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petersham, little portugal

little portugal

I didn’t expect that a visit to “Little Portugal”, Petersham, Sydney would mean so much to me.

I must have been infected by the condition of the Portuguese diaspora – that special form of saudades-homesickness where the sight of a proper pastel de nata induces tears.

Of course, the Chinatowns and Little Italies of any major city do not exist just for visitors, local or native. They are founded by the populations of emigrantes, who, finding themselves crowded out by language and strangeness, and a social life devoid of shared history. Apart from being useful, familiarity is comforting.

salted cod petersham portuguese chicken

In Sydney, however, Little Countries are something of an attraction. We do multiculturalism so well that it’s not nearly enough just to go out for Korean BBQ – it has to be on a Korean street, run by Koreans for Koreans speaking Korean. Sydneysiders don’t just want an exotic meal, they want to get their passports stamped.

So, when I tell people I’m from Portugal and they ask me if I’ve been to Oporto Portuguese Chicken Chain That Sells Mostly Burgers, well, I worried about the authenticity of the Aussie-Luso relationship. You might say Oporto and their ilk are about as Portuguese as the hat-with-dangling-corks is to Australia. It’s a stupid image, and that’s it.


The Portuguese colonised Petersham during the late 1970’s. Australia had had an immigration policy that courted Europeans since WW2, and following the Italians of the 60’s, a Portuguese community sprang up in inner city Paddington. As house prices there began to rise, the Italians moved out further west to the suburb of Leichhardt and the Portuguese to nearby Petersham. Just as it happened in Central Portugal with Brits, it was a Portuguese-owned real estate agency in Petersham that guided a steady stream of new arrivals to settle there.

Meanwhile Gloria Belinha was not happy in post-Salazar Portugal. Democracy in chaos, economic upheaval and a people damaged by poverty, isolation and fascism. Liberty had not brought enlightenment or kindness to the small-minded Portuguese who judged you for your second hand clothes and from whose prying eyes you couldn’t hide. In 1983, with their shoe factory business failing, Gloria and her husband decided to get out.

Gloria's portuguese restaurant

When I asked Gloria what Portuguese quality she wished Australians had more of, her answer was ‘none’. She recalled instead how welcome she felt in Australia, how happy and unfettered her kids were at school and how people here summed you up by what kind of person you were and not what you were worth. And when, after the death of her husband she was left alone with four kids and little means, how her shame and despair was met with understanding and dignity and she was given support without being belittled further.

Gloria worked for Peter Doyle Snr at Doyles, an iconic seafood restaurant in Sydney. She must have learnt the trade very quickly because in 1988 she opened the first café in Petersham. And today it’s still the best.

Gloria Belinha Petersham

Gloria’s restaurant is, like the person, completely authentic. Nothing pretentious, no cork hats. Yet nor is it a flag waving, fado-filled lament to the homeland. It just champions big Portuguese flavour and hospitality, with that European family-run works- like-clockwork style. This is the Portugal I want to remember. Everyone probably feels that way about it.

Gloria’s story is the story of both countries still today. Of a Portugal which fails the Portuguese, losing its brightest and best who deserve a fair go. And Australia, which is made great, not because of its cuisines of the world, but because those migrants are motivated, hardworking and come with the learned perspective of harder times. That Gloria doesn’t romanticise Portugal is a particular lesson for me.

sweet belem cafe petersham

If Gloria’s is Petersham’s biggest drawcard, Sweet Belém café-pastelaria is the other. What more can I say except that it’s a real Portuguese cake shop. It has tarts so good they are trademarked. Only a Portugal insider would appreciate the reverence.

The bottle shop is also pretty outstanding. I don’t want to say it felt just like modelo in there, but it did feel good. Vinho verde is something I would definitely miss.

portuguese wine ptersham

And of course there is the chicken. Both churrasqueiras were heaving with takeaway customers when I was there. The Portuguese have got these aussies hooked, well and truly.

pasteis de nata petersham

Gloria’s Café

           Portuguese Restaurante                                

82 Audley Street

Petersham NSW Australia



Tel: (612) 9568 3966





  1. Ails a rodrigues May 22, 2013 12:09 am Reply

    Great place have been there often there is also a butcher (think he’s Spanish) same side as the wine shop may have closed haven’t been for ages.

    Nice reading glad your writing again.

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  2. Matt May 22, 2013 12:13 am Reply

    Oh nice. I live close by and had no idea this was here !!! Tomorrow !!

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  3. Kathleen Stiebritz May 22, 2013 1:10 am Reply

    Cara Emma, good to read from you again – I’ve missed your blog!

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  4. Valerie May 22, 2013 3:23 am Reply

    Hi Emma, are you done with Portugal? Or are you still planning to go back? I miss your Portugal blogs – and am sad that you had to leave, but I understand the financial side of it. Do you still have your house there? Would love you to blog about what is going through your mind right now!!! and your plans for the future! Keep on smiling !

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  5. Nuno May 22, 2013 6:30 am Reply

    Funny coincidence, as I’ve just happened to return here as the address just popped up in my Firefox.

    Very glad to see you’re back to sharing your writing and experiences here.

    Hope life down under has been going well!

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  6. Suzanne McDonald May 22, 2013 9:38 am Reply

    Hi Emma, Thanks for this post, I am missing Avecasta so much right now that I will travel to Sydney next week to visit Petersham. My return flights are booked for mid July where I will stay until mid October, so much looking forward to harvesting the figs and shopping at the Tomar markets. It would be good if we could catch up this time. Hugs, Suzanne.

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  7. Elva Hartman May 22, 2013 10:47 am Reply

    I spent some time in Portugal in 1990.. i stayed with my friends family in a ittle village called Fos du Mora .. and i have some beautiful memories of that time… the food the little village and the Portugese people were so beautiful….. I enjoyed your story… best wishes to you ,,, im so glad you are happy in Australia…. I live in Brisbane so wont be able to just pop into your restaurant… but it all sounds wonderful…….

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  8. Riccardo May 22, 2013 12:19 pm Reply

    Great story Emma!!
    Coffee and tarts look so good i think i have to duck over for lunch 🙂

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  9. Priscilla May 22, 2013 12:32 pm Reply

    It has been a year since we returned from our stay in Portugal. Whenever we miss the food from Portugal we visit Petersham for some yummy bacalhau and pasteis de natas. Oh and some sumol too, hehe!

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  10. Kylie Jean May 22, 2013 12:49 pm Reply

    Great post Emsy. I am going to check out Gloria’s next week.

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  11. Arthur E Grice May 22, 2013 1:20 pm Reply

    Hi Emma..

    Its nice to read you again.its been awhile :), hope you have recovered from your back issue.Do you have any plans to return to Portugal or are you re- entrenched back home for now.. … Arthur.

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  12. Vern May 22, 2013 2:25 pm Reply

    Oh Emma. You appear out of the wilderness. I was beginning to think you were settled down in Sydney, once again.
    I hope not as I thoroughly enjoyed your past tales of exploration in deeply rural Portugal.
    Your delightful style of writing has always held me spellbound and I gobble up eagerly each and every word, and sentence of your treasure trove of secrets which you disclose about ancient Portugal.
    As an adventurer traveller I admire your dazzling snapshots with intense interest, some of the best I have ever witnessed.
    When next in Sydney I must visit Petersham.

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  13. Colin May 22, 2013 6:57 pm Reply

    Hi Emma,
    Hope the back is better as with the love life.
    Since you returned to Australia you must be surprised at the increase in prices with the Aussie $ almost on par with US$.
    My few friends in Australia moan about the prices but state salaries compensate for this, but they do wonder how long this will last.

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  14. AGATA COMMISSO May 22, 2013 9:01 pm Reply

    Hi Emma
    We have missed your writing and loved reading this post.
    I truly relate and even shed tears of sadness in the first few paragraphs, then laughed with the same tears in my eyes.
    Can’t wait to visit Petersham and share the joy.
    Thank you writing again.

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  15. Sami Veloso June 4, 2013 7:46 pm Reply

    Glad to see you are back blogging. Being Portuguese, my husband and I had intended to go for dinner or lunch in Petersham when we visit Sydney in just over 2 weeks for our son’s wedding to his Sydney bride. We will make a point of going to Gloria’s restaurant then!

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  16. eric June 7, 2013 12:42 pm Reply

    Emma quite simply you are a diamond, you sum up the Portuguese to a “T”, i presently live near Santiago da Gaurda and the village folk here are exceptional.

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  17. ellen July 13, 2013 2:59 am Reply

    Hallelujiah! You are back! I’ve missed your wonderful writing. I found your blog while planning a trip to Portugal from (Canada). I’ve since made that trip and fell in love with all i experienced there! I look forward to a return visit immensely….some day.
    Hope you are well!

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  18. luis April 30, 2014 5:53 pm Reply

    ola senhor maria,,,como esta???? quero apenas dizer a sua a filhada aqui em timor (tambem chamada MARIA,filha da senhora Lucia de manatuto) esta a sua procura,,,gostaria muito que a senhor possa nos deixar o seu contacto para nos podemos ligar a Senhora…!!!

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