After the overwhelming response to my last post I have decided to write only about serious issues from now on. That’s why I’ve chosen the subject Doce da Casa for this week’s take-no-prisoners-alert-the-pope controversial post with a moral and a message.
IS DOCE DA CASA REALLY “THE HOUSE SPECIALTY” OR IS IT, ACTUALLY, A RECIPE?
When I first came to Portugal I ate in restaurants for three months for breakfast lunch and tea and during this time became fully acquainted with the dessert menus of Portugal. Invariably they contain an item named Doce da Casa which as any self respecting phrase book will tell you means, in the literal sense, Sweet of the House, i.e., vis-à-vis, chef’s specialty. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant or not worked in a restaurant knows that this is also code for whatever we need to get rid of tonight because it’s going in the bin tomorrow. At least where I come from. You’ll never get a bad dessert in Portugal. I’ve certainly never had a bad Doce da Casa, whatever a Doce da Casa really is.
I was in those days, innocent. I never thought that the whole Doce da Casa name might be a cover-up for a hotly guarded secret. Like the secret Lucia had to keep after the visions at Fatima. Something worth hiding from the people for their own safety.
The second time I came to Portugal I ate in restaurants for breakfast lunch and tea for five months and it was during this time that I began to suspect Doce da Casa was in fact the name of a recipe with defined ingredients, with which a cook may be creative, resulting in variations on-a-theme.
Over the last few years I have further intensified my belief that Doce das Casas, or Doces da Casa or Doces das Casas ARE BASICALLY ALL THE SAME.
The One, however, thinks otherwise. He says he’s been given chocolate things and even baked apple things when ordering Doce da Casa. I say it’s just because he’s English that the restaurant seizes the opportunity to give him the sell it now before anyone sees the maggots dessert. No one would try that on an Australian. We have dangerous spiders and snakes.
So then: we tested the question on google. Just 9 and-a-half million hits of recipes all containing the essential ingredients of Doce da Casa: condensed milk, maria biscuits, chocolate and cream. Emma: one, The One: zero.
Next I email Elvira of Elvira’s Bistro. It’s obviously a subject too controversial to comment upon because I receive no response. Or maybe she’s busy running a restaurant.
So I ring Isabel, she of Encyclopaedia of Portugal fame. She said,
“Excellent question. Important, relevant, pressing. It’s something we’ve all been asking ourselves but need the leadership of someone brave and unflinching to investigate and resolve for us”.
Actually I made that up. What she really said was that traditionally, Doce da Casa would mean ‘specialty of the house’, but has in recent times has become bastardised into this thing with condensed milk and cream. Shit. Emma: one, The One: one.
Not content to leave it at that, I took the question onto the streets and into the kitchens. Nothing proves a point better than pure, creamy evidence. Let me present Exhibit One, if it pleases Your Honour.
Exhibit One is a perfect example of what I have come to expect from ordering Doce da Casa. Biscuit at the bottom, custardy condensed milk layer next, chocolate layer and then lashings of cream on top.
A closer inspection reveals a layer of intact biscuits between one of the layers. This evidence was found at our local churrasqueira and is under copyright control by the cook, Anabella who was very suspicious of my enquiry. Understandably she doesn’t want her recipe stolen, because it was I must say, a very superior Doce da Casa.
Which leads us to speak of Exhibit Two. Some fishy restaurant in Cantanhede served this up after we had demolished an enormous pile of assorted crustaceans. Very elegantly presented and while the omission of biscuit should be noted, it has nonetheless the regulation chocolate, custard and cream layers.
Exhibit Three was from a humble Lousanense establishment called Adega Vila. Biscuit, certainly, cream, absolutely and more than a whiff of condensed milk. But no chocolate and no layering. This, while delicious, fails to satisfy the requirements of a Doce da Casa. One might surmise that it is the specialty of the house. Someone clever reading this will know what its real name is, I’m sure.
Exhibit Four shows an interesting variation in that the crushed biscuit and chocolate layers have been mixed together. The condensed milk/custard layer is there and the cream is there, although the cream was not exactly of bovine origin.
With Exhibit Five, from the local pizzeria, we return to the text book style of the Doce da Casa, dessert flute and all. Let’s not quibble about the absence of chocolate. It is what it is.
And there I rest my case. Doce da Casa is mostly a recipe and more rarely a house specialty. Where have all the specialties of the house gone?
If your local restaurant is serving a true house specialty then, please, we need to know. It’s in the public service.