I am in Porto, in Portugal. Yes, I come here a fair bit, which is simply because I like the place. It is particularly nice at this time of year. Yesterday there was fog at Stansted airport in London, which delayed my flight a few minutes. After that, we flew over cloud cover all the way south along the Atlantic coast of France, and across the Bay of Biscay. When we got to Galicia, though, we left the cloud behind, and it was beautiful weather. It has been lovely, sunny, blue sky weather in Porto all weekend. I think I might go to the beach.
However, first, an interesting story of globalisation.
When I first went to Hong Kong in 1987, and when I became fond of Dim Sum in Cantonese restaurants in general, I discovered that Dim Sum menus contain custard tarts just like that illustrated above. I found this a little odd: that kind of pastry is not a Chinese or Asian thing, and nor is custard. And although Hong Kong is English, they are not an English thing either. In my experience the Hong Kong chinese absolutely love their custard tarts, however. (There is particularly wonderful bakery in Kowloon City near the old Kai Tak airport that does superb tarts and is a Hong Kong institution, but they are made well throughout the city).
It wasn't of course until I got to Portugal and other Portuguese colonies like Mozambique that I figured out where this culinary delight came from. They are a Portuguese treat, and they are one of many fine things that you can buy in the Portuguese cake shops that exist throughout Portugal and the Portuguese speaking world. They got the Hong Kong from Portugual via Macau. Cool.
It is a shame, though, that the Portuguese did not send their coffee to the world in the same way. Portuguese coffee is superb. Chinese coffee, not so much. One can get Portuguese coffee in Mozambique, but it is not widespread. You can go to a lovely Portuguese style bakery in Mozambique and it will not have an expresso machine, whereas in Portugal such a thing is unthinkable. The reason for this is just that Mozambique is a poor country, of course. Espresso machines are expensive. As Mozambique gets richer, I am sure that things will improve in this regard. And at least they have the right coffee tradition to start with.
Update: It seems my theory is dubious. The egg tart that is so popular in Hong Kong appears to have evolved from English custard tarts directly, without necessarily receiving input from Portugal and Macau. On the other hand, Portuguese style tarts certainly are available in Macau and other parts of the far east.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Flying south for the sun
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