• Natas do céu, cream from heaven, at Gloria's Portuguese Tapas Restaurant (Leigh Griffiths)Source: Leigh Griffiths
33 years ago, Gloria Belinha missed grabbing a francesinha from a Portuguese café, so she made it herself. The entire café, that is.
Bron Maxabella

10 Nov 2021 - 10:04 AM  UPDATED 15 Nov 2021 - 10:35 AM

Gloria Belinha is pretty sure that Gloria's Portuguese Tapas Restaurant (then known as Gloria's Café) was the first Portuguese restaurant to open in Sydney.

"The idea for the restaurant came from my personal need for a place to go have a coffee, snack and a chat with friends," Belinha tells SBS Food. "At the time only places you could get European style coffee was Norton Street or Darlinghurst and a few other places where there was either Italian or French cafes. There was nothing else around. So this gave me the idea for a Portuguese café and snack bar."

What you need to know about Portuguese food
There's more to the country's cuisine than custard tarts.

"When we started, it was dishes I knew from my region of Porto," says Belinha."Over the years we added dishes from many other regions of Portugal to give an authentic Portuguese experience. Now we have a menu with the best sellers and every month we add about three-four dishes as our special of the month."

Aside from the forever-popular custard tarts (which Belinha makes by hand and "with love"), the best sellers of all are the pork alentajena and arroz marisco. "Pork alentejan is from Alentejo region," explains Belinha. "It's marinated pork pieces cooked with clams in a paprika based marinade, served with fried cubed potatoes and topped with diced pickles, coriander and olives."

The arroz maricso is a seafood rice stew similar to soupy seafood paella. It's served in abundance along the Portuguese coast and sails out the door at Gloria's as well.

Francesinha, which hails from Belinha's home region on the northwest Portuguese coast, is another menu favourite. Belinha describes it as a Portuguese-style croque monsieur served in a spicy sauce. "You need a siesta after having this dish," she laughs.

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You better be hungry when you attack this monster of a sandwich.

It was actually francesinha that compelled Belinha to open Gloria's in the first place. "I opened my restaurant because coffee and francesinha were the things I missed the most from my country," she says.

At the time, Belinha was a single mother of four children who had never run a restaurant before, so it's fair to say that the pull of authentic Portuguese food is admirably strong. Now the restaurant is nestled in amongst Silva's Deli, Sweet Belem pastries and plenty of charcoal chicken shops, the spread of which baffles Belinha.

"Charcoal chicken and piri piri is not Portuguese, it is from Mozambique in Africa and chicken burgers don't even exist in Portugal since it was a creation of Oporto in Australia," she explains. "People have a misconception that we eat charcoal chicken everywhere, but out of 1000 restaurants in Portugal you will find one charcoal chicken place."

Returning travellers who discover the "real Portugal" while on holiday and seek out Gloria's on their return will know this already. "We have had a large amount of people who have recently been to Portugal on a holiday and loved it so much that they wanted to relive the holidays by trying our restaurant," says Belinha. Alongside the travellers, she estimates that around 35 per cent of her patrons are Portuguese, the rest hailing mainly from Brazil and Spain, then everywhere else.

"Petersham is not what it used to be," Belinha says. "In the 80s and 90s it was mostly Portuguese, but over the years it has changed to become a mixture of various cultures. Many of Portuguese have moved away, or retired and don't come out as much or [have] return[ed] to Portugal."

Belinha herself has retired, though she actually retrained as a nurse late in life and Gloria's has been run by her son Alcino de Sá for many years. They have recently looked to sell the restaurant to someone who will keep Belinha's passion for her Portuguese roots alive: passing on cooking and cultural traditions from generation to generation.

"Portuguese food is home-cooked food," she says. "All our traditional food was invented by people who worked the land or sea for a living. It's rich, hearty, full of flavour and most importantly done with love. It's grandma's food."

A trip to Portugal
Chai-spiced custard tarts

Portuguese custard tarts are one of those pastries that I just can’t go past and I love their rustic beauty. 

Supreme cataplana

Just like paella, cataplana actually refers to the pot this dish is cooked in! If you don't have ready access to one, substitute by using a wide pot or sauté pan. 

Food Safari's migas

A traditional Portuguese dish that makes use of yesterday's bread to create a stew-style meal. 

Grilled sardines

“Plump sardines simply grilled – one of the easiest recipes you’ll ever master. The sardines are sold frozen in Australia and are found in Portuguese and Spanish emporiums. When they’re cooked, their skins slide off like a wetsuit – it’s a party trick I never get tired of. Served with roasted capsicums and red wine, these are the true taste of Portugal.” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire

Honey, orange and hazelnut cake

Through many wet, grey and sad days, I waited anxiously for the sun to arrive to shoot a picnic with all the foods I love: savoury tarts, smoked meats, cheese, marinated olives, fresh and dried fruit, and a delicious, rustic cake. The day was beautiful, cold and translucent. The reservoir of Caniçada acted like a watery mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills, boats and houses, some with smoke pouring out of chimneys. It takes a good dose of determination (and a bit of madness) to deal with the logistics of a shoot in the middle of the forest. Somehow, everything went as planned and we were able to enjoy our wintery picnic in all its glory, including this moist and buttery cake with the unique sweetness of honey, the perfume of oranges and the intensity of hazelnuts.

Black-eyed beans (feijao frade)
Fried bread with cinnamon sugar (rabanadas)
Portuguese doughnuts (bola de Berlim)

These Portuguese donuts are irresistible! The crème pâtissière is made with a generous amount of egg yolks resulting in a rich and luscious filling.

Chanfana (lamb)

A gorgeous Portuguese peasant recipe for lamb, which becomes incredibly tender after its bath in wine and paprika followed by slow cooking. Find the right pot and the work is done – it marinates, it cooks and you eat. What could be simpler. Serve with new potatoes boiled in their skins.