Introducing Portuguese tarts

I work for a magazine company in Sydney that, among other things, does a lot of cookbooks. The recipes have to be tested and tested again – the magazine where I do the bulk of my work tests each recipe at least three times. The problem is, when they cook something, again and again and again, someone has to eat it afterwards, again and again and again, otherwise the food goes to waste. It’s an onerous job, but I volunteer for it. My motto: my waist = no waste.

On Friday, for example, the food team was photographing and filming its Christmas day meals for the December edition of the magazine. So I had to tuck into a huge Christmas lunch. The things I do for journalism.

I live near the Portuguese precinct in Sydney, where there are a couple of great Portuguese bakeries/patisseries (Fernandes Patisserie and Sweet Belem). I feel sorry for the bakers who go to such hard work making these delicacies, so whenever I am passing I go in and buy some and consume them just to cheer them up. The things I do for humanity.

One day I was feeling very generous (and a bit peckish) so I bought a big box – or about two dozen – of the various Portuguese tarts to take into the office. My plan was about to eat about a dozen myself and let my 20-odd co-workers have half of one each, but the greedy buggers wanted a complete one, or two! I was lucky to get a nibble. What surprised me was, even though this magazine has a fine cooking and baking tradition, few people in the office had eaten Portuguese tarts before. OMG!!! Where have you been, do you know what you are missing out on!!??

So if you find yourself in the same boat – a boat that has not yet pulled up at the docks in Belém in Lisbon where the famous Portuguese tarts were invented – this Portuguese tart sampler is for you. (The pictures were taken on my phone through the glass counter at Fernandes, so there is glare from the overhead lights reflected in the glass, and I have included the tags for descriptive and language purposes, even though they are not particularly attractive.)

Pastel de nata

tarts nataThis is the king of Portuguese tarts! Bow down in homage, you will never find a tart better than this. Pastel means pastry, nata means custard, buttermilk or cream, but don’t confuse it with the the ordinary commercial custard that you can make from packets or buy ready made. This is a delicious creamy concoction of egg and sugar on a crisp flaky base. The history of this tart is interesting – you can read about it here. Incidentally, I have been to the famous patisserie in Belem that has to churn out 15,000 of these on busy days to cater for the demand from salivating tourists and passers-by, but I prefer the ones in Sydney. Other patisseries may add their own twist to the recipe – down in Lagos in southern Portugal, for example, I came across some with puréed maça (apple) added to the mix. These tarts are best eaten in the plural, which is pastéis.

Bolinhos de leite

bolinhos de leiteA bolinho is a sweet or savoury delicacy that has been rolled into a little ball, leite means milk. Think of these bolinhos de leite on the right as pastéis de nata without the pastry. They are moist and clammy and wobbly – I pop them into my mouth very quickly as I’m afraid they’ll wobble their way onto the floor.  The ones on the left are similar but with some kind of sugary glaze on them. This is not food for diabetics!

Mystery tart

tartsgreen2These caught my eye as I was leaving the cafe. If I had seen them earlier I would have ordered one, or two or three or possibly all four. From memory they are similar to the bolinhos de leite but have coconut in them to give them a bit of substance, plus of course that delicious glaze on top.

 Bolo de Berlim

bola de berlimThis is basically the Portuguese version of the Berliner doughnut. The ones pictured here have a custard filling, but there are many variations, including jam fillings. When I was doing a summer language course at the University of Algarve, the cafeteria there had a delicious jam variation (the filling is often hidden inside). A bolo de Berlim became my customary breakfast or mid-morning snack. It was the best thing I learnt on the course (haha).

Pastel de amêndoa

tarts almondOnce you have scoffed a few pastéis de nata or bolinhos de leite, you will probably want something a little drier and more solid to counter the creamy custard. If you like amêndoa (almond), half a dozen of these should do!

Pastel de feijão

tarts coconutI don’t know why these coconut tarts are labelled as feijão (which normally means bean) but who cares. Maybe there are some beans in there so you can get your vegetable quota at the same time! The word for coconut in Portuguese is coco.

Bernardo’s Sunday breakfast ….

How's this for starters?

A pastel de nata, bolinho de leite and a good old palmier biscuit.

Songs that drive me nebun*

Greetings! Some fairly decent songs have been appearing from CAT Music in Romania on my Facebook feed, so I thought I’d collate them here quickly before I forget them and they disappear down the Facebook Scroll Black Hole (ever tried trying to look up what was that nice song by somebody that you shared on Facebook three years ago? Good luck with that mission). You’ll find a nice mix of upbeat songs, sad songs and smooth sounds here.

1. Alina Eremia – A fost o nebunie (It was madness)

* Related vocabulary

  • nebun, nebună adj foolish, silly, mad, crazy, insane, frantic
  • nebun  madman, fool, nutcase, loony
  • nebunesc, nebunească adj foolish, silly, wanton
  • nebuneşte adv crazily
  • nebunie f insanity, madness
  • a face pe nebunul to be (going) crazy

2. Andra (feat. Cabron) – Niciodată Să Nu Spui Niciodată (Never say never)

3. Sophia – Ziduri (Walls)

4. Betty Blue – Acolo sus (Up there)

The next two are not from CAT Music but I found them on the current music charts. I can’t unlink them so that they’ll appear here, you’ll have to follow the link.

5. Maxim – Noapte fără tine (Night without you)

6. Soundland feat. Alexandra Ungureanu – Atât de uşor (So easy)

So, who’s your favourite Guatemalan singer? Maybe Gaby?

Guatemala has been in the news recently, as an emboldened judiciary and plain old people power (there is a lot to be said for people agitating for reform) tackle corruption (details here). I must admit I know little about the country although I do hoard travel brochures on South and Central American and I have admired its Mayan ruins – which probably get overshadowed by the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru. Still, I came across someone from Guatemala recently, and asked him for some Guatemalan musical recommendations. He nominated two singers Gaby Moreno and Ricard Arjona.*

Suggestion number one

Gaby Moreno. Listening to her now, I can see why. She’s young – her Wikipedia entry is here and her own website is here – but she could well have been from an earlier era. Here’s a very well known song Quizás, Quizás,Quizás (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps), which has been done by the likes of Nat King Cole in Spanish and also by a number of artists in an English version. I’m sure you will recognise the tune.

You can see a translation of the lyrics here.

So, let’s have a look at her performing on a video … as you can see, she has a Gatsby look about her.

Suggestion number two

Ricardo Arjona. Sou only have to look at his Wikipedia entry and his discography to realise he is a major star on the Latin music scene. On YouTube you can find compilations of his greatest hits (“exitos”) and they are well worth playing in the background when you have an hour or two to spare at home.

One of his more recent hits, though, features Gaby Moreno, and you will see some Mayan ruins in this clip too (try as I might, I can’t get his videoclips to display like hers above).

Here are some of his other more recent chart-toppers.

 * Later my Guatemalan friend admitted he didn’t like these two singers so much,  preferring instead English electronic music. I think it’s sad when people dismiss their own culture and think a foreign culture is much more hip, but I’ve also been through that phase as a youngster in Africa, so can understand. Sometimes people have to get away from their roots as part of the growing up process, and then later go back and rediscover their cultural heritage – often with a lot more appreciation.

Brazilian celebrations are in order

Dieticians say we should eat more fruit

Dieticians say we should eat more fruit

Today, September 7, is Independence Day in Brazil. So I thought I should really do something with a Brazilian theme.

I did.

I wore a caipirinha-flavoured condom haha.

It was a little bit uncomfortable at work, and once or twice when I went to the bathroom I almost forgot I was wearing it, which could have been disastrous, but …. oh,, all right, let’s not get carried away with this theme, let’s lift the tone…

The other day this song popped in my Facebook feed courtesy of singer Marisa Monte. It was used as the theme song from a very popular TV show from a decade ago, Mulheres Apaixonadas (Women in Love). I hadn’t heard it for ages and had forgotten how good it was. Marisa recorded it with some friends using the band name Tribalistas. It was a massive hit. So forget the condom, this is my Brazilian celebration.

The complete Tribalistas album (a one-off) is here…

Brazilian fair in Sydney

Incidentally, if you are in Sydney on Sunday, September 20, the annual Brazilian “Ritmo” Festival will be on in Darlling Harbour. It’s presented by the Brazilian Community Council of Australia. It’s usually a lot of fun, with stage shows and Brazilian foods in good supply. Check out the pics and info on the BRACCA website.

Bracca day

Did the Portuguese Spice Boys discover Australia?

Nagasaki School Scenes of traders at Nagasaki late 18th–early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll (a) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; (b) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; box 12.0 x 19.5 x 39.5 cm, M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 20144P11 (a-c)

Nagasaki School Scenes of traders at Nagasaki late 18th–early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll (a) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; (b) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; box 12.0 x 19.5 x 39.5 cm, M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 20144P11 (a-c)

If anyone is in Adelaide this weekend it’s your last chance to see the Treasure Ships: Art In The Age of Spices exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. More than 300 exhibits are on display, and much of the focus is on Portugal’s “golden age of discoveries”. After Sunday the exhibits will go to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where they will be on display from October 10 to January 31, 2016. Some of the highlights of the exhibition are covered in a previous post here.

Portugal’s history is fascinating – it’s said to have had the first global empire in history – but because it’s “golden age” was relatively short and its influence waned after the 16th Century, not much is known about it by the population at large today. I’ve got some great books on the topic …

Portugal books

I haven’t actually started reading A.R. Disney’s two-volume A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire, but when I have 60-plus free days to spare, I will. I am currently reading Nigel Cliff’s The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages Of Vasco Da Gama, but because of other time pressures it’s been a start-stop-go-back-and-start-again affair. Vasco’s ships never seem to leave the port! However, for an easy yet highly entertaining introduction to Portugal’s greatest historical hits, I would strongly recommend Martin Page’s The First Global Village. Page is a writer and journalist first and foremost rather than a historian, so he knows how to make his history sizzle. Some of the really dry historians should take note!

Why the fascination with spices?

Often when I sprinkle pepper on my food, I think of Vasco Da Gama. We take pepper and other spices for granted so much nowadays. So what was the big deal with spices in the spice age? Much of it, of course, was to do with trying to preserve meat, or to disguise the fact that it was rotting, on long sea journeys, but in the press release to the exhibition, co-curator James Bennett says the pre-refrigeration need for spices “takes little account of the complex reasons the condiments of luxury and status were so avidly sought”.

I asked his fellow curator, Russell Kelty, what were the other complex reasons.

“The most common assumption is that spices were used to preserve food but in fact Europe’s fascination and desire for spices was linked partially to the prestige associated with these luxury condiments which were transported vast distances over land and sea, prior to the establishment of maritime routes by the Portuguese, and as a result were extremely expensive,” Kelty says. “Spices were also connected to notions that illness was caused bodily imbalance in hot and cold humours which could be alleviated by certain spices. As with any commodity the more scarce and difficult to obtain the prestige it accumulates.”

India, Portrait of D. Francisco de Almeida, 16th century, Goa, oil and tempera on wood, 183.0 x 98.0 cm National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), Lisbon MNAA Inv 2145 Pint

India, Portrait of D. Francisco de Almeida, 16th century, Goa, oil and tempera on wood, 183.0 x 98.0 cm. National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), Lisbon
MNAA Inv 2145 Pint. 


(The image above is from the exhibition; it’s a portrait of an explorer I haven’t really heard much about, Francisco de Almeida. Wikipedia has this to say about him: Dom Francisco de Almeida, also known as “the Great Dom Francisco” (ca. 1450 – March 1, 1510), was a Portuguese nobleman, soldier and explorer. He distinguished himself as a counsellor to King John II of Portugal and later in the wars against the Moors and in the conquest of Granada in 1492. In 1503 he was appointed as the first governor and viceroy of the Portuguese State of India (Estado da Índia). Almeida is credited with establishing Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean, with his victory at the naval Battle of Diu in 1509. Before Almeida could return to Portugal, he lost his life in 1510.)

The Australian Connection

beyond cap“Treasure Ships also examines the impact of the Age of Spices on the ‘discovery’ of the Australian continent”, says the exhibition’s media release. So what can we glean from the exhibition about Portuguese relations with Australia? There are some historians who believe that the Portuguese secretly knew a lot more about Australia than was officially revealed. (For example, Peter Trickett and his book Beyond Capricorn).

I was curious to know if the Treasure Ships exhibition added anything to that debate. Here’s  Russell Kelty view.

“Treasure ships does not touch on the Portuguese ‘discovery’ of Australia  – which I agree was highly likely –  as the exhibition is about art and cultural exchange. There is no evidence of any kind of aesthetic impact by the Portuguese on Indigenous Australian art, as was the case with Makassan trepang fishermen whose visits had a profound impact on northern Australian coastal Aboriginal cultures. The catalogue does briefly discuss [Malaysian-Portuguese cartographer Emanuel Godinho de Eredia (1563-1623)] Eredia’s belief in the existence of ‘New South India; (p.186).”

To see a summary of all the arguments about whether or not the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover Australia, go here.

The Treasure Ships exhibition images here have been supplied courtesy of the Media section of the Art Gallery of South Australia and may not to be distributed to any other party. 

Balkan Club meets Brazil as Romanian pop stars Andra and Naguale go to Rio de Janeiro

The Lisbon-Bucharest divide

The Lisbon-Bucharest divide

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is not much connection between the Romanian and Portuguese languages. For one thing, Bucharest and Lisbon are more than 3800 kilometres apart, and if you were to make that road journey (pictured), you would hear many different languages along the route. I have been fortunate enough to have done summer language courses in both countries – in Portugal in 2011 and Romania in 2013. Of the two, the latter language was definitely new to me, so I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Whenever I was asked a question by my Romanian teacher, if I couldn’t say a word in Romanian, I would say it in Portuguese (in my peculiar gringo Porto-Romanian accent), and often the answer would prove to be spot on. So if you are reasonably fluent in one of those languages, you should be comfortable holidaying in places where the other is spoken.

Even so, I was surprised to find that doing very well on the Romanian music charts at the moment is Falava, a song in Portuguese and English by Romanian singer Andra and a band by the name of Naguale. It’s catchy and has got a sort of Turkish/Arabic/Ottoman snake charmer cum bellydance-type feel to it (my belly gyrated while playing it). As a bonus, the video features colourful exotic scenes from Rio de Janeiro, including street life, mouth-watering tropical fruits and the obligatory long-legged beauties in skimpy costumes wiggling their bits (it’s a bit in your face at times).

Andra certainly sounds comfortable in the Portuguese language, and the radio studio version below shows this is so with live performances too.

The lyrics to the song can be found here.

Andra is very popular in Romania. Here’s her big summer hit from 2013, Inevitabil va fi bine (Inevitably everything will be fine) … happy memories for me!


I don’t know much about Naguale, but according to the band/musician’s Facebook page it’s a (one-man?) band led by Bucharest-based Ovidiu Baciu and the music genre is “Balkan Club”. Here he teams up with a couple of other heavy-hitters on the Romanian music scene, Glance and Elena Gheorghe. In this video, the naked flesh on display is of the big and buffed blokey type. There are subtitles in English.

Three of the best Italian songs – as chosen by an Italian, so don’t blame me haha

I haven’t played or listened to an Italian music for a while, so I asked an Italian friend to nominate his three favourite songs. This is what he came up with:

1. Caruso by the late Lucio Dalla

2. Vivo per lei by Andrea Bocelli (shown here with translations in Romanian, and there is some dispute in the comments on YouTube whether it’s actually Laura Pausini singing with him or someone else).

3. A far l’amore comincia tu  by Raffaella Carra

If anyone would like to nominate their favourite songs in my five Romance languages, please do!

When the push comes to the shove, what kind of constipation would you prefer?

Beware false friends. These are words that look very similar in two different languages but have different meanings.

When a Portuguese friend of mine first arrived in Australia she had absolutely no knowledge of English (and even now she cannot distinguish between “shits“, “shirts” and “sheets“), she was feeling ill so she went to a doctor complaining of “constipacão“. She was very happy to be given medication for this, but could not understand why for the next few days she did not get better – and she kept having to run to the loo.

What went wrong? Well, while “constipacão” does indeed mean “constipated” in Portuguese as in English, it has another meaning in popular usage in Portuguese, hence the false friend:

  • constipacão a common cold
  • pegar uma constipacãoto catch a cold
  • constipado 1. constipated; 2. suffering from a cold
  • constipar1. to constipate, cause a constipation; 2. to catch a cold.

My friend had the flu, and she had been given laxatives.

cold-156666_1280If in doubt, a safer word to use in Portuguese for a cold is resfriado (related to frio, which means cold in temperature, and resfriar, to cool again)

  • peguei um resfriado I caught a cold
  • ele está resfriado – he has a cold

Resfriado can also mean chilled, iced or frozen, while resfriamento is the act or process of cooling: hence coluna de resfriamento, a cooling tower.

I suppose in a future post I will have to study constipation in the other Romance languages.

Liviu Teodorescu’s body parts

CAT MUSIC Romania is on my Facebook feed (here’s the link if you want it on yours) and I like to keep an eye on the new releases for something interesting. This one by Liviu Teodorescu caught my attention. The title is In Braţele Tale. If you don’t know Romanian can you guess what it means? (Answer below).

Did you work out the song title? Some clues:

  • In English we have the word embrace
  • Portuguese has abraços (“hugs”, a common term of endearment)
  • French has les bras (arms)
  • Spanish likewise has los brazos
  • And in Italian if you welcome someone with open arms you do it a braccia aperte.

So In Braţele Tale means In Your Arms. The singular noun is braţ.

Which reminded me of this great song from Bere Gratis

See also Cheers to Bere Gratis – music to slurp a free beer to.

I don’t know much about Liviu Teodorescu except that rose to fame playing a singer in a Romanian TV series, Pariu cu viațaso let’s see some more of him….

Here he is a recent release with Robert Toma and ADDA, Tot ce mi-a ramas (All I Have Left).


The language of money, from a woman’s point of view. Have a cake and eat it too

Australian Womens Weekly magazine page layout

My pride and joy!

Earlier this year I edited an 180-page financial guide for (Australian) women, the second edition of How Busy Women Get Rich (it’s aimed at inspiring people who are generally too busy with their everyday lives to think about their finances). It felt a little odd being a man editing a financial guide for women, but our company had just started using a new computer system, none of the otherwise very capable freelance editors had been trained on it yet, so someone in-house had to do it, and the finger was pointed at me. I had been in the finance press for 14 years previously, and had been chief sub-editor of the inaugural edition of the magazine last year, so I guess it was a logical choice. Still, the last thing I wanted to be perceived as was a man telling women what to do; so I took on the role as the mere host of a party, and invited as many inspirational women as I could to be the party guests and made sure there were great female journalists on hand to take note of the conversations. It isn’t a dubious get-rich-quick magazine, but more about how to enrich your life on many levels – having the courage to follow your passions, doing what you love, and so on. It was the first time I had edited a magazine and I really enjoyed it. Thankfully it is selling well.

I have always been aware of issues of prejudice, equality/inequality and justice/injustice in the world, but I must say that the months I spent focusing on the major news issues that affect women today were an eye-opener and pretty galling too. Take, for example, the gender pay gap – the difference between what men and women get paid. In Australia, for example, official figures out earlier this year showed that a man’s average weekly wage is approximately $1587 and a woman’s is $1289. In Australia in 2014, government figures showed, a woman would have to work an extra 66 days a year to get what men get paid. Sixty-six days! That’s thirty-three weekends the woman has to work while the man lazes at home! Needless to say, if I were a woman I’d be pretty pissed off.

Throughout my career in journalism, I have had some great male mentors, but most of my role models have been women, and the vast majority of my current colleagues are women – writers, sub-editors, and magazine designers.They were a great source of advice and help to me during the editing process. After the magazine came out I had to thank them in the best way I could – a caramel mud cake decked out in the colours and imagery of the magazine cover. It looks pretty garish but it was yummy. Hail to all women out there! Cheers (normal Romance language service will be resumed shortly).

"How Busy Women Get Thanked" - with a caramel mud cake using the magazine cover theme.

“How Busy Women Get Thanked” – written on white chocolate (the sign did not last very long).