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Co-owner and chef Luis Manuel Felix Rego at Tasca do Antonio. Sahiba Chawdhary

From Portugal to Phnom Penh, with love

The recently opened Tasca do Antonio offers the first taste of “traditional” Portuguese food in Phnom Penh.

Owner and chef Luis Manuel Felix Rego and wife Fatima first opened a similar restaurant in Siem Reap called Casa Porto, named after Fatima’s home city, a few years ago. Their objective all along had been to move to the capital, which they did in late October.

Portuguese food, says Luis – a stout man with a gravelly voice – is influenced from centuries of exchange with Africa and Asia.

“In the 1500s, [Portuguese] brought spices all over the world … some dishes we took from India and from Africa,” he says. “They were born there and then changed, like everything in life.”

For Luis, those words apply to more than just cuisine. Born in the former Portuguese colony of Angola, he says he’s had a passion for cooking since he was a small child. He wouldn’t turn that love into a profession, however, until just five years ago, when he opened his first restaurant.

He moved to the United States at 21, and worked for a landscaping company in New Jersey until he got a job as a groundskeeper and driver for a wealthy New Yorker.

“But once his bodyguard retired, I took up all three functions ... so for 12 years that’s what I did,” he says. “It was a great experience, because I travelled with him all over the place, and I had a chance to learn from different kitchens, he says. “I had [a] passion – of course, more than ever – that was for food.”

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The Francesinha, a very atypical sandwich. Sahiba Chawdhary

And so, while he took an unlikely path to get there, he opened a restaurant in Penang, Malaysia, and is now bringing his cooking to the Kingdom.

Named in honour of Fatima’s father, Tasca do Antonio – which roughly translates to Antonio’s Tavern – serves a cuisine typical of the northern part of the country.

“We have Bacalhau, which is cod fish [and] is the main dish back home, and Feijoada, which is a stew with beans from our city [Porto] from the North,” Luis says.

Not to be missed is the barbecue chorizo ($9), the iconic spicy sausage that makes for a hearty core of a meal.

But for meat lovers, the must try is the Francesinha ($14), the house specialty, which consists of a sandwich with grilled steak, smoked ham, bacon, chorizo and a fried egg that is all then bathed in a peppery sauce. Think of it more as a tasty, decadent main course, which happens to have two pieces of bread, than a sandwich.

On top of preparing their staples, Luis and Fatima also wake up at 4am to make pastries and baked goods.

“My wife is the pastry expert,” he says.

Indeed, the creamy Portuguese egg tarts Post Weekend was offered fresh from the oven were delicious, the pastry dough light and crispy.

Tasca do Antonio is located at #7 Street Tonle Bassac and is open from 7:30am-10pm, except on Wednesdays. Tel: 010 837 027

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