo Bifana, the most popular sandwich with caramelized onions and garlic aioli; the Lisbon Bifana, with caramelized onions and mustard; and the St. Michael Bifana, with sliced cherry peppers, mixed greens with aioli and piri piri sauce.

Medina’s creations have been well received since he first started selling food on Thayer Street, Charlesfield Street and elsewhere in East Providence.

“Right from the first day people were all over Facebook and social media, writing about us,” Medina said. His own two favorite dishes are the Portu-Galo Bifana and the Piri Piri Chicken Sandwich, a grilled chicken breast served on a Portuguese massa roll with red onion, mesclun greens, garlic aioli and piri piri sauce. The Piri Piri Chicken Sandwich is also a favorite of employee Kevin Teixeira, who began working with Medina two years ago.

Since then, Teixeira has aided Medina in grappling with inclement weather conditions and parking difficulties. The two of them have catered numerous festivals and events including Day of Portugal ­— a three-day event celebrating the cultural richness of the Portuguese community — and a Portuguese block party in Bedford, Massachusetts, Teixeira said.

Teixeira has learned the ropes of the food-truck business under Medina’s tutelage. “I learned a lot working for (Medina) because I didn’t know how to cook before,” Teixeira said.

Like Medina, Teixeira said he enjoys his time working in the food truck business. “Every day there’s a different location and a different environment, so you get to develop great relationships with the regulars, but you also get to meet new people every day.”

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