Please do not call them custard tarts

“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…

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13 Comments

Filed under To do in London

13 responses to “Please do not call them custard tarts

  1. Pipeta

    Adoro o título =)

  2. Joana Santos

    Tambem estou a estudar por aqui e queria so deixar uma recomendacao… ‘Cantinho de Portugal’ em Stockwell road (half way between Stockwell and Brixton station). Um bocado no meio do nada, mas TOTALLY worth it! Joana x

    • Inês Azevedo

      Nunca tinha ouvido falar, agora fiquei curiosa. Hei-de lá dar um saltinho um dia destes. Obrigada Joana! 🙂

  3. mAna

    adorei, Inês. Depois de uma abstinência de web prolongada, devo dizer que gostei imenso de ler este artigo. Olha que até eu fiquei com vontade de comer pastéis de nada! mil beijinhos e não deixes de escrever, que nitidamente nasceste para isto!

    • Inês Azevedo

      Obrigada M’Ana! Fiquei muito contente com o teu comentário e encorajou-me a continuar. Muitos beijinhos!

  4. Hum, yumi… I wish I could try the real ones one day…
    Thx for the list, too!

  5. ME

    If Pessoa had read this article while sitting at the “Martinho…”, he would have smiled with that particular smile Portuguese wear when they feel Portuguese, he’d have called the waiter and said: “Mais um pastel de nata, se faz favor!” (“Another… , please!”).
    A pleasure article and … tasteful!!

    • Inês Azevedo

      Ah, Pessoa… His poetry is another one of the best gifts from Portugal to the world! Thank you for the kind comment. 🙂

  6. cristina

    how “tarty” …… !!!!!! do fight for our potuguese identity although things are a “little” better. Many years ago, in London, I was “slapped” with “Lisbon?????” “Portugal ????” “ahhhhhh!!! SPAIN” !!!!! could have bitten them….. and having been an expat in Luxembourg I DO know how much we miss our flavours. good work!! love your sense of humour. keep writing !!!!!!

    • Inês Azevedo

      Hahaha! Really? Well I guess things are better nowadays, fortunately. Thank you for your support! 🙂

  7. Hahahaha, j’adore! 🙂

  8. Julien

    “Especially in a country that doesn’t really seem to have a rich gastronomic culture.”

    Such a diplomatic way to say it.
    For those who still have doubts: I agree, Jelly – oh sorry! Pasteis de nata are THE BEST portuguese food ever. If you ever get the chance: TRY ONE. I’m sure you won’t resist the urge to eat a second one.

    J.

    P.S.: Coming back to jelly: it’s disgusting. Pardon my French. 😉

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