Thursday, July 28, 2011

Food mysteries of the South Coast of Massachusetts

Delectable Portuguese custard tarts surrounded by barely edible cookies
Interesting and mysterious to me, the juxtaposition of grimy ethnic mill towns and beautiful WASP beach communities you find in this part of Massachusetts. Interesting and somewhat less mysterious, at least if you've read Cheerful Money, that the best food is found in the grimy ethnic mill towns.

I volunteered to cook another summer house dinner the other night and my brother-in-law Chris took me to New Bedford (grimy) to stock up at Sid Wainer, the great specialty market he discovered when he was living in the area. This dark and cavernous place carries all manner of spices, breads, anchovies, exotic fresh vegetables, jellies, chutneys, and imported cheese, but is situated in the most depressing of strip malls. And, I'm telling you, the South Coast of Massachusetts boasts some depressing strip malls. We went to Fall River the other day, and the words Fall River now make my skin crawl -- and not just because Lizzie Borden lived there.

At Sid Wainer, I bought cheeses -- from Spain, Italy, Wisconsin and upstate New York -- as well as an incredible pomegranate-lime jelly to serve with them. You can't buy cheeses and condiments like this at the Wareham Shaw's, where vacationers usually shop. Why not? So strange.
Mostly gone within 20 minutes
After visiting Sid Wainer, we went to a fish market and bought bluefish for $3.69 per pound.  I almost didn't want to buy such scarily cheap fish, but did. At a nearby Portuguese grocery, I acquired the gorgeous cookies and custard tarts posted at top. Lots of enticing Portuguese restaurants, bakeries, and butchers in this area. I want to explore.
An odd grilling technique, but it works.
Back in the beautiful WASP beach community with groceries from the grimy ethnic mill town, I repeated the bluefish dish I made in Cape Cod last week: cover the filets in mustard, lemon and breadcrumbs, grill for 40 minutes. It wasn't as delicious this time, but it wasn't bad, and I served it with my version of creamed corn. (Spicy creamed corn: Scrape corn from cob, soften chopped shallots in butter, add corn and fry, stir in Thai red curry paste and coconut milk, cook until bubbly, add lime juice and cilantro, salt to taste.) There was a moment when I thought the meal was going to be a disaster, but it turned out okay. Maybe too many strong flavors on one plate, but not a disaster.

The Portuguese custard tarts: huge hit! Very similar to the Chinese custard tarts you get in San Francisco at the Golden Gate Bakery, but denser, sweeter, less eggy. Soggier crust, better filling.

But once the tarts were gone we were left with a mountain of awful, chalky, stale cookies. Later, I found a gang of children playing blackjack with a plate of the Portuguese cookies in the middle of the table. The loser had to eat them.
Subset of the kid mafia playing cards


  1. we had egg tarts in Macau, big Portuguese influence there as well...their cookies still sucked :)

  2. You give me great hope that someday, my kids will realize that yes, some cookies suck.

    And the spiced corn sounds amazing and I think I will make it tonight in hopes of something blowing through this can't-taste-anything cold I'm nursing here. Ugh.

  3. I love Pasteis de Nata (custard tarts). When I am in Portugal, I eat them three times a day, every day--breakfast, morning coffee break, afternoon coffee break. David Leite's recipe is spot-on as far as taste, although as he notes home ovens aren't hot enough to get the full browning/carmelization effect:

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