Even if you have never been to Macau, you have probably heard of the region’s famous egg tarts. Creamy and soft on the inside, and crispy and flaky on the outside, the pasteis de nata (Portugeuese egg tarts) serves up a savoury treat.
Now renowned and world-famous, the satisfying snack is now synonymous with the city of Macau; it is almost a sin to travel the area and not take a bite off the delectable pastry.
Portuguese egg tarts, photo courtesy of David Bote Estrada.
Once a colony of the sea-faring, ambitious Portuguese Empire, Macau was under Portugal’s control till 1999. By the 1980s, a community of Portuguese had settled in the region, looking to start businesses amidst the growing economic clout.
Andrew Stow, a British pharmacist, who had lived in Macau since 1979, was on trip to Belem, Portugal when he first tasted the pasteis de nata. On top of his absolute delight in savouring the pastry, it particularly struck him that despite the sizeable and growing Portuguese settlement in Macau, he had neither seen nor tasted the egg tarts.
Back in Macau, the Brit, now a baker, opened his store Lord Stow’s Bakery, in Coloane Village in 1989. One of the pastries that he would bake, would be the Portuguese egg tarts.
In neighbouring Hong Kong though, residents were already familiar with egg tarts. Commonly served in tea houses as a dim sum dish, Hong Kong’s egg tart, originating from Guangzhou, had heavy influences from the English custard tart.
The Chinese community in Macau, familiar with the popular dim sum dish, tried Stow’s version and especially liked it. Stow’s pastry is partially caramelised and has brownish, blackened parts at the surface of the filling. The crust is thicker, akin to that of a croissant, while the dim sum version had a thinner, crumblier exterior.
The pasteis de nata of Lord Stow’s Bakery turned out to be a fresh, refreshing take on the region’s Chinese cuisine, and in no time drew many local Chinese, who bought and shared them with their peers and families from nearby Hong Kong.
Macau’s Portuguese egg tarts shot to fame from then, and took international centre stage.
Now, plenty of stores in Macau sell the beloved pasteis de nata.
Photo courtesy of David Bote Estrada.
Where to get them
Lord Stow’s Bakery
Well, obviously, you got to try them from the pioneer. The original store in Coloane Village is itself a popular tourist attraction. To keep up with the intense demand, there two other shops in the vicinity of the Venetian Macau.
Margaret’s Café e Nata
Some drama here. Margaret Wong, Stow’s ex-wife opened this store after the couple split. Her version was comparably, if not equally tasty, and constantly served as a strong competitor after the store opened. The tarts have thinner crusts and a thicker, more abundant filling. For those who have tried them before, they might taste somewhat familiar-that is because KFC bought their recipe and likely factored it in, in the creation of their own egg tarts.
Ko Kei Bakery
Ko Kei, a bakery chain in Macau, sells Portuguese egg tarts, on top of their almond cookies and beef jerkies. Firmer and sturdier, the exterior keeps the custard together better, creating a more consolidated (for a lack of a better word) end product.
San Hou Lei
A more creative offspring. The store serves varied tarts too, like the milk tart, bird’s nest tart or the coconut tart.