Sunday, March 18, 2012

Portugese tarts

Forget about Brunetti's pastry that desperately wants you to think it's gourmet, if you want the approval of white Melburnians then it's best to be heard talking about Portugese tarts. They are slightly smaller, have slightly more flavour and are slightly more expensive than conventional custard tarts yet are considered immensely superior. But don't worry if you can't find them in Portugal, they're hard enough to find outside the inner north of Melbourne.

Since white Melburnians have similar political and cultural beliefs, and also prefer not to disagree with one another on issues that actually matter, the Portugese tarts versus conventional custard tarts becomes the frontline of debate. While the rest of Australia is debating Murdoch versus Fairfax or Labor versus Liberal or Big Australia versus Fortress Australia or the mining industry versus everyone else, white Melburnians are desperately trying to convince you that Portugese tarts are so much better (OMG!) than conventional custard tarts.

But when did this begin? When did white Melburnians begin to care so much about pastry? Some might say it started with celebrity chefs and reality TV, while others will tell you it all goes back to Melbourne's cafe boom in the nineties. Who knows? Maybe it all began right after the post-war Southern European migrants arrived?

But I think we have to go back much earlier when the first British settlers found the land around Port Phillip Bay a little too swampy and sought out drier pastures further up the Yarra. You can picture them wrinkling their sunburnt noses up at the local bush tucker and clinging to their wheat flour and eggs and other staples of Mesopotamian agriculture.

But maybe just maybe it goes back even further to the 1600s when the Portugese drifted off course and saw Western Australia but decided not to stay. Maybe they saw all that smoke from campsites and from firestick farming and thought, "Nah, let's fuck off, it's full." We are still living with that decision today.

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