Word of mouth: Choux de churros

Everyone knows that I am the first person to put up my hand for birthday cake at a party. Or to insist that yes, there is room for dessert, after a meal out. Or to be drawn in by the colours and comfort of the confectionary aisle at my local supermarket.

So when I was first introduced to churros, I nearly choked on the chocolate bar I was eating at the time.

How had I not heard about these earlier? And would I be judged at a restaurant if I ordered enough churros for a small army to sample?

For those with a little more restraint, and who are wondering what churros are, I'd say shame on you. Then I'd say, gather around in a circle and let me enlighten you, savoury eaters of the world. You're in for a treat (pun intended).

History is divided on how exactly when, where or how churros came to be. One theory credits Portuguese sailors, who modified and brought the recipe back to Europe after experiencing the culinary delights of you tiao (donut or fried breadstick) in China. Another theory credits Spanish shepherds who needed a replacement for the fresh bakery goods unavailable to them when roaming the mountainsides.

To me, it doesn't really matter who came up with them, just that they did in the first place. Deep-fried dough, filled with caramel, chocolate or custard and rolled in cinnamon and sugar? How didn't I think of this myself?

It seems that the city of Newcastle agrees, with restaurants like Casa De Loco, Bocados Spanish Kitchen and Figtree Churrasco at Wests Mayfield all serving these guilty pleasures up to happy customers.

Flavio Cabaleiro, head chef at Casa De Loco, Mexican restaurant and tequila bar in Newcastle East, says that we're not alone in this craze, with churros served at markets, carnivals and even on the beach in his home country of Brazil.

Cabaleiro, who has been in Newcastle for the past year, says this "street food" is most commonly sold on moving trolleys, along with corn cobs and coconut water, for the equivalent of 50 cents.

However, where their churros differ from the ones we experience in Australia is all in the filling; one that Cabaleiro tries to replicate in his kitchen.

"In Central and South America, churros are commonly filled with what we call dulce de leche," he says.

"It's a type of caramel you can't buy in Australia, let along bring in to the country.

"Trust me, I've tried."

Although we try, Cabaleiro says you haven't had a real churro unless it's filled with authentic dulce de leche.

Cabaleiro believes the popularity of churros in places like Australia shows the growing influence of South American and European eating styles.

These centre on the idea of tapas, where a range of small appetisers are shared around a table.

"It is the culture of these places for people to enjoy food and drink at the same time," he says.

Unfortunately, those with food intolerance may have to wait a little while longer to be able to enjoy these goodies, with no current plans for Cabaleiro to go gluten-free with his recipe.

"I do use tapioca and rice flour in my kitchen, however I haven't tried it yet with the churros," he says.

"I just don't think it'd be the same taste."

Luckily for me (but not my waistline), I have no problem with gluten, so Cabaleiro brings out a plate of his caramel-filled creations for us to share.

"That is perfect," he says.

I couldn't agree more.

Sophie Ruddell

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