I was heading back to the car from doing some…
Kitchener has long had a Germanic background, but it has had a pretty solid Portuguese character as well.
I love the Portuguese and I love Portugal. We took a family vacation to the Iberian peninsula to take in the UEFA 2004 soccer championship. From north to south, it is a beautiful, small country with a tremendous sense of its own history and immense pride among its people. Some damn good food too.
But back here in Waterloo Region, and since the days of Barrels restaurant, Portuguese cuisine has failed to make much of a showing. There are scattered places that prepare Portuguese dishes but few places — like Lisboa Bakery and Grill in Kitchener’s Williamsburg — that stand out. Aside from the odd snatches of conversation you might hear, it seems Portuguese culture resides in a handful of food stores here and there throughout Kitchener and Cambridge.
Torreense Store on Mill Street at Stirling Avenue is a simple business, of a bygone era, chock full of Portuguese culture. There’s soccer iconography–that being Cristiano Ronaldo, of course–as well as religious iconography. There St. Jorge cheese, buckets of olives, terrific hearty, crusty Portuguese buns and corn breads, a few metres of sausage, Sumol beverage, and always some senior Portuguese gentleman wandering in and out. It’s glorious.
I think things at Torreense have slowed down a bit over the years, though I’m hoping they will pick up and the place can thrive and retain its role as a cultural landmark in the community. They once used to have bulk lupini beans–briny, starchy little morsels–but those have been relegated to jars. Sitting in the stadium at Guimares, awaiting the Italy-Denmark match in 2004, we noticed a pronounced smacking noise emanating from a native spectator sitting behind us. I asked what he was munching on and spitting out and he said, “Lupini.” I tried some and loved them.
Under a plastic lid with a handle and some tongs sits a tray of crispy looking brown bits–torresmos, a fried pork snack. They are rich and delicious and imagine you really can’t eat more than a small amount. In the deli case are a half-dozen meats, a few cheeses, and some wicked looking pastries.They grab a crusty bun slice a quarter-inch or so of presunto, the Portuguese dried ham, and bag your sandwich. It’s fresh, filling and about $5.
The Portuguese love their pastries. Me too. Mornings in Portugal, from Lisbon to Arcos de Valdevez included the luscious pasteis de Nata and a galao, a handled mug of warm milk into which a drop of coffee is added. It’s a delicious combination. On this visit to Torreense, the pastry delivery was just arriving and in was being carted a huge tray of pasteis de Nata. I was so lucky. The eggy, custardy tart with the beautifully caramelized and even burned spots on the top, facilitated by a pretty not oven, is all about the texture, it seems to me. It’s crispy, chewy and soft all at once. It goes perfectly with coffee.
Come to think of it, it’s texture a shop like Torreense adds to the community. So use it, or lose it.
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