Last year Mrs Snot Block & Roll and I took a trip to Tanzania, and spent a lovely week and a half on safari, photographing wildlife. At the end of the trip, we spent a few days in Zanzibar, where we enjoyed the exotic melange of cultures, including the spicy flavours and the excellent seafood. On the way home, we spent some time waiting for our flight in Zanzibar International Airport. While killing time, I wandered around the tiny terminal building and spotted a small cafe.
On closer inspection, the display of hot food had plates of beef and chicken samosas, triangular chicken pies, and… sausage rolls! Beef sausage rolls, to be precise, from the signage, which is probably going out of its way to assure any prospective buyers that it is halal and contains no pork.
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Rua dos Clérigos 64, Porto, Portugal
Continuing our trip around Portugal, Mrs Snot Block & Roll and I stopped next at Porto, home of port wine and, from 1990-1993, J. K. Rowling. While walking around and admiring the scenic sights of this lovely city, we passed a number of pastelerias, and saw in the window of one what looked like the most amazing vanilla slices. They were large cubical blocks, with about 98% filling in between two thin layers of pastry. But having eaten recently, I wasn’t up for trying one at the time.
But then late in the day we visited the Clérigos Church and tower. This is situated near the top of one of Porto’s many hills, so the tall bell tower is visible from all over the city. After checking it out, we had dinner nearby and the were walking down the road back to our hotel when we spotted the pasteleria O Forno dos Clérigos (“the oven of Clérigos”), with an amazing array of luscious looking sweets in the window and the display cases inside.
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Rua das Padarias 8, 2710-623, Sintra
Business meetings done, it was time to get on to the vacation part of my trip to Portugal. Rather than spend all the time in Lisbon, Mrs Snot Block & Roll and I took a 40 minute train ride out to the village of Sintra, just outside the sprawling suburbs of Lisbon. Sintra lies nestled in a range of hills where the old royal families of Portugal built their castles and palaces, so it’s both a natural scenery wonderland and a cultural and historical site worth visiting. The village has several steep pedestrian paths, often with steps required to climb up or down the hillside. At the top of one such street we found a cozy cafe to stop for lunch: Pasteleria Vila Velha.
We chose quiches for lunch, and for a sweet treat afterwards I got one of the mil folhas (Portuguese for mille feuille; i.e. a vanilla slice) sitting in the display.
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Avenida da Igreja 2, 1700-204, Lisbon, Portugal
On a combined business/vacation trip, I flew into Lisbon around lunchtime on my first ever trip to Portugal. Lisbon’s airport is very close to the city centre, and even closer to my hotel in the Entre Campos neighbourhood north of the city centre. So close that rather than take a taxi or the metro, I decided to walk from the airport to the hotel. The distance was not a problem, but the day was hot and sunny. Before we left, Mrs Snot Block & Roll had suggested that we could stop about half way and have a drink at a cafe. Checking on Google Maps, I had located a likely sounding cafe named Pau de Canela (“Cinnamon Stick” in Portuguese), with good reviews.
Portugal is famous for its traditional custard tarts, the pastéis de nata, but when we arrived at the cafe what caught my eye were some intriguing looking vanilla slices. They were labelled “mil folhas”, which is clearly the Portuguese equivalent of “mille feuille”, so that was a good start. Mrs SB&R ordered a coffee and grabbed a mil folhas for me. No sausage rolls in sight, alas, so it seems we still have a thing or two to teach the Portuguese about baking.
The slice has a traditional looking construction although it is quite flat and the custard is a thin single layer sandwiched between two very thick sheets of flaky pastry. The custard is a very dark yellow colour, darker than almost any other I’ve seen, and there’s not a lot of it. The pastry looks nice and flaky, and is topped with the traditional white icing with brown swirly pattern running across it diagonally. The slice is supplied on a plate with a knife and fork. Being in a foreign country, I’m a bit reluctant to commit a diplomatic faux pas by eating it wth my hands in front of a busy cafe crowd, so I rely on the cutlery.
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3938 Rivermark Plaza, Santa Clara, California, USA
I was on a business trip to Santa Clara in California, to attend meetings at the Intel headquarters there. On the day I arrived, I checked into my hotel, and then went for a walk to find the nearest cluster of shops. This turned out to be Rivermark Village, a new looking outdoor shopping mall in the Californian style, with a bunch of shops surrounded by an expansive area of asphalt dedicated to parking the hundreds of cars that Americans use to get everywhere. I wasn’t particularly intending to get anything to eat, but I passed a bakery called The Prolific Oven, and popped my nose in for a quick peek to see what sort of things they had.
Perusing the cakes and pastries, my eyes were stopped and riveted by what was obviously a vanilla slice, but with a bright red topping! It had the traditional wavy lines of white icing, but decorating a translucent and visually appealing red glaze. There was only one left in the counter, sitting on a large tray with a fresh raspberry next to it. I deduced that this must be a raspberry vanilla slice. I had to have it!
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Avenue 16 Septembre 1947, Tende, France
Continuing our driving journey through Europe, we found ourselves passing through the lovely Parc National du Mercantour, hugging the Italian border in the south-east corner of France. We stopped at the small village of Tende, deep in the heart of the park, for a few hours to look at the museum, which houses displays of stone age people who lived in the region thousands of years ago, as well as to have a walk around and to get some lunch.
After sightseeing for a while, it was time to eat. Not much was open, but we found a cafe called La Merenda on the main street running through the village. It looked a little run down and not particularly promising in the food stakes, but there wasn’t much choice. They did have some quiches and a tart des legumes, but also in a small sweet pastry section there were lurking a few mille-feuilles, the French version of the humble vanilla slice. Well, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
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Via S. Gottardo, 6780 Airolo, Switzerland
Driving through the Alps from Switzerland to Italy, we passed through a number of small towns. As lunch time loomed, we stopped at the town of Airolo to look for some food. Not much was open, but we found a panetteria and pasticceria called Beffa. Being southern Switzerland, this was an Italian-speaking region. After some halting words with a young lady who didn’t speak any English, we managed to get some panini, freshly made in a back room. And sitting in the pastry display was a set of millefoglie, the Italian version of a vanilla slice.
We got a small round table in the dimly lit cafe section of the pasticceria. An adjacent table held five elderly men who were drinking espressos and having an animated discussion in Italian. This was the sort of place where old men gather to while away the hours gossiping with their friends. After eating our sandwiches, I turned my attention to the millefoglie presented on a similarly aged plate.
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Via Basilea 28, Lugano, Switzerland
On a driving holiday in Europe, we found ourselves checked into the Continental Parkhotel in Lugano, a lovely lakeside city in southern Switzerland. The hotel overlooks the old town, across a railway line, and consists of a grand old building, plus a newer annex where the cheaper rooms are.
Normally the breakfast buffets at hotels in this part of the world have a selection of hot food, bread, cold meats, cheeses, and fruit. Sometimes they have cakes or tarts. But as I surveyed the offerings on this fine morning, I spied, lurking between a row of doughnuts and muffins, a procession of vanilla slices! Having the luxury of taking whatever I wanted for breakfast, I first filled up on healthy things like muesli and fruit, before returning to the buffet to grab a vanilla slice.
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Borough Market, Southwark, London, United Kingdom
While searching for a small sweet treat to round off a lunch of two sausage rolls, plus a beef and stilton pie which I found at another stall in London’s Borough Market, I happened across the stall belonging to Ginger Pig. This was a butcher, selling all manner of cuts of pork and pork products such as sausages, black puddings, and pork pies. But besides this meat designed to take home and cook or eat later, they also had sitting on the counter a tray containing a glowing golden treasure: four large, plump, delicious looking sausage rolls.
Drawn inevitably to this promise of culinary wonder, I saw that they had a warming oven behind the counter, and several enormous sausage rolls therein. A sign proclaimed that they came in two varieties: pork, and pork and stilton! Unfortunately, I was almost full already, and was thrown into a horrible quandary: to sample one of these delectable looking rolls, or to skip them and seek a thin slice of cake or tart. Because these rolls were not merely plump, they were truly fat. Big and chunky. Compared to the previous rolls from Northfield Farm and Boston Sausage, which cost £1.50 and £1 respectively, these cost £4 each – but they looked worth it, they were so big.
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Borough Market, Southwark, London, United Kingdom
After the slightly disappointing sausage roll from Northfield Farm’s stall in London’s Borough Market, I continued wandering around, looking for more interesting things to sample. In a far corner of the market, right next to Southwark Cathedral, is a row of hot food stalls, preparing lunch treats for passersby. Amongst the grilled cheese sandwiches, kebabs, and enormous dishes of paella, was a place named Boston Sausage. They did a line in sausages on bread rolls, and burgers. But also on the menu, under the heading “Appetisers”, was the golden item: sausage rolls. And only £1 each, so I assumed they must be fairly small.
I went over and asked for one, but the guy told me that they were just putting a batch into the oven, and they’d take about 15 minutes. I said I’d return and went for a bit more of a wander through the bustling market. After about 15 minutes I returned, to the loud spruiking voice of one of the staff proclaiming, “Hot sausage rolls! Come and get ’em! Best sausage rolls in the universe! Better than my mum makes!” There was a metal tray piled with the rolls hot out of the oven, and they were going quickly as people were attracted to the yelling and the delicious smells of the stall.
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