It’s time for another food battle! We have previously had our favourite Chinese egg tarts battle it out with our favourite egg tarts from Macau, but now we’re going to the original source: how does the Chinese egg tart stack up against the original Portuguese Pastéis de Belém? It’s ON.
Pastéis de nata or pastéis de Belém?
First things first, let’s get some confusion out of the way. You’ll hear Portuguese egg tarts being called pastéis de nata or Pastéis de Belém, seemingly interchangeably. What’s the difference?
There’s only one place in the world where you can get the original Pastéis de Belém: the bakery in the Belém district of Lisbon. They started making them in 1837, following a recipe from the Jerónimos Monastery. The name and the recipe are patented and the recipe is secret to all but the master confectioners. All other egg Portuguese egg tarts are called pastéis de nata (cream pastries), no matter how similar they are to the Pastéis de Belém.
In our experience, Pastéis de Belém taste eggier than any of the pastéis de nata we’ve had, which taste more like sweet custard tarts. I wouldn’t say that Pastéis de Belém are necessarily better than good pastéis de nata – it’s a matter of personal preference. I do prefer them because they seem to be less sweet than your average pastel de nata and the pastry shell is nice and crispy. And I’m not alone in liking them: the bakery sells over 20,000 Pastéis de Belém a day!
The difference between Portuguese and Chinese egg tarts
Remember the pastry chef rolling out dough a few posts back? This is what he was making. Piles and piles of pastéis de nata. Best eaten sprinkled with cinnamon! We got to try these as part of an awesome food tour with @treasuresoflisboa! Read about it #ontheblog and try the food tour yourself with a 10% VIP discount using the code DDE10 😋😎
Portuguese egg tarts are small custard tarts with a caramelised top that looks burnt, but rest assured it’s not. The filling tastes like a sweet vanilla custard. The only ones that I’ve found to actually taste eggy are the original Pastéis de Belém. Portuguese egg tarts have a crispy/chewy pastry shell that’s made by folding an obscene amount of butter into the dough until many beautiful layers form after baking. The Portuguese have quite the sweet tooth in general, so their egg tarts are fairly sweet as well. Pastéis de nata are usually eaten with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
Chinese egg tarts don’t have a caramelised top, but look shiny, yellow and smooth. The filling is silky, mildly sweet and quite eggy. There are two types of pastry shells: the traditional flaky kind made with lard that – like its Portuguese cousin – has countless beautiful layers, or the simple but no less delicious cookie crust variety. Both pastry shells are crumbly rather than crispy/chewy and it’s impossible to eat a Chinese egg tart without leaving a mess.
Chinese egg tarts started appearing in the 1940’s, but they’re not directly related to the Portuguese pastéis de nata. It is thought that they likely originated from the English custard tart, or possibly from the Macanese egg tarts (Macau was a Portuguese colony), which are essentially bigger, creamier versions of the Portuguese pastéis de nata. They’re delicious.
To fight against the legendary pastéis de Belém, it’s only fair for me to enter my favourite egg tarts from Hong Kong: the ones from the famous Tai Cheong Bakery. Both bakeries have lines out the door and are a must-try in their own right.
I have to be honest here and admit that there is no contest for me. I love Chinese egg tarts and their silky smooth, creamy, eggy filling. The Tai Cheong Bakery egg tarts come with a slightly savoury shortcrust pastry shell that balances the slight sweetness of the filling perfectly. Even though the Pastéis de Belém are eggcellent (I’m so sorry), it’s the crust that seals the deal for me in this battle, adding an extra layer of contrasting flavour that I miss in the original Portuguese egg tart.
Having said that, many would disagree with me since Portuguese egg tarts are amazing. So if you’re lucky to get the chance to try them both, go for it and decide for yourself!
Tips for visiting the Pastéis de Belém bakery
If you want to visit the Pastéis de Belém bakery, don’t be discouraged by the huge line and the crowds outside. Just walk past the line (which is for take-away) and walk inside – look for the blue signs on the walls that will lead you to get seated. The place really is enormous, so there should always be a table for you. And you can order extra to take away when you sit down, so there really isn’t any reason to stand in line in the heat outside.
Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92
1300 – 085 Lisboa
Tai Cheong Bakery
35 Lyndhurst Terrace
Central, Hong Kong