Portuguese Christmas Baking and Its Origins
At Christmas every year we celebrate the festive season with our own Macanese sweets, that have their own special religious meaning to our members and their families.
ALUAR is said to be of Indian origin. However, Jose Pedro Braga who was the first Portuguese Legislative Counsellor in Hong Kong and father of the historian Jack M. Braga in his book “The Portuguese in Hong Kong and China” specifically wrote about Aluar. He mentioned that as a student in Calcutta he enjoyed this much prized sweetmeat called ALUA which he stated hailed from Persia (today’s Iran) which had found its way to Calcutta and eventually to Macau. The ingredients did not differ very much whereas our Aluar used butter instead of ghee and almonds and grated coconut instead of pistachios. “ALLUAR” was introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs (Moors) a long time ago and gave rise to the Portuguese sweetmeat “ALFEOLA” in which case could this have been brought to Macau from Portugal and became our Aluar.
COSCORAO is Portuguese. It is referred to as a pancake like fritter from the Upper Alentejo region and is one of their Christmas specialities. It is also known as “Angel’s Wings” in Portuguese. They appear to be rather thick and robust definitely not as light and “fofo” as ours are. There is a Japanese cookbook in English titled “Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan” that makes mention of Coscorao which they call COSOCARAO and became their KARINTO and Fartes became their HARUTEISU.
FARTES is also another Portuguese delicacy that uses flour, eggs and honey which in Macau uses sugar to which grated coconut is added. It is supposed to be similar to the one in Portugal since the Middle Ages but more elaborate. In the internet I came across reference of a late fifteenth century Portuguese cookbook which mentions a recipe for a sweet cake called Fartes. That is how far back this item goes.
EMPADA is Portuguese. Empada containing fish and meatless was prepared specifically to be eaten on Christmas Eve which was strictly observed as a day of abstinence and fast by the devout Catholic Macanese. This day of abstinence and fast continued until the mid 1960s when the Church finally abolished this archaic ruling. In Hong Kong when business houses like Dodwell had their after work Christmas Eve drinks and small chow parties the Catholics amongst them were put in a very difficult position as they under the threat of mortal sin could not join in the good cheer. The other dish was that was served on Christmas Eve was Sopa Lacassa or Shrimp and Rice Vermicelli Soup.
By Joao “Bosco” Correa