The Sunday Age M Travel 09 Feb 2014
Kerrin O’Sullivan follows her obsession for pastries
My obsession with Portugese tarts begins by chance. Escaping a Melbourne thunderstorm, I take refuge in a Fitzroy deli. In pride of place, amongst bottles of piri piri sauce and tinned bacalhau cod, are baked pasteis de nata - little egg tarts with flaky pastry and sweet gooey centres. It’s the beginning of a beautiful romance.
An obsession is a curious thing. It can add pizzazz to your life, ruin it, or simply add few centimetres to the waistline. Long after the storm has passed, Casa Iberica has me detouring via Johnston Street for a Portugese tart hit. A casual chat in-store reminds me that Macau, on China's Pearl River delta, is a former Portugese colony and a great place to sample Portugese cuisine without the effort of going to Europe. The obsession goes international.
With my chap in tow, co-opted into the pastry quest somewhat involuntarily, we arrive at Macau Ferry Terminal via a jet-powered hydrofoil from Hong Kong. Questioned at Immigration, 'Reason for Visit?' - it's tempting to answer 'Portugese tarts'. I settle for 'Tourism'.
Macau boasts an abundance of both casinos and gastronomic delights. On Rua de Sao Paulo we wander the hilltop ruins of the Church of St Paul; the atmosphere redolent of Old Portugal. In the cobbled lanes we discover strong coffee and yes, my longed-for pasteis de nata.
An icon of Macau, the holy grail of Portugese tarts is to be found at the world-renowned 'Lord Stow's'. Englishman Andrew Stow developed a penchant for the tarts in Portugal's Belem waterfront area in the late '80's, perfected the recipe, and consequently opened 'Lord Stow's' on Coloane Island. Today, the bakery is a short trip across the Friendship Bridge from mainland Macau.
Sleepy Coloane, a fishing village and one-time haven for pirates, is an oasis of calm. Traipsing the traditional China Coast streets, open-fronted stores burst with cooking pots, haberdashery and dried salted fish. We marvel at Portugese touches of white-washed facades, blue-and-white name plaques and old-style lamp-posts draped with hanging baskets of flowers. Colonial villas in soft pastel hues of pink and lemon line quiet lanes. Following an avenue of palms and banyan trees along the waterfront, we stroll a pavement inset with ceramic mosaics of old clippers. Then, we see it - Lord Stow's.
Bottles of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce and jars of Branston pickles grace the tables. A slice of black sesame cheesecake with a paw-paw milkshake, or a pot of English tea with a pork pie? English eccentricity is on the menu, but so too are my yearned for Portugese tarts.
Trays of the famed pasteis de nata beckon. The wondrous tartlets arrive warmed; the flaky puff-pastry layered crisp and golden; the custard sweet and gooey with dark amber speckles. Applause, cheering; what beauties! One is not enough.
Returning to Macau on the 26A bus to Avenida Almeido Rubeira, my quest is satisfied, yet one thing niggles. My chap volunteers his opinion that the best cure for an obsession, is to get another.
A new obsession.
Perhaps a Laduree macaroon on Paris's Champs Elysees? A Sicilian cannoli? Or just one more detour via Johnston Street? Why not.
Casa Iberica, 25 Johnston St, Fitzroy www.casaibericadeli.com.au
Lord Stow's Bakery, 1 Rua da Tassara, Coloane Town Square, Macau www.lordstow.com
To get to Coloane Island, take the 26A bus from Avenida Almeida Rubeiro, Macau
© 2014 Kerrin O’Sullivan