A Macau baker's delight

Kerrin O'Sullivan follows her obsession for pastries.

My obsession with Portuguese tarts begins by chance. Escaping a Melbourne thunderstorm, I take refuge in a Fitzroy deli. In pride of place, among bottles of piri piri sauce and tinned bacalhau cod, are baked pasteis de nata - little egg tarts with flaky pastry and sweet gooey centres. It's the beginning of a beautiful romance.

An obsession is a curious thing. It can add pizazz to your life, ruin it, or simply add a few centimetres to the waistline. Long after the storm has passed, Casa Iberica has me detouring via Johnston Street for a Portuguese tart hit. A casual chat reminds me that Macau, on China's Pearl River delta, is a former Portuguese colony and a great place to sample Portuguese cuisine without the effort of going to Europe. The obsession goes international.

With my chap in tow, co-opted into the cream pastry quest somewhat involuntarily, we arrive at Macau Ferry Terminal via a jet-powered hydrofoil from Hong Kong. Questioned at Immigration, ''Reason for Visit?'' - it's tempting to answer ''Portuguese tarts''. I settle for ''Tourism''.

Macau boasts an abundance of casinos and gastronomic delights. On Rua de Sao Paulo we wander the hilltop ruins of the Church of St Paul; the atmosphere redolent of Old Portugal. In the cobbled lanes we discover strong coffee and yes, my longed-for pasteis de nata.

An icon of Macau, the holy grail of Portuguese tarts is to be found at the world-renowned Lord Stow's. Englishman Andrew Stow developed a penchant for the tarts in Portugal's Belem waterfront area in the late '80s, perfected the recipe, and consequently opened Lord Stow's on Coloane Island. Today, the bakery is a short trip across the Friendship Bridge from mainland Macau.

Sleepy Coloane, a fishing village and one-time haven for pirates, is an oasis of calm. Traipsing the traditional China Coast streets, open-fronted stores bursting with cooking pots, haberdashery and dried salted fish, we marvel at Portuguese touches of white-washed facades, blue-and-white name plaques and old-style lamp-posts draped with hanging baskets of flowers. Colonial villas in soft pastel hues of pink and lemon line quiet lanes. Following an avenue of palms and banyan trees along the waterfront, we stroll down a pavement inset with ceramic mosaics of old clippers. Then, we see it - Lord Stow's.

Bottles of Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce and jars of Branston pickles grace the tables. A slice of black sesame cheesecake with a paw-paw milkshake, or a pot of English tea with a pork pie? English eccentricity is on the menu, but so too are my yearned for Portuguese tarts.

Trays of the famed pasteis de nata beckon. The wondrous tartlets arrive warmed; the flaky puff-pastry layered crisp and golden; the custard sweet and gooey with dark amber speckles. Applause, cheering; what beauties! One is not enough.

Returning to Macau on the 26A bus to Avenida Almeido Rubeira, my quest is satisfied, yet one thing niggles. My chap volunteers his opinion that the best cure for an obsession, is to get another.

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A new obsession.

Perhaps a Laduree macaroon on Paris' Champs Elysees? A Sicilian cannoli? Or just one more detour via Johnston Street? Why not.

FACT FILE

Here Casa Iberica, 25 Johnston St, Fitzroy; casaibericadeli.com.au

There Lord Stow's Bakery, 1 Rua da Tassara, Coloane Town Square, Macau; lordstow.com

Go To get to Coloane Island, take the 26A bus from Avenida Almeida Rubeiro, Macau.

Visit macautourism.gov.mo

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