Tag Archives: Pastel de Nata

A Trip to Macau at The Bakery at Fat Rice

MacauWe visited Fat Rice a while ago, and since then they have opened up The Bakery at Fat Rice (2951 W. Diversey Ave.) serving unusual Macanese-inspired treats. The Bakery at Fat Rice has a cute retro pink logo and an inviting handpainted wooden “Pastelaria” sign featuring an egg tart in a starburst (swwn below). The inside is brightly colored, with big windows, and brightly-colored floral oilcloth seats. What could be more inviting?

fatricesign

The main draw is the pastry selection – and there is a large pastry case filled with goodies taking up one wall. They also have tasty coffee, juice and tea drinks, plus the hard-to-find chocolate Milo drink that is ubiquitous in Asia. On our first visit, we wanted to try some of the sweet and savory dishes. We ordered a Pork Floss Pig bun ($6) – an interesting combination of savory and sweet topped with shredded dried pork. Plus, it is shaped like a pig, who could resist? We also sampled a coconut-topped sweet roll filled with bright purple ube yam paste ($5). Both were delicious. However, this is only scratching the surface – if you really want to go savory you can get a corned beef or hot dog roll. Other sweet options include a guava bun and a bolo menino: a pine nut, almond and coconut cake.

fatricebakedgoods

Finally, we get to the main event – the egg custard tarts. Known as pasteis de nata in Portugal, these came to Macau through Portuguese explorers, where they then found their way into China to become the ubiquitous egg tart. At each stage of travel, these tarts are somewhat different. The Portuguese egg tart is more custard-y while the Chinese variety is less sweet and heavier on the egg. The Macanese variety tends to fall between the two. Though tasty, the Fat Rice Bakery version ($3) reminded us more of a Chinese egg tart. We prefer the Portuguese sweetness, but truth be told, we have had many better, cheaper egg tarts.

fatricebakery

Everything we tried was very good, but the $4-6 per-pastry prices struck us as a little steep.  However, the originality of these pastries in the Chicago bakery scene is really what makes them stand out. We will keep The Bakery at Fat Rice in mind for special occasions!

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The best Pasteis de Nata in London

united_kingdomportugalOne of our first stops in London was the venerable British Museum, where they had a delightful museum cafe run by the local cafe chain Benugo (various locations throughout London). Imagine our surprise when we saw the iconic Portuguese pastry, the Pastel de Nata, being advertised proudly front and center alongside muffins and scones, as a “Panata.” We certainly weren’t expecting to see one of our favorite Portuguese treats in this location! The panata from Benugo was actually pretty good, and once we saw our favorite treats there, we started seeing them in shops all around town. Who would have thought it would be so popular in London?

Panata

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Silver Star Portuguese Bakery in Providence

Silver Star Bakery
150 Ives St.
Providence, Rhode Island

Silver Star Bakery’s English name belies its specialty in all things Portuguese – after our visit we think it should probably be called Estrela de Prata instead. From our Pastry Post-Doc in Portugal we became very well-acquainted with the country’s extensive sweet heritage. As you know, we here at ETW are particularly obsessed with Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts), and, sadly, there is absolutely no place to get them in Chicago. Fortunately, Providence has a large Portuguese population, with the bakeries to match. We figured we’d be able to find Pasteis de Nata at Silver Star, and there was indeed a large tray on display when we arrived, for only $1.75 a pop.

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We are pretty discerning about our pasteis, and have specific criteria for what makes one perfect, as we detailed in our rubric for the best pasteis in Lisbon. The version at Silver Star was excellent, and even surpassed some of the versions we had in Lisbon. The crust was flaky and crispy, not soggy at all; and the filling was light and creamy. The caramelization of the top was also perfect! These were the American pasteis we had been waiting for, and we even got to order in Portuguese. Now if only we could replicate them at home….

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But even though the Pasteis de Nata are the star, other Portuguese specialties available include Malasadas, Portuguese sweet rolls, fradinhos and more. There is also a wide selection of American treats including cookies, mini tarts and doughnuts. We also sampled a fradinho, a sweet tart with a bean filling dusted with powdered sugar, which was delicate and tasty. We visited Silver Star twice, once on our way to the Brown campus, and another time on our way to the airport (we absolutely had to get another round before we got home). If we lived in Providence we guarantee that the majority of our diet would consist of solely Silver Star pasteis.

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The Best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon

Much to our surprise, our study of the Best Macarons in Paris continues to be one of the most popular 0n the internet. But we’ve taken a bit of criticism because of our small sample size – since we only had an afternoon, we had to prioritize with the two most popular locations (apparently we should have also gone to Gerard Mulot).

Yet as of today, our last day in Lisbon, we have been in this beautiful city for over two months. L has been tirelessly working on an exhaustive study of Portuguese pastries that would make the authors of Fabrico Próprio sit in awe (though we bought their fabulous book anyway!). We have been to scores and scores of Portuguese pastelarias, in every area of the city, and at this point may be some of the best experts in Portuguese pastries on either side of the Atlantic. And at every Lisboeta pastelaria, we have sampled their offering of Portugal’s most famous and emblematic sweet: the pastel de nata (or pastel de Belém), a small egg-tart pastry originating, so the story goes, with 18th century monks at  Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon’s Belém district and now produced throughout the lusophone world. Every street in Lisbon has at least three pastelarias, and every one makes pastéis de nata. We have eaten a lot of pastéis de nata during our time in Portugal and in our time here, combining exhaustive taste testing and testing again, we have concluded what we think is the best pastel de nata in town. There was, obviously, no shortage of contenders  but we settled on a ranking after several visits to each place. Surely, there are as many opinions on pastéis as there are pastelarias in Lisbon. However, we think you will have a successful pastel experience if you try these locations.

Pasteis de Nata

Pastéis de Nata in the Wild

The Ground Rules:

1. We only included pastelarias that were “Fabrico Próprio,”meaning the pastries were made in house. Any pastelaria worth its weight in egg cream will make its pastries on site, and the ones that do always say “FABRICO PROPRIO” on their sign. If you are visiting a pastelaria that does not say that, just move on, because you will be wasting your money.
2. Only classic pastéis count in this ranking. We needed a 1 to 1 comparison, so no fillings, fruit flavors, mini or giant size, etc. (Although try the pastel de chocolate at Versailles – great!)
3. Rankings are based on custards, crust, caramelization and overall appearance. Most pastéis were of a similar size and cost between 1-1.3€ so we did not include price as a factor.
4. A good tasting does not move you to the top of the ranking, but one bad one knocks you off. If we had a bad experience somewhere, we did not return: with so many in Lisbon, the best place should not be making any errors. If we had a good experience, we were sure to return at least once to test for consistency. Our top three finishers each got no less than three taste tests.

The Rest:

A caveat: we urge everyone who visits Lisbon to try as many pastéis as you can and form your own opinions. It’s really fun! And definitely not damaging to the pocketbook. But for us, so many pastelarias did not make the cut for the top three, and we did not include them in our final ranking. Some were flavorless or too eggy, some were burnt, had too thick a crust, or too thin (a major deal-breaker is when you bit into a pastel and the whole crust goes with it – you should be able to take out a single section of cream and crust in one bite). Among the most famous to be cut were the Confeitaria Nacional and, gasp, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. The Antiga Confeitaria is far and away the most famous place to grab a pastel in Lisbon, and every guidebook will direct you there. Lines are always out the door, and the inside seats hundreds and hundreds of people, all eating pastéis. But you can see the problem already: quality control. Wild inconsistency plagued the Antiga Confeitaria, even in the same batch of four: some were burnt, some were soggy, and some were underdone. With that, we give you our top three choices for the best pastéis in Lisbon.

Our Top Three Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon

3. Pastelaria Aloma
Rua Francisco Metrass, 67

Aloma Pasteis

Pastelaria Aloma is a small neighborhood pastelaria northwest of Bairro Alto, which wandered under everyone’s radar until, in 2012, it won the competition for best pastel in Lisbon. In a hilarious and welcome moment of fame capitalization they changed their website’s url to omelhorpasteldenatadelisboa.com (literally, TheBestPasteldeNataInLisbon.com), and plastered the new url all over their small store and delivery trucks. Quite off the beaten path, it takes some searching to find the place, but we were happy to see their quality control has not suffered as a result of their fame (they remain busy, but not crowded). We found the crust to be well-made, the filling very tasty, but the crust’s browning was inconsistent enough as to affect the flavor on one of our pastéis, bringing them to number 3.

2. Pastelaria Versailles
Avenida da República, 15
Versailles Pasteis

Pastelaria Versailles, conveniently located immediately above the Avenida da República exit at the Saldanha metro station, is a charming, old-world style (almost Parisian) cafe offering a wide variety of freshly-made pastries, as well as sandwiches and tea served by a jovial waitstaff that make this a great lunch spot, one of our favorites in Lisbon. As far as we can tell, pastéis de nata are not one of their specialties, and they have not appeared on any major rankings. But we found their pastéis to be magnificant examples: a perfect crust, with a delectable egg cream whose flavor we found to be second only to our overall winner. (And once again, if you go here, try to pastel de chocolate – a variation of the traditional pastel but with chocolate filling, a variety we saw almost nowhere else!)

Drumroll…..

1. Chique de Belém
Rua da Junqueira, 524

Chique PasteisIn the end, this was not even close. If you visit Lisbon you will, at some point, find yourself admiring the architectural wonders of the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. You will walk east on Rua da Junqueira, with the crowds, toward the front of the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém and you should, in our humble opinion, keep on walking. A few blocks further is the small, utterly charming, and fantastic Chique de Belém, easily our vote for the best pastel in Lisbon. Perfectly textured, elegantly flavored egg cream inside a crust with just the right balance of flakiness and support make this our go-to place for pastéis in Lisbon. In three visits and six samples we were shocked by the consistency of their output. Even better? Their outdoor seating area, right on the sidewalk, offers a view of Belém’s parks, where you can relax while the servers bring you the pastries of your choosing. And of course, you picked the pastéis.

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Portuguese Pastry Post-Doc: Pastelaria Versailles

Pastelaria Versailles
Av. da República 15A
Lisbon, Portugal

There is something about dining in sumptuous surroundings that makes everything taste a little bit better. Lisbon is full of lovely historical cafes, and Versailles is a stunning example of the slightly faded glory of old-school Lisbon. Pastelaria Versailles was built in the 1920’s and served as a sumptuous symbol of the Avenidas Novas (“new avenues”) that were built north of the historic center of the city. As befitting of the name “Versailles,” the cafe is filled wall-to-wall with gilded mirrors, chandeliers, checkerboard marble and floor-to-ceiling elaborate wooden display cases.

Though primarily a cafe, there is also a little mezzanine that has a more complete dinner menu for 12-25 euros featuring fish and steaks and various traditional Portuguese plates. However, we are cafe people, and opted for the simpler sandwich menu (which was intimidatingly long). There were a range of coffee drinks, batidos (milkshakes) and teas on offer  as well as little snacks like bacalhau croquettes and a series of sandwiches, all for less than about 4 Euros. One way in which we can tell that Portugal is serious about bread is the fact that each sandwich (with the same variety of a few options like bacalhau, turkey, cheese, tomato and even simple butter) is listed by the type of bread it comes on. We counted no less than 8 bread options for sandwiches.

M ordered a turkey sandwich on a Chapada role (which seems to be a cousin to Ciabatta). L ordered a Mafra sandwich with queijo fresco. The light and airy Mafra roll is native to the town of Mafra, just north of Lisbon, and has a slightly sweet flavor. For such a small price, we were surprised at the size of each sandwich, and were impressed with the quality and freshness of the bread. We finished up our meal with a delicate Pão de Deus and an elegant service of Versailles signature tea. The Versailles blend is a black tea with a mix of orange, cinnamon and vanilla, and tasted a little like a subtle citrus chai.

Naturally, we could not ignore the bakery case, which runs the whole length of the cafe. Though we arrived late in the day there was still a pretty good selection of treats, and we filled a box for the road. We selected an assortment of cookies, the names of which were not labeled. One we uncreatively dubbed the “Flat Madeleine,” which looked and tasted like a flat Madeleine cookie. The other was a chocolate Italian-style dipped cookie shaped like an acorn. But the pièce de résistance were the chocolate Pastéis de Nata. The Versailles Pastel had both requisites of an excellent Pastel de Nata: the custard and the flaky multi-layered crust, and with a hint of chocolate these were perfect! Cafe Versailles has quickly become one of our favorite cafes and we are excited to work our way through the pastry case.

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Portuguese Pastry Post-Doc

So ETW world HQ has been moved to Portugal for two more months, our second extended visit in the past year. The first time around, while we enjoyed the food, we were not blown away by Portuguese cuisine. However, we vowed to make our second visit more of a culinary success. In the first week alone, we have improved our food fortunes immensely by simply doing one thing: focusing on the pastries! Portugal is known for its pastries, many of which are found in elegant historical pastelarias or confeitarias. It all seems so simple in retrospect – the Portuguese are renowned for their varied pastries, cookies and cakes, many of which are impossibly rich and laden with eggs, butter and sugar – so why not focus on them? While I have written about Pasteis de Nata, the most iconic Portuguese pastry, Portugal has so much more to offer in the way of sweet treats. Since I (L) have recently finished my PhD, I am using these next two months as some much needed relaxation time. However, I can’t quite give up my researching ways, so I will be dedicating my research skills to Portuguese pastries. I call this new project my “Post-Doc in Portuguese Pastries,” and I promise I will leave no stone un-turned in my quest for the tastiest, most classic, most beautiful and iconic Portuguese desserts.

Pastries and Cookies at Confeitaria Nacional, Lisbon

Pastries and Cookies at Confeitaria Nacional, Lisbon

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Pastéis de Nata

One of the most iconic treats in Portugal is the little Pastel de Nata (Plural Pastéis) – a custard tart similar to a creme brulee in a phyllo shell. But that’s too simple of a description – it really is a completely different thing! However, the same delicious effect of caramelized sugar is the same, as you can see below.

One of the best places to get Pastéis de Natal is at the obviously-named Pastéis de Belém (Rua de Belem, 84, Lisbon). This place is a pure madhouse, with a huge line going down the block at nearly all hours (it is open to 11 or 12 PM every day). Below is a picture of the scene when we arrived – and this is just to To-Go line. There is also inside seating, where you can get a full range of coffees with your Pastéis  but there was even a huge queue to get seated there. Each Pastel is 95 cents, but common orders in the To-Go line (which moved shockingly fast) seemed to be in multiples of 6 – since they make pre-packed boxes of 6 to go. Insider tip – we ordered 4 Pastéis – but they gave us a box of 6. We figured it would only have 4 inside – but it had 6! We don’t know if this was because they didn’t notice, or that turnover was so high and fast that they just didn’t care. Maybe it’ll work for you too! The 6 little 3″ tarts were surprisingly filling, and were fresh out of the oven.

It really is quite an operation, and we can’t even imagine how many Pastéis get made in a day. David Leite has an inside look at the operation, here. Turns out that The Pastéis de Belem are trademarked and are considered the original Pastéis de Nata (which is now used as a  more generic name for the Belem custard tart). Of course there are many other places in Lisbon to get Pastéis de Nata, one of the other most famous being the Confeiteria Nacional in the Baixa (Praça da Figueira 18B, Lisbon). But in truth, nearly every bakery in Lisbon has their own rendition, supermarkets too. There’s no way to get to Lisbon and not enjoy a pastel or two, or a dozen. You can try to make them at home, with some delicious but challenginglooking recipes. But in our experience home renditions of custard tarts are never the same!

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The transnational Macanese egg tart

MacauThe egg tart may be the perfect example of a truly transnational and international food! Egg tarts are pretty simple in their perfection, baked egg custard in a flaky pastry shell. Egg tarts are a big part of Macanese cuisine, and expanded later in Hong Kong and China. Macau was a former colony of Portugal. The egg tart was supposedly invented at Lord Stow’s on the island of Coloane in Macau. The tarts are related to the Portuguese Pastel de Nata an egg tart that is something of a national institution.

The tarts were introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940s through tea houses called cha chaan teng, which are known for their extensive selections of snacks and treats. Today, in Hong Kong and Taiwan you can even get Egg Tarts from KFC.

ETartCopy

One major differentiation between a Macanese egg tart and a regular egg tart is that the Macanese varieties have a layer of caramelized sugar on top. You can get these little treats for a steal at many bakeries around town. We got this tart above for only $0.95 at Richwell Market in Chinatown – where you can get both plain and Macau-style tarts. For a taste of Macau via Portugal, China and Hong Kong, that’s a pretty good deal.

Richwell Market
1835 S Canal St

Chicago, IL 60616

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