“Pastel de nata”. Those are the first words people throw my way (after “obrigado” and swear words, of course) when people find out I’m Portuguese and they want to show off their Portuguese skills.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia
I’ve always thought this was a cliché but now I have to agree that when you move away from home one of the things you really do miss is food. And, no offense, especially in a country that doesn’t really seem to have a rich gastronomic culture.
The other day I passed by a couple of boys eating a pastel de nata and drinking a latte. I had to find out where they had bought them and buy one for myself. When I took a bite of one of my favourite Portuguese pastries, I felt a little less homesick and a little more satisfied.
However, I kept wondering why a normal English café would sell pastéis de nata. Surely one of the waiters was Portuguese? When I asked the waitress behind the counter “How come you sell pastéis de nata here?” I knew I was wrong. She stared back at me and said “Huh?”. So I pointed to the delicacies I was talking about and she said “Oh, you mean the custard tarts? I don’t know, but they’re pretty popular.”
Custard tarts? No. Just no. As journalist Shaun Phillips said in one of his collumns, “that conjures up those anaemic deep-filled damp pastries that supermarkets sell four-for-a-pound.” A pastel de nata is a national culinary treasure that is rarely well reproduced outside of Portugal. Sorry for my arrogance but…I guess that’s just the way it is. Just to show you how special pastéis de nata really are, in “The 50 best things to eat in the world, and where to eat them” the Guardian listed them as the 15th best thing to eat in the world, going on to say that “they are one of Portugal’s great culinary gifts to the world.” Not too shabby!
If you’re interested, a good place to eat pastéis de nata is Lisboa Pâtisserie, near Notting Hill. It took me two hours to find that place but in the end it was all worth it. The food was a good replacement to what I’m used to back home, and it’s funny how the actual café even looked Portuguese, with the azulejos and the glass kind of showcase in which the food is stored. Just don’t forget: ask for a pastel de nata, NOT a custard tart…