I spent this past New Year’s in the Bay Area with my family, and my mom suggested we make a big dinner for Three Kings Day which happens a week into January. It’s a holiday celebrated around the world, but she has specific memories of her Portuguese relatives’ celebrations that she wanted to revive. It should be noted that when my mom fixates on an obscure cultural celebration from a few branches back on the family tree, she goes all the way. At one point growing up the suggestion was made that we celebrate some Swedish holiday with lutfisk; thankfully that didn’t materialize. But our Three Kings meal did, and in the process, we found an amazing Portuguese bakery and some great recipes that would work any time of year.
At first I balked at the suggestion that we drive 45 minutes to pick up some baked goods and linguica for the paella at Silva Bakery in Hayward, CA, but once there I changed my tune. My previous experience with Portuguese baking was limited to sweet Portuguese muffins (so good as part of an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich). Little did I know there were incarnations of this treat that I had never dreamed of, and this place was packed with them. Imagine the fluffy sweetness of Portuguese muffins in loaf form (Massa Sovada), stuffed with apricots and swirly apricot jam. Or strawberries even. It was a perfectly light cake-y bread with a jammy filling that wasn’t too candy-syrupy. We also stocked up on delightful miniature custard cups with a flaky crust and plain or coconut filling, and a simple, delicious corn bread called Pae de Milho.
There were also plenty of savory treats to be had, like a delicious roll stuffed with chunks of linguica and countless cheeses; the owner recommended one called Topo, which turned out to be fantastic. Of course we also bought linguica and chourico for the paella we planned to make, and, Piri-Piri, the sauce which ended up being crucial to the overall meal adding a just-right spicy and vinegary flavor to everything. We picked up several bottles, and it has been my go-to hot sauce ever since. That they sold it in carry-on size was the deal-sealer that had me making a second trip to Hayward before my return flight back to New York.
On top of all this goodness, Silva’s also sells many imported grocery items (always fun to peruse) and obscure Azorean cookbooks. The owner, an incredibly nice man who gave me some candied cherries for our Bolo Rei cake, gratis, was happy to chat about the different products that come from Portugal, Brazil or the Azores (where my great-grandparents were from). His bakery, while a bit hard to find—it’s nestled in a nondescript shopping strip behind a Jack-in-the-Box just off the freeway—is entirely worth the trip. JILL PETERSON