James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Very Thorough Sampling of Penis‑Shaped Cakes in the Name of Journalism

A Very Thorough Sampling of Penis‑Shaped Cakes in the Name of Journalism

Doces falicos in Amarante

The birds are annoyingly chirpy in Amarante, given the uncompromising sleeplessness of the night before. The small city in Portugal’s north is celebrating its patron saint, São Gonçalo, who is associated with marriage and fertility and various other things, but I’m now fairly certain sleep is not one of them.

A DJ booth right below me is still pumping out a stream of bad Kizomba tracks at 6 a.m. At 8 a.m., a deafening percussion of fireworks signals a new day of festivities. I wake convinced someone is firing off a shotgun right next to my head.

So here I am, bleary-eyed and pretty sure that sugar and caffeine are the only viable breakfast options. In Amarante, the land of São Gonçalo, that means doces falicos. Phallic cakes.

If I’m honest, these penis-shaped pastries are ninety percent the reason I came here. These days they’re available from some bakeries all year round, but during the festas—Portugal’s traditional festivals—the fertility and marriage traditions reach full momentum. Young men and women exchange these cakes as romantic overtures or tokens of affection, and they’re given to unmarried women as good luck charms; a petition to the saint to help them net a suitable husband. I have no interest in marriage, or belief in superstitions, but this bizarre tradition is one I want to see and photograph first hand.

My AirBnB apartment happens to be right above a sweet shop called Confeitaria Tinoca, also run by my hosts. I head groggily downstairs and buy one of the cakes as my breakfast. The older lady serving me selects a particularly generous member from the bottom of the pile—”Um grande. Muito grande,” she nods—and I’m not sure whether she senses my urgent need for sugar, or assumes I’m particularly lacking in the relationship department. Either way, I’m too tired to do anything but appreciate the gesture.

I take my penis pastry upstairs, make a strong cup of tea and sit outside on my balcony listening to the obscene joviality of the birds and the gleeful running of the river. Where to start… ball or tip? Not a question you regularly ask at breakfast time.

I end up eating four doces falicos in Amarante—all in the name of journalism—and the ones from Tinoca are by far the best. The cakes from the street vendors are a little too anatomically correct for comfort and streaked suggestively with dried white frosting. Some are also rock hard (make of that what you will). Tinoca’s, meanwhile, are cartoonishly round. They’re soft and fluffy and melt-in-the-mouth buttery with a just-generous-enough coating of diaphanous white icing that breaks apart flirtatiously at the touch.

I could eat them every day. If the cakes do as they advertise it might result in more marriages than Elizabeth Taylor. But who’s to say it wouldn’t be worth it?

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