I hate confrontation. I don’t like to get into hairy situations. And I certainly shy away from face-offs.
But this is one battle that I would like to see. In fact, this is one catfight that I sought to resolve in the span of three days. With the help of my happy tummy and lots of slurping, that is.
I was in the land of Macau, renowned for its casinos and gaudy bright lights. To me, Macau meant something else – unrestricted access to good food, and Portuguese egg tarts. But of course.
Otherwise known as pastéis de natas, these tarts were created in Portugal before the 18th century and have since garnered a huge following worldwide. Commonly sold in Chinese bakeries, I had thought that they were proudly Chinese when I was young and it was not until much later that I realised Portuguese egg tarts originated from Portugal. Very duh indeed.
Us under the care of C at Cafe Majestic, a 1920’s work of art
Years after chomping down mediocre Portuguese egg tarts in Singapore, I am glad to say that I have been introduced to well-mannered, properly made natas in Porto in June last year. This is all thanks to M’s friend, C, who invited us to her family home in Porto. Aside from the warm welcome we received from her family, we were very touched to be treated to a home-cooked Portuguese meal on our first night in Porto. Her father had gone to the pains of purchasing fresh octopus, just so he could make M’s favourite octopus stew, and C’s mum went out to buy all sorts of pastries because she had heard that I was a dessert enthusiast. We troubled C the most, who took us to beach bars, cafés and made sure we were extremely well-fed with local goodies. Portuguese egg tarts were, without a doubt, on the menu.
Us on the bridge that links Porto and Gaia
It was in Porto that I had my first bite of authentic Portuguese egg tarts. And it was also in Porto that I had the best tarts to ever grace Planet Earth in my lifetime. Funnily, the best ones were in a small café at the airport, but the seaside town of Porto boasts a phenomenal scattering of awesome cafés, where you can relax, people-watch in the beautiful breezes and indulge in an extraordinary Portuguese egg tart or two.
So what are good Portuguese egg tarts supposed to taste like? I am offering you a checklist here. Flaky, buttery, fragile-as-helluva pastry case. Warm, wobbly, caramelised (slightly burnt) and textured custard that isn’t too eggy or milky. The custard should be delightfully slurp-able, so like I said, texture is very important – it should be silky smooth and yet, slightly more bolus than regular egg tarts so when you bite into it, it goes down in easy barely-there blobs. Also, it should look painfully ugly. We don’t want smooth complexion here, we want patchy crinkles, a plump fertile body and even better, a hint of cellulite. Anorexic tarts are so not hot over here.
With this checklist in hand, I sauntered up and down the streets of Macau to hunt for the Portuguese egg tart. I visited Choi Heong Yuen, Koi Kei and Lord Stow’s Bakery. Koi Kei was unfortunately no match for the tarts from Choi Heong Yuen and Lord Stow’s. Koi Kei’s tarts had a painfully deflated pastry case and annoyingly sweet, dehydrated custard. It was however, difficult to decide on a winner between Choi Heong Yuen and Lord Stow’s. I had Lord Stow’s tarts when they were re-heated in my mum’s oven (yes, I lugged a dozen back to Singapore..), whilst Choi Heong Yuen’s were eaten freshly baked at one of its premises.
Sadly none of the tarts in Macau, however scrumptious, managed to re-create the Porto experience for me. Perhaps it was the vast blue skies and gentle, soothing breezes. Perhaps it was because of its relaxed seaside coffee culture. Perhaps it was C and her warm hospitality. The best Portuguese egg tarts I had were still from Porto. Yes, Porto wins ’em all.