1987 - Philly's Portuguese Connection

Chicago Tribune
Philly`s Portuguese Connection
May 24, 1987|By Doreen Carvajal, Knight-Ridder Newspapers.


PHILADELPHIA — Portugal lies thousands of sea miles from the windswept sidewalks and narrow brick storefronts of North 5th Street in Philadelphia, but the distance seems a short one along Rua Cinco.

A Portuguese parade on "Rua Cinco" or 5th Street back in the summer of 1987

Rua Cinco is the Portuguese name for the thriving neighborhood where the coffee is served thick and strong, the shortwave radios crackle with Portuguese soccer games and the cramped, little markets are stocked with delicacies from Portugal: dried codfish, fresh rabbit, sweet chocolate and custard pastries.

``Aqui todo mundo fala Portugues,`` said a stocky Brazilian man as he entered one of the small markets clustered in the heart of Little Portugal.

``Yes,`` another customer agreed. ``Everybody in the world speaks Portuguese here.``

For this city`s estimated 10,000 Portuguese (in 1987) immigrants, Rua Cinco, between Rockland Street and Lindley Avenue just north of Roosevelt Boulevard, is the place to find a Portuguese-speaking lawyer, real estate salesman, insurance agent, tailor or travel agent.

But it has attractions, too, for the visitor who speaks no Portuguese. There one can find handmade, crocheted Madeira tablecloths and can sample sumol (a popular pineapple drink) and costeletas grelhadas (barbecued ribs)

without buying a plane ticket to Portugal.



``If you say you`re going to Rua Cinco, every Portuguese person knows where you`re going,`` said Valdemar Vieira, president of the 700-member Philadelphia Portuguese Club. That club and a second club, the Portuguese-American Rosary Society of Our Lady of Fatima, have headquarters near Rua Cinco.

Vieira and a former club president, Jose Madeira Figueiredo, trace the beginnings of Portuguese commercial life on Rua Cinco to the early `70s, although they say that Portuguese immigrants started moving to Philadelphia as early as the 1930s.

Today the little neighborhood boasts a Portuguese business association, five Portuguese travel agencies, three groceries, two real estate offices, an insurance office, an electric-appliance store, a gift shop, a restaurant, a bar, a bakery and a cafe.

Mass is celebrated in Portuguese at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday by a Brazilian priest at the Incarnation of Our Lord Catholic Church at North 5th Street and Lindley Avenue. There are also several locally produced Portuguese radio programs.

``Once you step inside these walls, it makes you feel like you`re in a little corner of Portugal,`` Vieira said of the Philadelphia Portuguese Club, which includes a reception hall, stage, bar, language school and trophy room. The mood is the same in the shops nestled on Rua Cinco, where knots of people gather on street corners to gossip in Portuguese or camp on the high red stools at the Cafe Pastelaria Portugal to pore over the latest issue of A Bola, a Portuguese newspaper devoted to sports news.

On a sunny Saturday morning at the cafe, the tables and narrow counter are filled with customers studying their newspapers or idly waiting for the start of a soccer game on videocassette.

Low voices mix with the sound of grinding coffee for the espresso served there. Morning is the best time to get the cafe`s fresh Portuguese pastries, such as pastel de nata, a custard pastry, because by evenings such sweets are in short supply.

In the afternoon and evening, the cafe also offers special meals for moderate prices. One afternoon, the menu board was chalked with such specials as cozido a Portuguesa (a pork dish with beans) for $5 and costeletas grelhadas, with a martini included. The conversation and dress usually are casual.


A few doors to the south lies a Portuguese restaurant called Berlengas Island Restaurant, where a diner can eat in elegance on the first floor or in a plain barroom on the second. The difference is the price.

One evening three diners sampled the special vitela dinner on the second floor, where the bar was lined with customers. The veal dish was tender, the potatoes crisp and the Portuguese bread fresh and warm. With drinks, the total for three people was less than $23.

Below in the brick cavelike dining room called O Refugio, the price is steeper, but the atmosphere is more formal. One Sunday night the tables were filled with a Portuguese family celebrating a baptism. On other nights downstairs there are birthday parties, double dates and champagne.

Those who want to cook Portuguese dishes of their own can find all the fixings at such shops as the Girassol Food Market and the A Caravela on 5th Street: fresh rabbit, Portuguese sauces, candies, cookies, tea, hearts of palm. 

Girassol, which means sunflower in Portuguese, is a cramped store with shelves stocked high with Portuguese products and with a butcher shop in the rear. Above a glass display case filled with meat, there is a sign in Portuguese exhorting customers to buy the Portuguese products because it is ``helping the mother country without any sacrifice.``

A Caravela, an early pioneer in the Portuguese section, is also a small shop crammed with items hard to find anywhere except in Portugal. There you can buy Our Lady of Fatima religious candles, records and tapes from Portugal, hearts of palm from Brazil. 

The Lisbon Bakery lies just outside the heart of the Portuguese section, but it`s worth a visit for its fresh Portuguese rolls and its peras, a pear-shaped pastry made with chocolate, custard and coconut. 

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