Yummies: The History of Egg Tarts
by Alice Xu
If you’ve ever visited bakeries in Hong Kong or Portugal (or any area with a heavy influence from these areas), you’ve probably noticed the frequent display of egg tarts, also known as dan tat (Cantonese) or pastéis de nata (Portuguese). If you’ve ever eaten one, you’ll probably recall the soft, creamy texture that melted in your mouth from the first bite. Portuguese egg tarts are easily distinguished from Chinese ones by their caramelized, burnt custard, with the latter opting on a simpler side. Portuguese egg tarts might also contain cinnamon.
Portuguese egg tarts were first made centuries ago by the Catholic Sisters from the Jerónimos Monastery, as featured Pastéis de Belém’s website. When the Liberal Revolution of 1820 ceased, a flood of monasteries began closing down as a result. The monks, in an attempt to save religious community, sold this pastry at a sugar cane refinery. Although the monastery closed in the end, the purchasers of the recipe, who were also the owners of the sugar refinery, opened up a present and thriving factory that sold many of these egg tarts and continues to do so.
On the other hand, Chinese egg tarts, introduced to Hong Kong during the 1940s, embedded itself in Hong Kong cuisines during the 1950s, a time of economic growth for the territory with the influx of immigration. Britain had taken back Hong Kong following Japan’s surrender during World War II. As new Western influences began to spread, egg tarts became a signature dish in dim sum restaurants and Westernized bakeries, opening up to a wider audience. Nevertheless, according to iFood.tv, critics contest the origin of the pastry, with some believing that the Chinese egg tart is based off the English tart as Britain previously colonized Hong Kong. It’s also plausible that Macau, a Portuguese-occupied region at the time, was the source of the egg tarts in Hong Kong.
But whether or not they originated from any of those locations, egg tarts in both Portugal and Hong Kong not only have a special place in their pastry scenes, but also reveal a complex history of colonization and the intersection of diverse cultures.