Flaky pastry vessels filled with caramelised custard have been flying out the door since Saudade opened its Portuguese custard tart store at the Adelaide Central Market two weeks ago.
Saudade opens Grote Street store
The authentic Portuguese treat pastel de nata is sold in just about every café and bakery in Lisbon.
For Adelaide business owner Carla Alemao, the tart delivers a hit of nostalgia for her homeland of Portugal, all wrapped up in a package of freshly made custard and flaky pastry.
While many of Carla’s customers may not have visited Portugal, they have certainly connected with the love that is put into every tart since her Adelaide Central Market store opened two weeks ago.
It is the second Saudade store for Carla, who first launched the business out of her kitchen in 2017, baking small batches for a pop-up stall at the Adelaide Central Market. She then opened a shopfront in Mitcham in 2018.
The name of her business, Saudade, “cannot be translated into one English word,” Carla says, “but it’s a feeling of longing or yearning for someone or something that you had and then lost”.
With a background in corporate law and working in human resources, Carla moved to Australia in 2006 with her husband Miguel and their three children.
“For me, I missed the food and the friends and family that unfortunately I could not see every day, and that was the downside of moving overseas.
“There are good and bad things when you move away from your country and your culture, but I love Australia and that’s the price you pay.”
Once their children grew into their late teens and early twenties, the couple decided to pursue the opportunity to start a business.
The plan to focus on one single food item was bold.
“Portuguese tarts are everywhere in Portugal, but obviously their cafés and bakeries also sell many other types of pastries and sweets. So, for us just to sell one product, we had to make sure that it was exceptional,” says Carla.
“It was a big investment and quite a bit of risk for just one product but the acceptance was amazing so we said, ‘Let’s go for it’.”
Having quickly built a following at Mitcham, the couple then looked to expand towards the CBD with Carla always keeping one eye on the Adelaide Central Market.
“I’ve always loved the market. For a long time there was nothing available, everything was taken; it’s such a popular spot. We were lucky enough to finally find a vacancy, we approached them and they said yes.
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“COVID was still a huge thing but I decided that we needed to take the risk. It’s such a good location and I knew things would slowly get back to normal.”
As we reported in March, the new store is located at the Grote Street entrance to the market – adjacent to market stalwart O’Connell’s Butcher – and simply offers its trademark tarts and coffee.
Carla makes a gluten-free version of the Portuguese tart, while all tarts come with the optional extra of cinnamon – a point of difference from the traditional Australian custard tarts which are sprinkled with nutmeg.
Even though she’s no longer working in human resources, Carla has a strong focus on staffing and workplace culture.
“From the pastry to the custard, we make and bake everything on site. It’s like a little factory in a way, and we bake all through the day so they are always fresh.
“Everybody works extremely hard, but in a fun way and in a nice atmosphere; that’s the main thing.”
It was a baptism of fire, with Mother’s Day falling on the second weekend after opening.
“Last Friday and Saturday were incredible, we couldn’t keep up. There were so many customers that we would take the tarts out of the oven and put them straight into the boxes; there was no time to put them onto the trays.”
Making and baking custard tarts is a fine art, with the store fit out with a specialty oven built in Portugal. The trays are rotated mid-bake – the custard bubbling away and caramelising on the surface.
Each batch takes about 10 minutes and must be watched closely and removed at exactly the right moment.
“I think our pastry makes a huge difference, it’s very crunchy and very flaky and then you have the smoothness of the custard – it’s that combination that makes it sing,” says Carla.