Sunday, October 3, 2010

P is for...

Dear readers,

I am currently in Krakow, Poland – a really long way away from the promised Portugal, but hey, at least the country still begins with P.

In the time it has taken me to get from Portugal to Poland, I would say that I’ve managed to gain about 5 kilos. Oopsies. And after thinking about it a bit, I have determined that my downfall all began in that pirri-pirri chicken eating country, the land of Nandos (not actually...Nandos is South African, bet ya didn’t know that) and really good soccer teams, Portugal.

You see, and sometimes you might actually see if you venture into certain Nandos stores, Portugal is home to a little tart, and no, her name isn’t Juanita. To be precise, these divine little tarts are said to have originated in a bakery near Lisbon, in a small suburb called Belem. The tarts themselves are known as Pasteis de nata, or to you and I, Portuguese tarts. You’ve probably had some at one stage or another – they are readily available in Australia - but you’ve not had them until you’ve had them at the Bakery in Belem; crisp, flaky, multi-layered pastry and warm, smooth custard, with a sprinling of sugar, crisp like the top of a crème brulee.

After visiting Pasteis de Belem and finding a table among their dozens of cavernous rooms, which are desperately required due to excessive patronage, we sat down to find each table equipped with a powdered sugar and a cinnamon dispenser. OK, yes we’re eating sweets, but what’s with the cafe-style accessories? . Mr Von Strudel and I controlled ourselves when ordering and demanded...ahem, requested the waiter to bring four tarts between us. This order could have easily spiralled to dizzying heights. Tap a little cinnamon or powdered sugar on top of your tarts and prepare to see the light More-ish? Understatement!

Having fallen in love with these tasty morsels, I began seeing Portuguese tarts everywhere (like when your friend has a certain make of car and you start seeing them everywhere?) however none that I sampled could come close to the fresh-out-of-the-oven deliciousness of Pasteis de Belem. Still worth the eating and a bargain at EU 0.70.

Did I mention pirri-pirri before? Oh, yes I did. And no, it’s not called perri-perri a la Nandos. I’m not quite sure where the deviation comes from, but you will not find anything perri-perri in Portugal.

We first happened upon pirri-pirri on our first night in Lisbon, at a dinner held by our hostel (rated second best hostel in the world – Lisbon Lounge – highly recommended). The amazing cook, Pedro whipped up a Portuguese storm for dinner: Portuguese soup, an enormous salad complete with berries, pirri-pirri chicken, ice cream, red wine and more bread than you could imagine. Nandos is grossly inferior in comparison to this freshly-prepared chicken, with spices and oils and who knows what else lathered all over it. With only a mild warmth to it, the sauce is certainly not overwhelming, but it certainly does fill your mouth and cover your fingers, which you will lick clean if someone else doesn’t.

While in nearby Cashcais, and it was down to the Portuguese equivalent of the charcoal chicken shop for lunch. The first thing that hits you, even a kilometre away is the smell of roasting chicken. A large cloud of smoke floats above the shop from the barbeque, over which dozens upon dozens of chicken rotate, awaiting their destiny – my stomach. For the cost of a charcoal chicken back home (none of this crazy AU$14 for a meal at Nandos) we feasted on half a pirri-pirri chicken and small chips (which was actually enormous). There was finger-licking, chip-dunking, the search for excess sauce; and all this done on a park bench opposite the take away store. For such a small price, it was possibly the best meal I ate in Portugal, and certainly has happy memories for me.

But then again, anything involving food generally leaves me quite content.

Helpful links

Not sure what Nandos is?'s

Pasteis de Belem:

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