The famous pastéis de Belém (or pastéis de nata) are not the only patisseries to have originated in Portugal’s convents and monasteries. There are many other sugar and egg-based delicacies that still appear today in pastelarias and on the dessert menus of restaurants. The trilogy of doces conventuais (conventual desserts) that were served to us in the Café Portugal restaurant in Lisbon (on the first floor of the My Story Hotel Rossio) comprised Papos de Anjo, Molotof and Pudim Abade de Priscos. Papos do Anjo (Angel’s Tummies) are baked egg yolks covered with a sugar syrup. Molotof is soft meringue made with egg whites and sugar and covered with caramel. It was originally created to use up surplus egg whites. It is thought that the name was originally Malakov, the name of a fortress during the Crimean war, but during the Second World War it evolved to be Molotof (or Molotov) after the Soviet foreign minister. Pudim Abade de Priscos (Abbot of Priscos Pudding) is a type of crème caramel named after a nineteenth-century chef, Manuel Joaquim Machado Rebelo (the eponymous Abbot of Priscos), who famously added bacon fat (toucinho) to the traditional crème caramel mixture to give it a seductively velvet texture. Toucinho also means bacon and I suspect the slice of bacon on our Abade de Priscos was the chef’s idea of a culinary joke!
At cocktail hour there is a Portuguese alternative to the traditional gin and tonic. It is called porto tónico (also known as portónic) and is essentially white port poured over ice and topped up with tonic water. A ratio of one-quarter port and three-quarters tonic makes a very refreshing drink, but you can change the ratios to make a stronger drink if you prefer. Add a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, as in the porto tónicos served at the Quiosque Lisboa in Praça Luís de Camões, Lisbon.
The Bola de Berlim (Berlin Ball) may look like an ordinary doughnut, but it is uniquely Portuguese. The recipe is based on that of a German doughnut (Berliner Pfannkuchen), which was reportedly brought over to Portugal by Jewish refugees during the Second World War. However, it has been given a Portuguese identity by adding a filling of creme pasteleiro (a type of egg custard similar to crème pâtissière) instead of jam. As well as the traditional egg custard creme, there are also other flavours on offer, such as chocolate or strawberry, and there is even an option to have a Bola de Berlim without any filling (sem creme). Who would have thought that ordering a doughnut could be so complicated! As with all sweet snacks in Portugal it is delicious but very calorific, which makes it ironic that it is also one of the most popular snacks sold on Portuguese beaches!
The francesinha (which translates to something like ‘little French thing’) is a typical sandwich found in Porto and it is best described as comfort food. It comprises bread filled with various meats, including ham and sausage, and covered with melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce. It is served with a plate of chips. The quality of the francesinha can vary from café to café, depending on the type and quality of meat that is used. If possible, ask a local to recommend their favourite francesinha café.
Ovos moles are sweets associated with the city of Aveiro and must be tried at least once, although they are an acquired taste. The name ovos moles means ‘soft eggs’ and like many of the sweets and desserts in Portugal the origins can be traced back to the nuns who had to find a use for all the egg yolks left over after they had used the egg whites to starch their habits. The centre of the ovos moles is a very sweet creamy mixture of egg yolk and sugar and it is coated with a soft wafer made of flour and water (reminiscent of communion wafer). Traditionally the sweets bear the shape of fish or barrels, both of which are symbols of Aveiro’s past when the main industries were fishing and the collection of seaweed. There are shops and kiosks all around the centre of Aveiro selling ovos moles in wooden barrel-shaped containers, which are beautifully decorated with paintings of the distinctive barcos moliceiro (seaweed-collecting boats), for which Aveiro is famous.
The warm temperate Mediterranean climate of the Algarve combined with the Moorish legacy has resulted in an abundance of fresh fruit, including the iconic almond, with its beautiful blossom which can be seen everywhere in late winter, and the fig, both of which are used to make traditional sweets, which look as lovely as they taste. Doces finos do Algarve are marzipan sweets beautifully crafted to look like miniature fruit, vegetables or even animals. They have a surprise of shredded candied egg yolk in the middle. Estrelas de figo e amêndoa are star-shaped (or flower-shaped) sweets made from figs and almonds.
They make wonderful presents to take home, but almost look too good to eat.
We were seduced into the stylish Meia Dúzia by the beautifully packaged display of jams, which are a stylistic blend of oil paint tubes and designer cosmetics in appearance. This was our choice for breakfast on our last day in Porto. Having feasted on pastéis de nata, bolos de Berlim and bolos de arroz on other mornings we were tempted by something simpler: toast and jam. However, the jams in Meia Dúzia are anything but simple. They are delightful combinations of Portuguese fruits, herbs and liquors, such as strawberry with port and chilli, pear with vanilla, orange with madeira, blackberry with lavender and cherry with lime, and making a choice wasn’t easy. Eventually I opted for blueberry with port and vanilla and Neil chose fig and orange with port. The jam was squeezed onto a slice of fresh toasted bread, as if it were oil paint squeezed by an artist onto their palette. It tasted as good as the description had promised, with a strong fruity flavour, not too sweet, which blended well with the other flavours. The toast and jam was accompanied by a good strong café com leite; it made a great start to the day. We couldn’t leave the shop without buying some tubes of jam, initially as presents for friends and family, but which ended up being presents for us. What a wonderful and original souvenir to bring back from Porto.
Meia Dúzia, Rua das Flores, Porto. Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday: 10am-8pm; Friday and Saturday: 10am-10pm.