Hiser Portuguese Bakery in Hayward is an unpolished gem. You might not recognize what an asset it is to the Bay Area on a first glance.
In addition to an interesting variety of Portuguese breads and pastries, they have the best selection of Portuguese cheeses and meats that I have seen in the Bay Area, so far.
My favorite, hands down, at this bakery is pastéis de nata", a tiny lemon flavored custard tart. It has a paper thin crust. It is very sweet. The excellent article on Azorean food in the link at the bottom discusses why some Portuguese pastries are very sweet. It is like combination of a Chinese egg tart and an Italian budino de riso. No rice, but the texture and sweetness reminded me of the Italian pastry.
There is a nice almond cookie, espicie, that reminds me a little of the almond cookies you can get in Chinese bakeries.
Pao Doce, Portuguese Sweet Bread, is like a cross between Hawaiian sweet bread and a Polish babka. It is mildly flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. At Christmas time there is a special version that has dried fruits.
The bolo is a flat bread make of white corn flour. When I first walked into Hiser, I thought just another pre-packaged, wrapped in plastic bags bakery. On the bread list there was bolo. I asked which bread was the bolo. The woman at the counter disappeared into the back and pulled out the pizza sized round of bolo. The secret of this bakery is to find the day of the week a special bread is made. Bolo is made on Thursday and Friday.
Today it was a soft Portuguese roll, papos secos, which filled the bakery with that fresh baked bread smell. People were crowded around a wicker basket filled with the rolls. Hiser seems to have an equal mix of Portuguese customers and non Portuguese locals who are in the know about this bakery.
About the bolo, I never would have guessed it was made with corn flour. Im not a fan of corn based breads. It almost had a taste like a potato bread. It seems from sampling Portuguese corn breads from various restaurants and bakeries; they use white corn flour which has a less assertive flavor than the yellow. This is just a guess. I was told the bolo goes bad fast so I should either eat it today or freeze it. It can be served toasted with butter. I think it would make a great pizza base.
Another tiny tart, "pastéis de coco was like an airy macaroon in the paper thin tart shell. Of course, they have the large hard wreath shaped cookies called Biscoitos.
Probably the most unique cookie to me was the feiticeuras (witches), a small brown and white wreath shaped cookie. I have never tasted a spice like this before. I am at a loss. It was strong with a perfumy hint. I am not doing it justice. Worth trying for something unique and should not offend anyone who doesnt want to try something too odd.
The Dona Amelias were tiny tarts that tasted like a date bread with a hint of molasses. I am suspecting though they are fig based because so many Portuguese dishes seem to be fig based. I wasnt fond of them until I paired them with some of the sharp semi-hard Portuguese cheese. The sweet tart tempered the strong cheese. This isnt how they do it in Portugal, but I though it made a good combo.
This was the only place that Ive seen Portuguese cheese and linguiesa that wasnt encased in heavy duty plastic. The large wedges of cheese are cut from large wheels imported from Portugal. They will give you a taste. Of course, there are a number of other cheeses, fishes and sausages that are plastic wrapped. Most of the sausages are from Goularts in San Jose. I didnt catch the type of cheese. The one I bought had a handwritten label that said topo. The other, I think, said cabreiro. There were one or two different kinds I saw on other visits.
Other seasonal items are Malassadas, or sugar donuts, made for the night of the Mardi Gras and at Easter you can get a sweet bread called folares that has two, four or six undyed eggs baked in the top. Orders for this bread should be placed before Good Friday
There is a nice selection of Portuguese canned goods, condiments and cookies and a few other intriguing things I havent yet asked about.
I bought a little yellow cookbook, Foods of the Azores Islands, written by a Portuguese lady in Palo Alto who emigrated from the Azores. It has helped familiarize me with Bay Area Portuguese food which seems to have a strong Azorean Influence. There are recipes like Anise Soup and Holy Ghost Sopas. There is a Portuguese bakery across the Bay in Santa Clara that on the last weekend of the month will make sopas, or Portuguese stew.
There are fanciful dessert recipes like nuns stomach and mother in laws eyes. There are quite a lot less exotically named standard dishes from the Azores, including a section on liqueurs
I am still getting familiar with the selection at Hiser. I have yet to find out what suspiros, vespras, and queijadas are. There is that round corn bread I need to try also.
This place is almost impossible to find. The official address:
18563 Mission Blvd Hayward, CA 94541. Main Phone: 510-278-3322.
Tuesday Friday 7 am -5pm
Saturday - 7 am 3 pm
Closed Sunday and Monday
It is a little off Mission Blvd in a tiny plaza behind Jack in the Box. There's a British pub in the plaza. Very near 238. Take the 14th street exit.
Hiser is an old fashioned style ethnic bakery. Think in terms of Neldhams or Schuberts.
This excellent article about Azorean food, discusses why, despite a large Portuguese population, there are few bakeries and restaurants.