A Touch of Lisboa

It had been a rainy and windy morning. The leaden skies threatened to colour our inner selves, but with a touch of spice, a touch of laughter and a touch of custard, that Sunday turned out to be any thing other than cloudy.

In an unassuming suburb of inner city Sydney, I was brought down memory lane. Joyce, Charmaine and I may have started with dessert at breakfast, but we continued to see familiar things from our past to enrich the culinary journey and tour of things essentially Portuguese. Tarts with caramel (pasteis nata) in La Patisserie sat side by side with ricotta creations and other well crafted pastries. I could feel a bright and light sense of homeliness created in this bakery. Fernando insisted on a hands-on demonstration of pressing the thin dough in little flat cups. He showed his innate love of his role in the kitchen through his humorous interaction with each of us, When he chatted, even in a group, it was as if he was talking only to you.

There were passing showers but it did not rain on our parade. The sight of smoked and cured ham and other meats hanging neatly in a row dominated the butcher's shop that we dropped by in. And Christmas is approaching. There were beans and olives to sample,spicy meats and chizoro being cooked over a small traditional device. I finally saw the difference between Spanish and Portuguese cooking ware - was it the ornamental design?

Salted cod from Norway (bacalhau) brought up memories in me of the more intense version found in Penang, Goa and Melaka (kiam hoo). I did not come across any curries in Petersham, but the extent of influence in cuisine, social niceties and culture, arising from the sailing adventures led by Vasco Da Gama around Africa and then across Asia hundreds of years ago, had formed many common beads in invisible links that could be found in the suburb's Cafe Brasilla to the sardines soaked in tomato and chili at the nearby local supermarket.

At De Silvas, at the corner of New Canterbury Road and Audley Street, we had swords pointed downwards on pieces of bread used to capture the marinade dripping down from grilled chunks of meat. The compulsory sardines came out with an option to bite into them with fine bones and all. The garlic prawns reminded me of the French and Italian versions, though there were subtle differences in the subtle flavours.

In another shop, I was captivated by the rose cake, with Belgian chocolate utilised to form a wall around an inner centre of whatever cake you preferred - Madeira, chocolate mud or butter. At the local liquor shop, there were several varieties of wine from Portugal and we sampled those that are normally drunk while eating shellfish (vino verde). Seafood, sweets and preserved meats - they may reflect the moods and fashions of another time, another place, but it was all combined with good company and a relaxing feel that weekend day and which transcended slightly confronting weather and the ability to eat or drink so much within a few hours. We even had good coffee and tea back in Charmaine's house, though far removed from that little spark of Portugal in Australia.


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