Apr 12, 2008

portuguese semi-industrial confectionery

fabrico proprio (english text is below portuguese text on most pages) is a project to document the semi-industrial confections of portugal. the idea of semi-industriality is compelling: in the case of confections, somewhere in the collective there exists the idea of a set of cakes, each of which has individual variation but also an internal logic, coherence, and uniformity, just as individual members of a species do. pastels de nata from one bakery will be reliably uniform from day to day, but will be different from those from another bakery. semi-industrial production is the mode of certain varieties of craft, specifically of the production of mingei (referenced previously).

many countries have archetypal foods and confections. japan comes to mind, and certainly there is a reassuring uniformity in the variety of offerings at singaporean neighbourhood bakeshops, but perhaps the fabrico proprio folks are accurate in saying that the diversity of the portuguese set is unique.

from their self-description:

Portuguese semi-industrial bakery is a unique component of our gastronomical heritage. Shapes and contents are replicated every night in tens of bakeries and small factories scattered over the country, always in the same way, in a perpetuation of a mould or recipe that we know nothing of, but that we recognise immediately. It is also a phenomenon exclusive to our country; no other has such a richness in what we call "everyday bakery". Unlike French and Central European "haute pâtisserie", or exotic Asian specialities, there is nothing sophisticated about this bakery that feeds our days in Portugal. The recipes can be secret, but its results are widely available to all of us — from the finest traditional pâtisseries to high school bars, from train stations and airports to the corner café.

Fabrico Próprio means "Own Production" and is a term used by most cafés and cake shops in their shop signs, windows and packaging. It is a warrant of freshness and quality, but also of uniqueness and prestige, of the baked goods they sell, most of them sweet, one-portion cakes.

We are not talking about regional sweets or specialities (even if we acknowledge that some of them are part of the daily set of cakes available in some cake shops): all the cakes we choose with or café (expresso), galão (latte) or glass of milk, are the same from Braga to Tavira, from Angra do Heroísmo in the Azores islands to downtown Lisbon. They are, throughout our national territory, not only part of our culinary landscape, but also part of our material culture. And this is a reality we easily and often overlook. And this is our point of view, as designers, when we look into Portuguese cakes. We see them as design objects in their own right, as a result of the project-based process that characterises this discipline, where form, ingredients, materials, method, production tools and machinery come together to originate a final product.

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