You can end up in a world of pain, trying to be authentic in an ethnic restaurant. Try, for example, lunch yesterday in Madeira restaurant in suburban Melbourne, a Portuguese restaurant, if the name didn’t give it away. Actually, we were there to talk about the former Portuguese colony, Macau, off the coast of mainland China, so ethnicity was the name of the game.

My only true desire was for the pasteis de nata, the egg tarts for which Portugal is famous, so it was with glee I learned of the new delights of the espetada, a vertical skewer hanging from a frame, which is brought to the table, the juices from the marinated meat dripping into the rice or potatoes heaped below. Embroiled in a dinner-party war? A few of these puppies slung on the table and you’d totally win.

In the name of authenticity, we said no to the kangaroo espetada, but went for beef, lamb, chicken and, er barramundi (there was no Portuguese cod). All’s well.

Would you like entrees, perhaps? asked the waitress. Ah, no thanks, we said, patting our waistlines. Not even Portuguese chorizo (grilled, spicy sausage)? said the canny saleswoman. Well, ok then. Since we’re in a going local.

And bread? I think we’re fine. Not the traditional Maderian garlic bread, bolo do caco, which we make inhouse? Oh, we must have that, if it’s Maderian.

And come dessert time, the tarts were on order, except for one non-sweet-eater, who declined any dessert, ordering just an espresso.

Wouldn’t sir like a brandy with that? The table witnessed the mildly sheepish grin of the man who’se already tried the Portuguese beer, the slightly carbonated Portuguese white wine, and is planning to return to the office for the afternoon. No thanks.

Oh, says the waitress. All Portuguese men finish with a short black coffee and a Portuguese brandy.

The table does the hard sell for her. Go on, we all encourage Mr Non-Dessert. He relents and declares the imported brandy ‘actually very good’.

It just proves the old adage learned long ago when I was cutting my teeth in design magazines: say it in French (or in this case, Portuguese) and it always sounds better.

28 Nov 2010: As a coda to this piece, written a few days ago, I notice a euro-bureaucrat saying recently that to haul itself out of its crippling economic blues, “the Portuguese are going to have to find a way to make things that other countries want to buy from them”. 

Enter the espetada.

Aqui e, Europe’s financial woes solved!